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Hitting Doesn't Make Kids Better or Stronger  Unfortunately, many people, much more likely on the Right than on the Left, still hold that converting naturally unruly children into socialized adults requires a certain amount of parental abuse.

"Spare the rod and spoil the child.” "If people don't fear punishment, they won't behave."  Psychologist George Madoff  reported in Moral Politics: how liberals and conservatives think (2002), that this mindset is well correlated with political conservatism.  Its close corollary is the conviction that parental harshness produces the toughness needed to survive in a very harsh world.  Now, thanks to developments in neuro-psychology, both of these delusions can be countered with powerful empirical evidence in addition to rational, humane argument.

Real strength means being able to deal with a wide variety of threats and stressors, cooley.  People are most competent, are least weak, when not ruled by emotions at a time of crisis. This is what psychologists call self-regulation.  Louis Cozolino, in The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: attachment and the developing social brain (2009) presents rapidly expanding evidence of how the achievement of self-regulation occurs within our brains.  Simply stated, in order for us not to be dominated by the powerful fear based emotions triggered by a perceived threat, the left-brain part of our frontal cortex must gain ascendance over the right-brain part of our amygdala, the fear center of our limbic system.  The  frontal cortex,  evolutionarily younger than the limbic system,  and the even older and more reactive “reptilian” brain stem, is also  far less rigid than either.  The cortex's plasticity has allowed it to strengthen itself,  and as  a result to become increasingly adept over millennia at modifying our emotional responses to potential threats. Under extreme conditions  amygdala and brainstem can still over-ride and overwhelm all efforts at rational temporizing.  The cortex's potential for growth and development is a genetic given, but the strengthening process itself, the ascendance of self-regulation,   occurs by means of a special kind of interpersonal relationship.  This is the relationship of  mother-child attachment.  It is also, though to a lesser degree, the relationship of learners to other socializers: therapists, mentors, and teachers throughout our lifespan.  To a vastly greater degree than the concept socialization implied before the explosion of neurobiological research over the last several decades, our brains are the product of these social relationships

In The Developing Mind (1999), Daniel Siegel tells us  how neuro-psychologists infer self-regulation to occur.  One's first socializer, one's mother ordinarily and ideally, is genetically equipped and powerfully driven to resonate with her infant.  Like one violinist mimicking another, playing the same chords in the same sequence, tempo and volume, she perfectly mirrors her child.  Later in life, as cognitive educational psychologist Carl Pickhardt tells us in Stop the Screaming: How to Turn Angry Conflict With Your Child into Positive Communication (2009), parents who wish to stay connected with their adolescents learn to “dance with them.”  This means accepting the flow of their interaction with the world,  however bizarre.  Psychotherapists operate similarly with adult patients.  Only through the achievement of inter-personal resonance can a socializer’s wisdom transfer to the brain of a learner.  Learning occurs not by criticism, not by threat but by example.  It occurs when a socializer subtly modifies the qualities of her resonance with a learner – calms the rhythm of the dance, incrementally --  and the learner integrates these changes.  New neurons are added to his brain which enhance his growing powers of self-regulation.  The partnership between the learner's own cortex and amygdala shifts from lopsided to the right, to lopsided to the left.  Ideally.

How does corporal punishment fit into this empirical, increasingly validated theory of  normal social development?  A parent striking a child, any socializer striking any learner, of any age, however “benevolently,” short circuits  interpersonal resonance – disconnects the dancers.  Without this resonance, this dance, self-regulation cannot flourish. Hitting, and make no mistake, spanking, however gently, is still hitting, may produce  people tough on the outside; but cognitively-emotionally the effect is crippling.  One may wonder why Western conservative tradition holds this practice in such high esteem.  In Born to Be Good: the science of a meaningful life (2009), Dacher Keltner comments upon early Puritan’s stress on punishment, disapproval of parent-child hugging and kissing and proscriptions against adults dancing and singing.  These social controls undermined brains’ release of  chemicals which studies now show enhance our motivation to form strong, caring communities.  Circumspectly,  he does not over-reach his data and speculate that oligarchs  may long have understood how disrupting connectedness produced more malleable citizenries.  But his own research, and that of his colleagues, leaves this question hanging provocatively.

Many conservatives argue, of course, that the world is not ideal.  Most parents are poor socializers   Better a citizen who has learned to fear the consequences of improper behavior than one un-spanked, but not self-regulating either. Of course this way lies hopelessness and despair.  Might as well feed kids heroin early on because they probably won’t be able to cope with life anyway.  The potential for  a better world may well inhere in healthier parent-child relations.  Perhaps nothing more clearly differentiates liberals and conservatives than that conservatives dwell on punishment, while liberals prefer to dance.

Originally posted to daw13 on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 06:49 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The conservatives I know that (6+ / 0-)
    use spanking do so to make thei kids polite, because they know that fucking brats are annoying to the rest of us.

