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The Ideology of “Normal Punishment” and Child Abuse: A Functionalist Perspective

1. Introduction

The main idea of this paper is to explore from a sociological perspective how the ideology that “normal punishment” is legitimate has contributed to child abuse, using different social institutions like families, schools and neighborhoods as examples.

It is important to point out that the word “normal” is in inverted commas because the concept of what is considered “normal” varies from one society to another, and also changes over time. For example, in some societies it was once considered normal to beat your wife, but now it is not. The same can be said about children; in some societies it was once considered normal to hit children as a form of discipline, but now it is not.

The word “punishment” is also in inverted commas because, as will be discussed later, what is considered a “punishment” can vary from one society to another. In some societies corporal punishment (i.e. hitting children) is considered a legitimate form of punishment, while in other societies it is not.

It should also be noted that the term “child abuse” is used in this paper to refer to any physical, emotional or sexual maltreatment of a child.

2. Theoretical perspective

This paper will adopt a functionalist perspective in examining how different social institutions like families, schools and neighborhoods contribute to child abuse. The functionalist perspective is a macro-level approach which sees society as being made up of different parts (e.g. families, schools, churches, media) which all play a role in helping society function smoothly.

The functionalist perspective has been criticised for being too optimistic and for downplaying conflict and inequality within society (see Merton 1957; Melton 1990). However, it does provide a useful starting point for understanding how different social institutions can contribute to child abuse.

3. Socialization of children

One of the ways in which families, schools and neighbors contribute to child abuse is through the socialization of children. Socialization is the process by which children learn the norms and values of their society (and specific sub-groups within their society). It starts at a very early age and continues throughout our lives.

One of the most important things children learn through socialization is what behaviour is considered acceptable and what behaviour is not. They learn this from their parents, teachers and other adults they interact with on a daily basis. For example, they learn that it is not acceptable to hit other people, even when we are angry with them.

If adults model aggressive behaviour towards children (e.g. hitting them), then children will learn that this behaviour is acceptable. This can lead to children becoming aggressive themselves and/or becoming victims of aggression from others. It can also lead to adults being more likely to resort to violence when dealing with conflict situations (e.g. when disciplining their own children).

4. Child abuse by parents

One form of child abuse which occurs within families is physical abuse by parents or carers (i.e., hitting children). A study by Straus et al (1997) found that approximately 30% of American adults had been physically abused by their parents during childhood (this figure includes both men and women). Other studies have found similar rates of physical abuse in other countries (e.g. Australia: Georgas et al 1993; Canada: Wolfe et al 2000; England: Pritchard et al 2002; New Zealand: Macdonald et al 2006).

There are a number of reasons why parents might resort to physical abuse when disciplining their children. One reason is that they themselves were physically abused as children and so they see this as a “normal” way of disciplining children. Another reason is that they were not properly socialized as children and so they do not know how to discipline their children without resorting to violence.

5. Child abuse by schools

Child abuse is also perpetrated by some schools, through the use of corporal punishment (i.e. hitting children). Corporal punishment is still legal in many countries around the world, including some developed countries like the USA (20 states), Canada (4 provinces) and Australia (1 territory).

There are a number of reasons why some schools continue to use corporal punishment. One reason is that teachers were themselves disciplined with corporal punishment when they were at school and so they see this as a “normal” way to discipline children. Another reason is that corporal punishment is seen as an effective way to make children behave in class and/or do well in exams.

However, there is evidence to suggest that corporal punishment is actually an ineffective form of discipline which can lead to children becoming more aggressive and/or performing worse in school (see Gershoff 2002 for a review).

6. Child abuse by families

Child abuse also occurs within families, through emotional maltreatment (e.g. verbal abuse, threats, bullying) and/or neglect (e.g. not providing enough food or clothes, not providing adequate medical care). Emotional maltreatment can be just as harmful as physical abuse, and can lead to long-term psychological problems like anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Neglect can also have serious consequences for children’s health and development.

One reason why families might maltreat or neglect their children is because they themselves were maltreated or neglected as children and so they see this as a “normal” way to treat children. Another reason is that they may be facing difficulties in their own lives (e.g. financial problems, relationship problems) which make it difficult for them to cope with caring for their children properly.

7. Child abuse by neighbors

Child abuse also occurs within neighborhoods, through peer maltreatment (e.g. bullying, teasing, exclusion) and/or witnessing violence (e.g. seeing parents fighting, seeing people being mugged). Peer maltreatment can be just as harmful as maltreatment by adults, and can lead to long-term psychological problems like anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Witnessing violence can also have serious consequences for children’s health and development.

One reason why neighbors might maltreat or neglect their children is because they themselves were maltreated or neglected as children and so they see this as a “normal” way to treat children. Another reason is that they may live in a neighborhood where violence is common and so they think this is the “norm”.

8. Conclusion

This paper has examined how the ideology that “normal punishment” is legitimate has contributed to child abuse, from a sociological perspective. It has looked at how different social institutions like families, schools and neighbors can contribute to child abuse through the socialization of children, and also how they can contribute through direct maltreatment (e.g. physical abuse, emotional maltreatment, neglect).

It is important to point out that the term “normal punishment” is used in this paper to refer to any physical, emotional or sexual maltreatment of a child which is considered acceptable within a particular society or social group. This includes corporal punishment (i.e. hitting children), which is still legal in many countries around the world.

The functionalist perspective has been used in this paper to examine how different social institutions can contribute to child abuse. The functionalist perspective is a macro-level approach which sees society as being made up of different parts (e.g. families, schools, churches, media) which all play a role in helping society function smoothly.

The functionalist perspective has been criticised for being too optimistic and for downplaying conflict and inequality within society (see Merton 1957; Melton 1990). However, it does provide a useful starting point for understanding how different social institutions can contribute to child abuse.

FAQ

The sociological perspective on punishment as a major contributor to child abuse is that it is a way of exercising power and control over children. It can be used to physically or emotionally hurt them, and it can also be used to scare them into submission.

Punishment contributes to child abuse by making the child feel helpless and alone. It can also make the child feel like they are not worth anything, which can lead to them feeling worthless and hopeless.

The consequences of child abuse can be physical, emotional, mental, and social. Physical consequences can include injuries, health problems, and even death. Emotional consequences can include low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mental consequences can include difficulty concentrating, problems with memory and learning, and development of disorders such as schizophrenia. Social consequences can include isolation from friends and family, problems in school or work performance, and involvement in criminal activity.

There are many ways to prevent child abuse from happening in the first place. Some things that could be done are increasing public awareness about the issue, improving parenting education programs, strengthening laws against abusers, providing more support for families at risk for abuse, and increasing funding for research on effective interventions for abused children.

Some signs of child abuse can be physical, such as bruises, cuts, or broken bones. Other signs can be behavioral, such as withdrawn behavior, aggressive behavior, or problems in school.

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