Saturday, November 17, 2018


I think Tim Hsiao makes some good general points in this article:

However, I disagree with using retribution as the primary paradigm for child discipline. 

i) Why not deploy a remedial theory of punishment in the case of children and retribution for adult offenders?

ii) Part of the problem concerns the incidental connotations of corporal punishment. "Corporal punishment" is a conventional designation, but can be misleading if we treat that conventional label as the frame of reference. With regard to young kids, we should reframe the issue in terms of conditioning rather than punishment. Analogous to dog training.

ii) Sometimes children do things that are morally wrong even from a child's perspective. They can be cruel. They may steal. 

iii) That needs to be distinguished from foolish or dangerous things kids do, that are innocent of malice. Kids are impetuous. 

iv) I don't think physical pain is the major factor in the corporal punishment or discipline. What makes it effective has less to do with the degree of physical pain than humiliation. A psychological effect.

Skinning your knees by falling off a bicycle is more painful than a light spanking, but spanking has a psychological effect that mere pain doesn't. It's a reproof from a parent. More like an honor/shame dynamic. Putting a misbehaving child in its place. 

The shocked or hurt expression of a child who's swatted isn't primary due to the pain, which may be minor, but the humiliation–and the fact that it was done by someone they're so emotionally dependent on.

Another cliche example is a young child who shoplifts. The parent discovers the stolen item after they return home, takes the child back to the store, where the shamefaced child must present the stolen item to the storeowner and personally apologize. There's nothing physically painful about that experience, but what makes it a disincentive to future shoplifting is the acute embarrassment.

Even in the case of the public caning of juvenile delinquents, the primary deterrent isn't physical pain but public humiliation. The psychological rather than physical unpleasantness of the experience. 

Take the famous case of Michael Fay. The corrective effect of his caning has less to do with physical pain than public shaming.

v) Take the cliche of a cliche example of a young child who does something hazardous because kids his age are impulsive, oblivious to danger, and shortsighted regarding the consequences of their actions.

The purpose of swatting them isn't punitive in that context. Rather, it's to make it memorable and unpleasant in order to create a disincentive which will override the impulse to engage in that kind of risky behavior in the future. Associate the behavior with something unpleasant or fearful. 

vi) It can be useless to reason with a young child who wants to do something he shouldn't–because children can be willful. They don't care about the reason. They just want what they want. So a parent needs to make it unpleasant, to create a disincentive. 

This isn't a question of justice or fairness but prudence. Conditioning prudent behavior. 

BTW, I'm not suggesting parents shouldn't give children reasons. They should. But oftentimes children aren't listening, so a reason will be ineffective, although it's still important for parents to reason with their kids.

vii) I wouldn't say young kids are either amoral or moral agents. There are moral elements to a child's psychological makeup. Take their sense of fairness or betrayal ("You promised!"). However, kids lack the cognitive ability to entertain the kind of counterfactual reasoning that's a part of moral deliberation and decision-making. 

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