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Alice Miller

The crucial role of an enlightened witness, or

Why must the existing law forbidding corporal punishment absolutely include our own children?

We all know—or, today, we should all know—that physical punishment only produces obedient children but cannot prevent them from becoming violent or sick adults precisely because of this treatment. This knowledge is now scientifically proven and was finally officially accepted by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1998. Contrary to common opinion prevalent as recently as fifteen years ago, the human brain at birth is far from being fully developed. It is use-dependent, needing loving stimulation for the child from her first day on. The abilities a person's brain can develop depend on experiences in the first three years of life.

Studies on abandoned and severely maltreated Romanian children revealed striking lesions in certain areas of the brain. The repeated traumatization has led to an increased release of stress hormones which have attacked the sensitive tissue of the brain and destroyed the new, already built-up neurons. The areas of their brains responsible for the "management" of their emotions are twenty to thirty percent smaller than in other children of the same age.

The neurobiological research makes it easier for us to understand the way Nazis like Eichmann, Himmler, Hoss and others functioned. The rigorous obedience training they underwent in earliest infancy—without the aid of a helping witness—stunted the development of such human capacities as compassion and pity for the sufferings of others. Serial killers often display the same structure.

Working toward a better future cannot be done without legislation that clearly forbids corporal punishment of our own children, and which disseminates information that makes society aware of the fact that children are people too. The whole society and its legal system can then play the role of a reliable, enlightened and protecting witness for children at risk who, without this assistance, can themselves become predators. Among the children who kill smaller children—a constantly increasing group—many come from adolescent, drug-addicted or criminal parents. They have been maltreated and neglected since infancy.

The only reason why a parent might smack his children is the parent's own history. All other so-called reasons, such as poverty and unemployment, are pure mystification. There are unemployed parents who don't spank their children, and there are many wealthy parents who maltreat their children in the most cruel way and teach them to minimize the terror by calling it "the right education." With a law prohibiting the corporal punishment of children, people of the next generation will not have recorded the highly misleading information in their brain which left so many with almost irreversible damage. They will be able to have empathy with a child and understand what has been done to children over millennia. It is a realistic hope to think that then (and only then) the human mind and behavior will change. No one is born with the genetic program to become a racist, lyncher or rapist, but one can be made to become a criminal if in their whole childhood they cannot find a person who will love and protect them. With a law that forbids spanking, every citizen becomes an enlightened witness, a person who knows why it is not allowed that anyone should hit a child.

This text can be distributed and published by everybody to disseminate the information as widely as possible. —Alice Miller

Alice Miller (1923-2010) was the first person to make the connection between corporal punishment and the potential damage it can do to children. She wrote 13 books, which have been translated into thirty languages.

Check out Alice Miller's Web Site at


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