In A. Chapman's April 1 letter to the Daily News, the sound assertion that parents have a fundamental responsibility for disciplining their children gets mixed up with misinformation about the consequences of physical punishment and a puzzling view of human rights.
The belief that there is a big difference between physical punishment and physical abuse of children is comfortable but mistaken. The critical question is, of course, whether or not they have different consequences for children. This is a matter of objective evidence, not subjective belief.
And the evidence is now clear and compelling. No research has been able to distinguish between the consequences for children who experience physical abuse and physical punishment. Both are harmful. Physical punishment has lifespan negative consequences for children and the other people they will encounter as they grow, work, partner, and become parents in their turn.
Canadian research on child abuse and neglect consistently finds that 75% of physical abuse cases are the result of physical punishment. And it is not only strongly linked to physical injury, but to poorer child and adult mental health, impaired relationships with parents, weaker internalization of moral values, antisocial behaviour, and poorer adult adjustment and tolerance of violence.
Canadians pay attention to research. Research has persuaded those who once believed they could safely smoke in their home to do it elsewhere to protect their children's health from their secondhand smoke. Similarly, research has moved Canadians to change their behaviour with regard to drinking and driving, seatbelt use, and requiring their children to wear helmets. Canadian parents are now paying attention to the growing body of research on physical punishment. They recognize the need for child discipline, but they want that discipline to be effective and not harmful.
A. Chapman's inferences surrounding human rights are puzzling if not downright bizarre. Human rights are fundamental-they are not based on gender, status, or age. Women in Canada once had no right to protection from assault by husbands. Apprentices were once beaten legally by masters.
Years ago, when women and apprentices were given the same right to protection from assault by husbands and masters, there were objections and laments.
When the same objections to providing children with protection from being hit are voiced today, they should be regarded as a sad echo of history and not a serious rationale for ineffective and harmful discipline of young Canadians.