Bullying & Cyberbullying: does it begin at home?

The news this morning shared yet another report discussing the pitfalls of corporal punishment:


Already, by 8:30 a.m. on the radio, earnest discussions and protests arose.  “Kids need discipline.”  “Physical punishment is necessary – like when my daughter hit another child.”  “Society is getting too soft.”

I wager every parent has done something to their child that they regret – unintentional or “for a good reason.”  When parents protest against the suggestion they stop hitting their children, it is natural to experience stress and tension (the official term is “cognitive dissonance”).  Everyone knows that hitting is wrong and nearly everyone needs to keep up the belief that they are good people.  So, how do they reconcile hitting (especially a child) with that view?

Here’s another example:  everyone knows smoking is bad for you.  Anyone who smokes has to reason their way out of that fact while maintaining their belief that they aren’t doing themselves any harm (or at least not much, what’s one cigarette?  At least I smoke filters.  My brand is low-tar.  I used to smoke way more. . .)

Most of the protests I heard this morning were callers justifying the use of corporal punishment.  My question is: whom are they trying to convince?  The radio audience or themselves?

What does this have to do with bullying & cyberbullying?  Let me answer this question by posing another:  if children are taught (by example) that physical force is the solution to problems and, on top of that, is “good for them” or and the adult’s “only alternative,” are we surprised when they carry that lesson into their peer relationships?

If you are experiencing discomfort now, maybe I’ve provoked some cognitive dissonance?  Take heart – you are not a bad person and you can use other, much more effective ways to discipline.  Kids function best when parents have firm expectations but are responsive.  Unfortunately, physical methods have unwanted side effects and, it’s true, don’t work as well over the long term.  CONSISTENT and MILD consequences work best, along with praise for good behaviour.  Yes, kids will still misbehave at times – that’s how they learn the boundaries of right and wrong.  Contrary to the old saying, kids now do come with an owner’s manual.  Four of my favourites appear at the end of this post.

Spanking used to be a common method of behavioural control.  However, we are entering a new era – violence of all sorts is discussed openly and community standards are shifting away from coercive force to influence each other.  Women and children are no longer considered “property” of their family, to be dealt with however their owners see fit.  Even violence among men is losing credibility and becoming less common (there’s another blog!).

This shift in attitudes among the wider society is part of why spanking now differs from spanking then.  Those who continue to support it are a shrinking minority who feel increasing pressure to “do something” instead of “not do something,” especially when the school calls to say little Johnny is suspended for fighting on the playground.

People who support the use of physical punishment, because they feel backed into a corner when news stories like today’s appear, tend to re-double their arguments for the practice.  It’s not because they’re bad people, just the opposite – they want to feel like their use is justified and morally correct.  But short-term reasons supporting corporal punishment mask the longer-term pitfalls: kids who are less socially competent and turn to physical force outside the home.






ARCH works routinely with families and parents to adopt more effective strategies.  Give us a call!  Or look up parenting programmes in your area.

About tanya.spencer

Dr. Spencer has worked with families, schools, and residential treatment settings using an evidence-based framework and cognitive-behavioural perspective. She specializes in learning problems, attachment, mood disorders, teen self-harm and the autism and fetal alcohol spectra.
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One Response to Bullying & Cyberbullying: does it begin at home?

  1. Marianna says:

    Great write, wonderful site design, maintain the good work

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