    If they're being quintessentially conservative, we could use more conservative parenting.  Especially when I'm at brunch on Sunday morning and some asshole won't take their spoiled kids out of the restaurant.

    We are building a team that is continuously being built. - Sarah Palin

    by burrow owl on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 06:59:26 PM PDT

    •  That's the worst. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl

      Or parents that won't remove their little brat from a movie theater even though he/she is making a scene and ruining it for the rest of us.

      Great, you have a kid, doesn't mean we should have to put up with it.

    •  Heh. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl, VClib

      What's wrong with this diary is that about 90 percent of adults, even by the loosest of standards, could not be described as liberal or conservative, except perhaps thru self-identification.
      And of course you're right.  I was never spanked, but my older sister and younger brother were.  And in the end, they turned out better than me.  Not because of spanking, but because different kids are, you know, different.

      Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

      by bugscuffle on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:03:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You obviously didn't read this part: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl

      How does corporal punishment fit into this empirical, increasingly validated theory of  normal social development?  A parent striking a child, any socializer striking any learner, of any age, however "benevolently," short circuits  interpersonal resonance – disconnects the dancers.  Without this resonance, this dance, self-regulation cannot flourish.

      However, sometimes the little bastard needs a smack on the rear.

      Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

      by bugscuffle on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:06:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  All too true... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl

        However, sometimes the little bastard needs a smack on the rear.

        But rarely, and NEVER in public.  As for corporal punishment, I'm kinda meh about it.  

        "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White

        by zenbassoon on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:25:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Dear God (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl, science first, bugscuffle

      Is that all this site is?  Do you sit around and think of ways to bash conservatives with random topics?

      So, we should do something about conservative child abusers.

      I saw a black lady spank her whiney kid in the store the other day.  Got to watch out for those black abusers too.  A lot of blacks spank their kids.

      I don't have any evidence, I just saw a few black people spank their kids.  I am going to run with that knowledge though.....

      I thought I was signing up for some debate and thought, not this stupid crap.

      future diary lists....

      Liberals make better....
      mail carriers
      space explorers
      bomb technicians
      car salesman

      Get real.

    •  You mistake violence for discipline (0+ / 0-)

      There are people who discipline violently, those who discipline non-violently, and those who don't [redacted] discipline at all.

      Setting firm, consistently-applied limits, with predictable non-violent consequences that are proportional to the offense, is the most effective discipline method. Hitting is the least effective, and, as far as I've seen, is typically used by people who either haven't learned any other techniques, or who are too overloaded to be able to think past their lizard-brains.

      You don't have to hurt a child to teach a child. Children are capable of self-control, once they know what the limits are and that the limits are real.

      @mataliandy on twitter

      by mataliandy on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 08:38:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I believe it. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mataliandy, historys mysteries

    Considering my big-buddies-with-Trent-Lott cousins have managed to raise nothing but criminals and fuckups, that's a pretty good case in point.  The dad is a super-strict jerk who got in a fist-fight with one of his sons, and the other is a drug addict, and the only reason he's not in jail is because his parents gave Trent Lott a huge under-the-counter contribution to get armed robbery wiped off his record.

    Then there's a lady at work who's raising her daughter's kid because she's a substance abuser who's less responsible than the average six year old.  

    And I could keep giving examples all night... while I can't think of any liberal parents I know who really raised a terrible kid.  

    "Glenn Beck ends up looking like a fat, stupid child. His face should be wearing a chef's hat on the side of a box of eclairs. " - Doug Stanhope

    by Front Toward Enemy on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:00:01 PM PDT

  •  Ugh (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burrow owl, truesteam

    I am that gadfly which God has attached to the state, and all day long and in all places...arousing and persuading and reproaching you.-Socrates

    by The Navigator on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 07:01:01 PM PDT

  •  Oh boy......... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Liberal, Conservative, Purple People eater. My policy when it comes to parenting is, Run my own Race.  I won't really know the full extent of my mistakes until my children are going through their first divorce.

  •  Plenty of political liberals (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    historys mysteries, Lujane

    spank their children. And I'm sure there are at least a few conservative parents who don't. We can debate the merits of spanking without pigeonholing all who (don't) use it into a particular ideology.

    What I will say is that when I hear someone suggest that anyone who does not spank their children is ipso facto not a good parent, almost invariably it's a conservative telling me that.

    liberal bias = failure to validate or sufficiently flatter the conservative narrative on any given subject

    by RockyMtnLib on Wed Aug 26, 2009 at 08:32:26 PM PDT

  •  There was a fascinating program on public radio (0+ / 0-)

    a couple weeks ago about the Harlem Children's Zone, and teaching parents to both talk and read to their young children more, and more effective ways to discipline the children than "popping them one".  I highly recommend listening to it (first two segments).

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