Facts About Corporal Punishment

It's important to educate yourself about the facts on corporal punishment.
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Corporal punishment is a hot topic that is widely debated by parenting experts, psychologists, and parents. Fueled by news stories about the horrors of child abuse, many of those opposed to corporal punishment question whether or not it should remain legal and what steps could be taken to reduce incidents of physical abuse to children.

Corporal punishment encompasses all types of physical punishment, including spanking, slapping, pinching, pulling, twisting, and hitting with an object. It also may include forcing a child to consume unpleasant substances such as soap, hot sauce, or hot pepper. In the United States, corporal punishment is legal on a federal level, but state laws vary on what types of physical punishments are allowed.

AAP's Position on Corporal Punishment

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has taken a firm stance against any type of corporal punishment. In 2018, their revised policy on corporal punishment, Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children, encourages parents and caregivers to use healthy forms of discipline when correcting their children and to refrain from using corporal punishment. Here is an excerpt from their policy.

"The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends healthy forms of discipline, such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, limit setting, redirecting, and setting future expectations. The AAP recommends that parents do no use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming."

Overall, the AAP recommends that parents, schools, and caregivers refrain from using any type of physical punishment with children including spanking and paddling in schools. They also indicate that corporal punishment is ineffective over the long-term and leads to negative outcomes.

What You Should Know About Corporal Punishment

Teaching children acceptable behaviors, including how to make good choices and exercise self-control, is an integral part of child-rearing. But, many parents rely on physical punishments to accomplish these goals. What's more, these parents do not intend to harm their children when using corporal punishment; but instead, believe it is an effective discipline strategy. The issue is that corporal punishment is generally more harmful than it is helpful. Here are some surprising facts about corporal punishment every parent should know.

Makes Behavior Problems Worse

While corporal punishment may lead to immediate compliance, researchers have found that the changes in behavior may only be short-term. In fact, studies consistently show that over the long-term, corporal punishment is ineffective and may even cause behavior problems to worsen over time. For instance, spanking children increases aggressive behavior.

A multitude of research studies have found that kids who are spanked are more likely to hit other people. The reason behind this is simple. Corporal punishment models aggressive behavior, which teaches children to solve problems with violence. It also can lead to bullying, dating violence, and other problem behaviors that rely on having power over someone else.

What's more, spanking is not any more effective than time-out. In fact, research shows that spanking quickly loses effectiveness over time. When children are spanked, they don’t learn how to make better choices. And eventually, spanking stops being a deterrent. 

Corporal punishment also damages the relationship between kids and their parents or caregivers. Trust, stability, safety, and security are the keys to helping children develop the skills they need to manage their behavior. Corporal punishment erodes that relationship and makes behavior management more difficult.

Linked to Lower IQ

A study published in the Journal of Aggression Maltreatment & Trauma found that spanking lowers a child’s IQ. Researchers suggest that the fear and stress associated with being hit takes a toll on a child’s brain development.

The study also found that the more a child was spanked, the slower the child’s mental development. This was especially true when children continue to be spanked at older ages.

Associated With Mental Illness

Research has shown that children who are subjected to corporal punishment, such as spanking, pushing, grabbing, and paddling, are more likely to develop mental disorders. In fact, a study published in Pediatrics reported that harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders. 

Even when physical punishment wasn't considered child abuse, the researchers found that corporal punishment placed children at a higher risk of developing almost every type of mental illness.

Supported by Most Americans

Despite much public opposition to spanking, a survey conducted by the Harris Poll discovered that 81% of Americans privately support spanking children. For instance, the poll found that older generations are more accepting of spanking with 88% of mature parents, 85% of baby boomers, 82% of Gen X parents, and 72% of Millennial parents approving of corporal punishment.

Of course, there are a number of different ways in which parents define corporal punishment. For instance, some parents consider spanking with an open hand on a child's bottom acceptable but believe that all other forms of physical punishment are unacceptable. Meanwhile, other parents believe that any type of physical punishment is appropriate including taking a switch to a child, slapping a child's mouth, twisting an ear, pinching an arm, and so on.

Once implemented in a family, corporal punishment can be a difficult cycle to break. In fact, many parents that use corporal punishment will default to that discipline strategy when faced with misbehavior from their kids rather than trying other methods like redirection, timeouts, and the removal of privileges. Likewise, most children who were spanked grow up to become parents who use physical punishments as well.

Allowed in Public Schools of 19 States

The AAP has taken a strong stance against corporal punishment in schools, stating that schools should not use any type of physical punishment. Yet, despite their statements, paddling is still allowed in the public schools of 19 states in the United States, primarily in the South. In fact, according to the Office of Civil Rights, 163,333 children were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2011-2012 school year.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch found that black students and disabled students were paddled most often. Interestingly, the states with stricter laws regarding corporal punishment would consider hitting children with a wooden paddle child abuse.

Banned in 53 Countries

Many countries have banned any type of corporal punishment, including spanking. Sweden became the first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979. Since then, other countries such as Germany and Brazil also have made spanking children illegal.

In 2006, the Committee on the Rights of the Child released a statement declaring that corporal punishment is a form of violence that should be banned in all contexts. Other human rights organizations have issued similar warnings about spanking.

Alternatives to Corporal Punishment

Discipline shouldn't be about controlling kids. Instead, it should be about teaching them to control themselves. As a result, it is best to use strategies that will help your children learn from their mistakes while also cultivating better decision-making skills. These skills will help them make better choices in the future.

If you currently use corporal punishment with your child, you may want to consider the potential long-term consequences physical punishment could have on your child's well-being. Instead, consider alternative discipline strategies that could be more effective. Here are some discipline strategies you might try implementing.

  • Take away certain privileges, such as electronics, for 24 hours. That will hurt more than a spanking will.
  • Place a younger child in time-out. If your child refuses to go to time-out, take away a privilege.
  • Use restitution if your children's behavior hurts someone else. Assign an extra chore or have them perform a duty that will help make amends.
  • Implement logical consequences that teach life lessons. If your kids break something, make them do chores to earn money to fix it.
  • Use positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior too. For instance, establish a reward system or a token economy system to help your child address specific behavior problems.

A Word From Verywell

If you have concerns about your children's behavior or if they don't seem to be responding to your discipline strategies, seek professional help. Talk to your pediatrician about what steps you can take to address misbehavior in a healthy way.

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