By Everett Secor
Just weeks away from the first contest in the 2016 Republican primary, Ted Cruz addressed a crowd of supporters in Mason City, Iowa and responded to a question about Benghazi by humorously alluding to how he hits his own daughter.
“We do know Hillary told her daughter Chelsea, well gosh, I knew it was a terrorist attack, while we were out telling the American people it wasn’t,” Cruz said. “You know I’ll tell you, in my house, if my daughter Catherine, the five-year-old, says something she knows to be false, she gets a spanking. Well, in America, the voters have a way of administering a spanking.”
Cruz isn’t one to shy away from controversial remarks, so it’s not surprising that the Republican front-runner in the Iowa polls would allude to defeating Clinton with the sort of sexist behavior that’s been taboo only as long as spousal abuse has been illegal.
But what is surprising is how uncontroversial this statement, or at least his admission to spanking his daughter, really is in modern America.
According to the Child Trends Data Bank, in 2014 76 percent of men and 65 percent of women viewed spanking as an acceptable means of punishment for children.
The support varied slightly based on political leanings and race, with Republicans supporting spanking more than Democrats and blacks supporting spanking more than whites, but even among the most opposed groups, support never dropped below 50 percent.
These numbers have declined slowly over the past several years, but not enough for any significant social change.
In fact, in the US, it is still legal in 19 states for teachers or school administrators to administer corporal punishment to a student.
This is in stark contrast to the policies of European nations, where all have not only outlawed (either by statute or in practice) school corporal punishment, but dozens have outlawed any form of corporal punishment in the home as well.
What few restrictions we do have are vague, defining the boundary between “good parenting” and “child abuse” by arbitrary measures state lawmakers use to consider “moderate physical discipline”.
As the 2014 Adrian Peterson abuse scandal exposed, factors such as whether or not a child’s skin bruised too much are used to determine the acceptable amount of physical pain, completely ignoring any psychological impacts of the experience.
What most Americans don’t seem to realize is just how severe the impacts of spanking actually are on children. An incredible amount of scientific research in the past several decades has uncovered that using physical violence as discipline can have serious negative effects on the development of a child.
A 2010 task force appointed by the American Psychological Association discovered that corporal punishment in children put them at increased risk for anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, aggression, and impaired cognitive development, even when other influencing factors were accounted for.
A 2013 study published in the scientific journal Pediatrics discovered that children who were spanked twice a week by their mothers were more likely to act aggressively, and those who were spanked twice a week by their fathers scored lower on vocabulary and language comprehension tests.
These and other similar studies show that spanking often results in the opposite effects that it intends to teach. While it may serve as an easy short-term tool to gain a child’s obedience, in the long-term it teaches a disdain for authority, that violence is the most effective means of gaining cooperation from others, and that superior physical strength decides right and wrong.
It removes the opportunity to teach a child to reason through the actual impacts of their actions and attempts to advance their maturity and growth in a way that would be unacceptable to treat any other adult.
Perhaps most disturbing is how over-eager parents are to use spanking as a means of punishment.
In 2014 researchers at Southern Methodist University discovered that parents most frequently use physical discipline for very innocuous and mundane infractions, such sucking fingers or getting out of a chair, even when they know they’re being recorded.
They also discovered that “In 73 percent of the cases where there was corporal punishment, the child misbehaved again within 10 minutes”.
Any discussion about the legality of impacts of spanking inevitably results in a number of people sharing their own personal experiences, both from those who feel they suffered as a result of physical discipline and those who saw no problem with getting spanked as a kid.
It is of course completely possible, if not common, for children who are spanked to have a happy, fulfilling childhood and for parents who spank to be loving, conscientious caregivers.
But considering how poorly most Americans understand the long-term mental health impacts of spanking, how broad the laws against it are in the US, and the common tendency for parents to severely overestimate their own restraint in implementing physical punishment, its legality in the US continues to make millions of children at risk for abuse.
It is time for parents to take more effective and responsible approaches to disciplining their children, and to stop using “well that’s how I was raised” as justification for actions we have mounting evidence to show are detrimental.
And starting February 1st, we can begin by supporting leaders who stand up for the under-represented rather than those who make jokes about striking five-year old girls.
RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. Anyone can write for you us as long as you are fiercely interested in making the world a better place.
Cover Photo Credit: Jamelle Bouie/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)