The debate over whether or not to physically punish children is a difficult one for me to decide. My personal experience with corporal punishment leaves me with mixed feeling on the subject.
My father used obedience practices that would probably provoke great protest in light of the responses to recent videos (Hillary Adams whipping video)
. Until I left home I never realized that most parent-child relationships were non-violent? Most parents don't rehearse answers to the pediatrics' questioning "Do you feel safe at home?" And, most parents don't reiterate to their children that they're merely property -- owned and alive only because of their parents' generosity.
I will confess there is a very powerful psychology protecting family constructs of this type. From very early, my sister and I were taught never to discuss our father's obedience practices -- in fact we were taught to protect him from the scrutiny of others. Members outside the family were untrustworthy in this respect, unless of course they followed the same dogma. We were taught to laugh at and pity the concerns of the unsuccessful parents who believed in simple "time-outs", whose ineffective practices lead to unruly children without ambition. Time and again spectators complimented our excellent behavior and lack of rebellion -- reaffirming the appropriateness of our punishments.
I still would likely be steadfast in my promotion of physical punishment were it not for my complete rejection from its system after the disclosure of my sexuality and subsequent dismissal from my parents house.
Three years after my forced flight from my parents' nest, I believe I'm probably in an unique situation. After being consumed in a likely abusive and certainly psychologically-entrapping patriarchal system; after being rejected by this system; and, after re-defining myself with a self-empowered dogma, I can could look on my adolescence rather objectively and sift from the remnants of an omnipotent parenting style the few successful nuggets.
First and foremost, the hard thing about physical punishment is that it works. Children respond to pain. Pain hurts, and after repetition a well-directed inflicted pain could be associated with a particular unwanted action. Highly-controlled, emotionally-independent distribution of corporal punishment would theoretically work similar to Pavlovian conditioning. The bad behavior (UCS) becomes associated with spanking (CS) and triggers fear (CR). Upon aging, children would realize their parents' conditioning methodology, be thankful, and then convert to a conscious understanding of their behavior, rather than one motivated by unconscious responses.
Parents are not highly-controlled and emotionally-independent, however. And, furthermore, the notion that children subject to corporal punishment could suddenly transition their conditioned responses to consciously-controlled decisions is optimistic.
My father would rage after our disobedience, and punishment would almost always ensue after angry outbursts. My father's rage became my CS, and the fear that was my CR was over time replaced with hate and contempt. Corporal punishment, though theoretically effective, is so easily prone to emotional infection, and seems to sever parental ties rather than support them.
As far as preparing children for conscious decision-making, I'd argue corporal punishment, or probably any physical conditioning for that matter, does a poor job. Perhaps this sort of practice is arguably necessary when a child is incapable of understanding the consequences of their behavior; however, continued practice can only stifle individuality (by way of stifling individual motivation and decision-making) and deprive children of conscious experience.
I've realized my success (good grades, athletic ability, yadda yadda) as a child was not a sum of my punishment, but the product of my praise (as cliche as it sounds). My motivation was fueled more by a desire to please my parents than avoid punishment. For me, the punishment served only as an angering reminder that I was subservient and controlled.
So, although I am vehemently against violence especially to children, I do acknowledge that well-controlled conditioning by means of physical punishment could serve well young children who are incapable of understanding the consequence of certain actions. However, physical punishment should be revoked quickly and should not be used in older children capable of grasping consequence. It's use likely taints parent-child relationships and certainly renders children inexperienced with conscious decision-making.