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IRREGULAR TIMESThe Terms of Corporal Punishment

When it comes to the terms people use when discussing child welfare, there is often a great deal of confusion about how the terms should be defined. The ambiguity that results from this confusion results in a lot of cross-talk in which people with different perspectives lack a common vocabulary. Here at Spare The Child, we hope to lessen such confusion by defining some basic terms from the start.

First, what is corporal punishment? This term is easy to define, because its meaning is very direct. The word "corporal" is an adjective which modifies a noun to clarify that it is of the physical body (the corps). Punishment is another word for retribution, the enforcement of undesirable conditions upon someone in response to a previous act that was considered by the punisher. Corporal punishment, then, is defined as unwanted retaliation inflicted upon the physical body of the recipent in response to an act that was undesireable to the person inflicting the retaliation.

Abuse is a bit trickier to define because it is an inherently subjective term. Abuse is nothing more than an act which is deemed to be inappropriately harmful by the person who describes the act. What one person believes to be abuse, someone else probably does not. Many arguments exist, especially among researchers, about whether corporal punishment is a form of abuse. The truth is that this question can never be resolved scientifically because determination of abuse is based upon the different ethical codes held by different groups of people. Ethical codes are not objectively based, but are merely formalizations of subjective personal preferences.

Many people have strange ideas about what the term discipline means. The presumption that discipline must be punitive is very common, and a good number of people who believe in the wisdom of corporal punishment believe that discipline is a synonym for corporal punishment. Actually, the word discipline refers to education, not punishment and not necessarily control. A discipline is a field of study, and to discipline only means to teach. The fact that many people associate discipline with strict control says a great deal about their attitudes toward education. Here at Spare The Child, we'll try to avoid the term discipline as much as possible, but when we do use it, we mean it in the sense only of the educational betterment of a child.

Corporal punishment is a rather clinical term for the taste of many people, so a good number of colloquialisms for the practice exist. In addition to the term spanking, different people describe corporal punishment with words like popping, smacking, whipping, and licking. We'll avoid these terms at Spare The Child, because they tend to distract from the essence of the corporal punishment debate: the matter of whether it is beneficial or otherwise appropriate to use physical punishment in response to the perceived misbehaviors of children.

If there are any terms that we use here at Spare The Child that you're not sure about, or if there are any terms that you believe we should be using and are not, drop us a line and let us know. We'll review your comments and incorporate them into the site as soon as possible.

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