Monday, 27 May 2013

NAP and children

Some good research about a commonly accepted form of violence in our society: parental corporal punishment of children.

Of course, this post is not a comprehensive digest of all research on the subject. Instead it gives a good idea where to look and what to look for. I put this together to prepare for a short talk in my home Libertarian Meetup in London (come along, have a pint).

Prevalence of corporal punishment

Corporal punishment is an act aiming at controlling behaviour by causing pain but not injury.

Corporal punishment of children is common. In the US, 65% of children under two experience it, 80% of children are being hit by the time they are ten and 85% are corporally punished at some point of their lives. 50% of children reported having been hit with a belt or similar object [Gershoff].

When children are being hit, it usually is repetitive. In the US, 42% of children were spanked, hit, slapped, shaken or hit with an object in the last month alone [Lansford].

UK data shows a similar pattern. 55% of parents admit "smacking" the their children before the age of five. Add to this milder forms of parent on child violence like shaking, pushing or restraining to get a full picture [Hansen].

Interestingly Swedish parents are 4 times less likely to use corporal punishment than American parents [Lansford].

Spanking violates NAP

Unless a parent hits the child in self-defence (not very likely), they are initiating physical violence against the child. By definition, this violates the Non-Aggression Principle.

If the moral theory of NAP is correct, then this parent-on-child violence has negative consequences. Below are more findings about this.

Consequences of NAP violations

According to meta analyses of research [e.g. Durrant], corporal punishment leads to a number of shitty things later in life. Some of them are: increased aggression, depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, reduced intelligence, delinquency, spousal assault, deteriorated parent-child relationships and attachment disorders. The fact that corporal punishment leads to family violence later in life completes the life cycle of aggression.

Neuroimaging studies suggest that physical punishment may reduce the volume of
the brain’s grey matter in areas associated with performance on IQ tests. Physical punishment can cause alterations in the dopaminergic regions, which can make it difficult for a person to experience happiness [Durrant].

Here are some examples of detailed research.

Spanked children are more aggressive. For example, 2-years-olds who are spanked three times a month are 50% more likely to demonstrate aggression just two years later [Taylor].

Children who are harshly physically punished (but not harshly enough to leave marks or bruises) are twice as likely to develop anxiety, substance addictions and severe personality disorders [Afifi].

All around the world, children who are spanked are less intelligent. Spanking of children aged 2 to 4 reduces IQ on average by 5 points. Even a small amount of spanking makes a difference. Also, the more frequent the spanking, the higher the intelligence drop [Straus].

Unfortunately for most people, negative effect of spanking are long lasting. For example a study of 16-years-olds showed increased adolescent depression and reduced self-esteem in people who were harshly corporally punished in childhood [Bender].

All the above analyses controlled for demographic and parenting variables other than spanking to remove correlations with other risk factors. Additionally, some research controls for initial level of child's aggression to address causality [Durrant].

The society mirrors the family

It seems like aggression against children may be a more prevalent form of violence than even the state!

People who grow up to be unintelligent, depressed and aggressive will not bring about the change. Similarly, those who cannot experience happiness will not hold it as the highest moral purpose as objectivists want it.

If you want the society to accept NAP, the most important thing you can do is to apply NAP to your own children and help others apply it to theirs.

And one day there will be enough people on the planet capable of de-normalising state violence that voluntaryism will become the dominant social paradigm.

Beyond politics

If you have been spanked as a child, do you understand how it shaped you? Do you know someone who is spanking? Tell them how they are unintentionally harming a child. Know a child who is being spanked? Support the child.

"Peaceful parenting" is the term to google if you want to learn more.



  1. Stuff I would hope to hear about in a talk on libertarian parenting:

    Is smacking the only form parenting you think is not "libertarian"?

    Also, how does one set out to breed more libertarians, and should one do so?

    Are there benefits for parent / child to inculating general (political) libertarianism? Are they different from teching say, objectivism, which is a more personal philosophy.

  2. Good questions Simon. I should be able to cover most of them in the talk.

    Basically I think that "libertarianism" is about the means, not the outcome. So any form of parenting which is honest, non-coercive, needs-based and connection-oriented is "libertarian". So inculcation is OK if done using the above means.