from experts in the field:
John E. B. Myers is a professor of law at the University of Pacific,
Sacramento. He has authored several books and articles on the
subject of child abuse, which have been cited by more than 150
courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Should people get paid
to donate their organs?
AN INCREASING BODY OF research indicates that corporal punishment
is not benign and that it has harmful long-range consequences for some
children. “Normal” corporal punishment during childhood is a risk factor
for negative outcomes in adulthood, including substance abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts and
poverty. (“Normal,” or, as the law would call it, “reasonable,” corporal punishment would be
spanking on the bottom with an open hand. Slapping the face, hitting with a closed fist or using
an implement such as a belt is “unreasonable.” Leaving bruises is likewise “unreasonable.”)
While most parents who spank do not inflict serious physical injury, the sad fact is that every
year in the United States thousands of children—usually babies and toddlers—are seriously
injured or killed by adults whose corporal punishment got out of hand because the adult was furious and “just lost it.” The danger that corporal punishment will go too far and hurt or kill a child
is highest when parents are furious. The result is tragedy. Approximately 1,200 children—almost
all of them babies and very young toddlers—die every year from abuse and neglect. Many of these
deaths result from parents inflicting corporal punishment.
If corporal punishment were banned, the idea that “hitting is OK” would be replaced with the
idea that “hitting is never OK.” When children raised without corporal punishment become parents, and when they become furious—as they will—they are not likely to injure or kill their child.
In 1998, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the negative consequences of
corporal punishment outweigh any benefits, and that parents should not spank. A growing number of countries, including Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Latvia
and Norway, have outlawed corporal punishment. These countries report no adverse consequences to the move, and the consensus is that the ban is a good idea.
In the United States, banning corporal punishment could save thousands of children every
year from injury or death. C
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from experts in the field:
I AM NO FAN of spanking as a disciplinary technique—there simply are
much more positive ways to help children improve their behavior.
Surprisingly, research on the effect of spanking is far from conclusive in
showing long-term negative consequences. In fact, studies show that other things that parents may
do—such as failing to be emotionally involved with children or being overly permissive—can lead
to more harm than mild, infrequent spankings. Certainly, the harsher the corporal punishment, the
more harmful the consequences are likely to be, but this is why we have laws against child abuse.
Sweden pioneered the anti-spanking movement, passing a law in 1979 that prohibited spanking. In the early 1980s, Sweden experienced a swing toward parental permissiveness, and parents
reported that they did not know how to discipline if they could not physically punish their children. The Swedish experiment suggests that any efforts to discourage spanking must be accompanied by education to help parents learn a new repertoire of parenting techniques, such
as using positive incentives, modeling appropriate behaviors, addressing underlying problems
and giving mild consequences for misbehavior.
An additional concern is that legislation against spanking might disproportionately punish
the poor and members of minority groups. Researchers have found that spanking is more common when mothers are young and living in poverty. Also, a large national study found that when
women of similar economic background were compared, more African-American than Caucasian
mothers reported spanking their preschoolers. Interestingly, research suggests that the effects of
spanking may differ among minority groups; with African-American families there is simply less
evidence of harm. The cultural or emotional context in which spanking occurs may have an influence that we don’t yet understand, so we should be cautious in writing new legislation.
Rather than trying to legislate away parental spanking, I believe we should promote parental
support and education. Ironically, the notion of punishing parents for spanking their kids sounds
a bit like “Just give them a swat.” C
Virginia Shiller, Ph.D., is a child and family therapist, lecturer at
the Yale Child Study Center and author of Rewards for Kids!
Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting (American
Psychological Association, 2003); www.rewardsforkids.com.