chapter  3
15 Pages

The Theoretical Rationale for Eliminating Physical Punishment

ByANNE B. SMITH

Childhood Studies is about a more integrated approach to research and teaching about children’s lives and well-being, a more ‘joined-up’ view of the ‘child in context’, which has become a priority for policy and for professional training. . . . Childhood Studies is built around a rejection of the essentialism endemic in traditional theorizing, in favor of recognizing the multiple ways childhood is socially constructed and reconstructed in relation to time and place, age, gender, ethnicity etc. Childhood Studies also represents a critique of the way children’s lives are regulated in modern societies, an emphasis on recognizing children as social actors, and empowering their participatory rights in all areas of social life. (Woodhead, 2004, pp. x-xi)

The discipline of Childhood Studies and the growth of the Children’s Rights movement have developed on a parallel course, sharing an emphasis on children’s agency, their right to participate, and how they construct their social worlds; children as subjects not objects of control or concern; and children as individuals and persons rather than as a collective undifferentiated class or immature beings (Alanen, 2010; Freeman, 1998). Relationships between adults and children are of central importance in Childhood Studies, and also in the consideration of the use of physical punishment within families. As Mayall (2009) points out, “if children are understood as competent, knowledgeable and morally reliable, their parents will be less required to, and will see less reason to, control their children’s every move” (pp. 176-177). Parent-child relationships are located in particular historical and social contexts, and provide opportunities for, and limit, children’s agency (Honig, 2009; Mayall, 2009; Qvortrup et al., 2009). Their nature determines how each successive generation of parents interacts with their children.