Corporal punishment is one the most commonly used discipline techniques for children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, even though it strongly opposes its use. In 1998, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than 90 percent of parents reported using corporal punishment in the home. An October, 2013 update from the AAP states that a significant body of research indicates a connection between spanking and aggressive behavior later. Generally, parents administer this controversial discipline technique in response to the child's behavior or actions; most often, it takes the form of a spanking. This method is still used, even though most expert organizations disapprove of its use.
Types of Corporal Punishment
In the Western world, parental corporal punishment generally takes the form of a spanking, such as a swat applied to the thighs or buttocks. The buttocks are the most popular target of corporal punishment, because they are protected by fatty tissue; generally, strikes to this area will not cause serious physical injury. Parents may also use slaps on the wrist or face to discipline a child. However, these areas are fairly sensitive and hard strikes can cause serious injury. Some caregivers use implements such as paddles, belts or canes to inflict corporal punishment, but this practice is banned in many jurisdictions.
Opposition to Corporal Punishment
Expert organizations strongly oppose the use of corporal punishment in homes and in schools. The American Psychological Association notes that corporal punishment provides only a temporary change in a child's behavior and tends to be counterproductive, and that no compelling evidence exists to support the notion that physical strikes can improve a child's behavior or mental health. HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also disapproves of corporal punishment, and declares that if a parent strikes a child in anger, he should apologize to the child and explain that hitting is an unacceptable way of expressing frustration.
Legal Issues With Corporal Punishment
As of 2013, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children reports that 34 nations, including Austria, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and Spain have abolished the use of corporal punishment in homes and schools. In the United States, corporal punishment remains legal in all 50 states; no restrictions exist regarding the use use of implements or the age of the child. In Canada, parents are allowed to spank children between 2 and 12 years of age using an open, bare hand. Efforts to ban corporal punishment in Massachusetts and California -- two traditionally liberal U.S. states -- have failed.
Why People Use Corporal Punishment
In theory, corporal punishment can alter a child's behavior by teaching him to associate negative behaviors with physically painful consequences. To avoid physical pain, the child will theoretically stop engaging in the actions that lead to corporal punishment. The American Psychological Association notes that physical threats can temporarily alter a child's behavior, but they offer no long-term benefits for the child's emotional or physical well being. Corporal punishment may result in short-term compliance because of the child's fear of physical pain.
Alternatives to Corporal Punishment
HealthyChildren.org offers several child discipline alternatives to spanking and other forms of corporal punishment. Some children respond well to time-out sessions and loss of privileges. The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports the use of natural consequences. For example, a toddler who destroys a toy during a tantrum can no longer play with it. Some parenting experts, including Alfie Kohn, author of "Unconditional Parenting" and "Punished by Rewards," disapproves of using punishments and rewards, and instead, support using ongoing communication and other child-centered discipline techniques.
- Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children: Global Progress
- HealthyChildren.org: Where We Stand; Spanking
- American Psychological Association: Corporal Punishment
- Pediatrics: American Academy of Pediatrics; Guidance for Effective Discipline
- AAP.org: Pediatrics Digest; Spanking and Child Development Across the First Decade of Life
- Global Initiatives: End Corporal Punishment; United States of America