Facts About Corporal Punishment

It's important to educate yourself about the facts on corporal punishment.
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Corporal punishment remains a hot topic that is widely debated by experts and parents. News stories about the horrors of child abuse often raise questions about whether corporal punishment 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. It's still legal on a federal level, but state laws vary on what types of physical punishments are allowed.

Here are some facts about the state of corporal punishment and the results of research studies on spanking:

1. Most Americans Believe in Spanking

Despite much public opposition to spanking, a 2013 survey conducted by the Harris Poll discovered that 81% of Americans privately support spanking children. The poll found that older generations are more accepting of spanking with 88 percent of mature parents, 85 percent of baby boomers, 82 percent of Gen X parents, and 72 percent of Millennial parents approving of corporal punishment.

2. 19 States Allow Teachers to Paddle Students

While hitting children with a wooden paddle is considered abuse in some states, in other states paddling is allowed in public schools. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights estimates that 223,190 students were paddled during the 2005-2006 school year.  A 2009 study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch found that black students and disabled students were paddled most often.

3. 39 Countries have  Banned Corporal Punishment

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 have also made spanking children illegal.

4. Studies have Shown Spanking Increases Aggression

Spanking children for aggressive behavior causes them to become more aggressive. A multitude of research studies have found kids who are spanked are more likely to hit other people. Corporal punishment models aggressive behavior, rather than deterring it.

5. Research Says Corporal Punishment Makes Behavior Problems Worse

Spanking has not been shown to be more effective than time-out. 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. 

6. Spanking Has Been Linked to Lower IQ

A 2009 study published in 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 found that the more a child was spanked, the slower the child’s mental development.

7. Physical Punishment is Associated with Increased Mental Illness

A 2012 study published in Pediatrics reported that harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders. 

8. The United Nations Recommends Banning Corporal Punishment

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.

Corporal Punishment Alternatives

Some parents resort to corporal punishment because they aren't sure how else to discipline their children. But, spanking could make behavior worse, not better.

There are several discipline strategies that are more effective than spanking. Try using logical consequences, reward systems, or time-out as alternatives to spanking

View Article Sources
  • Afifi T, Mota N, Dasiewicz P, MacMillan H, Sareen J. Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample. Pediatrics. June 2012.
  • Durrant J, Ensom R. Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2012;184(12):1373-1377. 
  • Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children: Convention on the Rights of Children.
  • Straus, Murray A. and Mallie J. Paschall. Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Development of Children's Cognitive Ability: A Longitudinal Study of Two Nationally Representative Age Cohorts. Journal of Aggression Maltreatment & Trauma, 2009; 18 (5): 459.
  • The Harris Polls: Is Spanking Ever Appropriate?