Reading the Little House in the Big Woods to the girls, one of the things that struck us is how obedient the children usually are, and how severe the punishments are when they are not. Our monkeys sometimes require an open handed swat to the bottom to bring them back under control, but I could never imagine taking a five or eight-year-old out to the woodshed for a beating with a switch. It just seems cruel and unnecessary.
Talking about this the other day, however, we were realizing how severe a set of dangers the parents of the families in the Ingles' social group faced if children didn't obey immediately and without hesitation. When bears, wolves and panthers routinely come into the yard, and household dangers include loaded guns, wood burning stoves, molten lead and such (without the backup of modern emergency rooms) your child's life might well rely on him or her obeying the rules every time without question.
Perhaps the relative lenience of modern child discipline (and from what I gather we're on the stricter end of the spectrum these days, as I often see other parents trying to reason with their children in a situation where it seems to me a spanking and/or time out is required) results from the relative safety of modern life.