No, physical punishment like spanking doesn’t work. So why do we keep doing it?

Spanking children does not work as an effective or “more effective” way to discipline children. And despite nearly two decades of telling parents to use spanking sparingly or with great care and consideration, the American Academy of Pediatrics now equates spanking with harm:

“Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term. With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children.”

Physical punishment of children seems almost ubiquitous among some generations. “My daddy whipped me, and I turned out alright,” and the notion teachers should continue to be able to hit children for discipline is a common sentiment.

Parents and caregivers who use physical punishment — that is, any form of physical pain that does not cause a lasting injury like a broken bone or bruise — usually choose to do so because they mistakenly believe something as simple and scary as physical pain must be the ultimate deterrent.  

Indiana is currently one of 19 states that legally allow parents, teachers, and school administrators to use “corporal punishment,” or spanking, in schools. Indiana law says schools “Have the right to take any disciplinary action necessary to promote student conduct that conforms with an orderly and effective educational system.” However, most school districts prohibit the use of spanking.

Other states that allow corporal punishment are in the South and southeastern United States. In a national report, cited in Indiana’s Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana (CISCI) recommendation to bar its use in Indiana, they note:

“110,000 students were subject to corporal punishment in school during the 2013-2014 academic year. Yet in-school corporal punishment and its related harm disproportionately impact students of color. Based on the 2013- 2014 CRDC, approximately 40,000 — or more than one-third — of those students who were subjected to corporal punishment are black; black students, by comparison, make up only 16 percent of the total public school student population.”

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The leading state is Mississippi, where teachers are known to implement corporal punishment nearly 28,000 times a year.

Ideas and strategies for reducing spanking, whipping, and other physical punishment

The Prevent Child Abuse America 2021 Physical Punishment Report provides an overview of the prevalence and impact of physical punishment in the United States:

  • Physical punishment remains a common practice in many households, with approximately 60% of parents reporting that they have used physical punishment at some point. 
  • While spanking is the most commonly reported form of physical punishment, other methods, such as hitting with an object, slapping, and pinching, are also used.

Despite the widespread use of physical punishment, research suggests that it can harm children. Studies have linked physical punishment to various adverse outcomes, including aggression, delinquency, depression, anxiety, and lower cognitive development. Additionally, physical punishment can erode the parent-child relationship and contributes to a cycle of violence and abuse.

The report recommends several strategies to promote positive discipline and reduce physical punishment. These include:

  1. Giving parents accurate information about child development and effective discipline strategies. This might include parenting classes, home visits, and support groups to help parents learn positive discipline techniques and reduce their reliance on physical punishment.
  2. Ensuring communities stay integral by creating safe, supportive environments for kids. This can include knowing your neighbors, building playgrounds or parks, after-school programs, or just safe places for kids to go during the summer and weekends.
  3. Policies that support positive discipline, such as laws that prohibit physical punishment in schools and childcare settings. These can help reduce physical punishment and promote positive discipline strategies throughout the child’s day.
  4. Public awareness campaigns that help change attitudes and beliefs about physical punishment and promote positive discipline strategies.

Positive discipline techniques, such as positive reinforcement, setting clear expectations, and promoting open communication, can help children develop healthy self-esteem, emotional regulation, and positive relationships without risking them becoming withdrawn, unstable, resentful, or hateful. Age-appropriate disciplinary action is a parental necessity, but spanking or whipping is not.

Done well, we can all contribute to kids becoming successful, happy, healthy adults prepared to raise the next generation.

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