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Spanking is a form of corporal punishment consisting of striking the buttocks of another person to cause temporary pain. It generally involves one person striking the buttocks of another person with an open hand. When an open hand is used, spanking is referred to in some countries as slapping or smacking. More severe forms of spanking, such as switching, paddling, belting, caning, whipping, and birching, involve the use of an implement instead of a hand. Corporal punishment is most commonly used to discipline a child or teenager. It generally involves an adult – typically a parent, guardian, or teacher – striking the child's buttocks as punishment for unacceptable behavior. Historically, boys have tended to be more frequently spanked than girls. Some countries have outlawed the spanking of children in every setting, but many allow it at least when administered by a parent or guardian. For the legal status of corporal punishment in different countries, see corporal punishment in the home and school corporal punishment.
In some cultures, the spanking of a wife by her husband is considered an acceptable form of domestic discipline, though the practice is far less common than it used to be. In other contexts, the spanking of an adult can be considered a playful gesture during a social ritual or as a form of entertainment.
In the home
Law and public opinion
In many cultures, parents have historically been regarded as having the duty of disciplining their children, and the right to spank them when appropriate; however, attitudes in many countries changed in the 1950s and 60s following the publication by pediatrician Dr. Spock of Baby and Child Care in 1946, which advised parents to treat children as individuals, whereas the previous conventional wisdom had been that child rearing should focus on building discipline, and that, e.g., babies should not be "spoiled" by picking them up when they cried. The change in attitude was followed by legislation. Sweden was the first to abolish corporal punishment of children in the family in 1979. As of January 2015, a total of forty‑six countries, including 28 in Europe, had outlawed corporal punishment of children in all contexts, including in the home. In many other places the practice is considered controversial.
In many countries in Africa and the Middle East, and in most parts of Eastern Asia (including China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea), corporal punishment of one's own children is lawful. In Singapore and Hong Kong, punishing one's own child with corporal punishment is legal but not particularly encouraged. Culturally, many people in the region believe a certain amount of corporal punishment for their own children is appropriate and necessary, and thus such practice is accepted by society as a whole.
Lay opinions are divided on whether spanking is helpful or harmful to a child's behavior. Public attitudes towards the acceptability and effectiveness of spanking vary a great deal by nation and region. For example in the United States and United Kingdom, social acceptance of spanking children maintains a majority position, from approximately 61% to 80%. In Sweden, before the 1979 ban, more than half of the population considered corporal punishment a necessary part of child rearing. By 1996 the rate was 11%, and less than 34% considered it acceptable in a national survey.
On the other hand, many professional and child welfare organizations oppose it. The American Academy of Pediatrics has disavowed the practice of spanking, citing ineffectiveness, the chance of injury, and the likelihood that physical punishment will escalate into physical abuse.
In one 2006 study, children whose parents spanked them commonly reported feelings of fear, anger, and sadness as a result. Young children aged between five and seven in a UK study said of being spanked by their parents, "it feels like someone banged you with a hammer" and "it hurts and it’s painful inside – it’s like breaking your bones".
Dr. Elizabeth T. Gershoff, a "leading researcher" on spanking according to the American Psychological Association as well as CNN, found in 2013 that spanking children did not achieve parents' aims of either short‑term or long‑term compliance, based on numerous prior studies. She calls spanking a form of "violence" that should be stopped. According to Dr. Gershoff, the belief that spanking increased immediate compliance was "overly influenced by one study". Dr. Joan Durrant and Ron Ensom with the University of Manitoba and Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, respectively, reached a similar conclusion in a systematic review of two decades of spanking research, finding that spanking increased children's aggression over time and was not effective in promoting desired behaviors.
A longitudinal study by Tulane University in 2010 found a 50% greater risk of aggressive behavior two years later in young children who were spanked more than twice in the month before the study began. The study controlled for a wide variety of confounding variables, including initial levels of aggression in the children. According to the study's leader, Catherine Taylor, this suggests that "it's not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked."
A 2008 study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that mothers who spanked their children were also more likely to abuse them by "beating, burning, kicking, hitting with an object somewhere other than the buttocks, or shaking a child less than 2 years old", according to the researchers. In Dr. Gershoff's words, "The link between spanking and physical abuse is the most disturbing of these unintended effects, but it should not be a surprising one; both parental acts involve hitting, and purposefully hurting, children. ... [M]ost documented cases of physical abuse begin with parents physically punishing their children for a perceived misdeed". The study authors believed that media, educational, and legislative efforts to reduce spanking may reduce the incidence of physical child abuse.
A small minority of scientists have claimed that "non‑abusive" spanking is not harmful. Dr. Durrant, on the other hand, argues that "over 100" studies have shown that spanking can be harmful to children. She asserts that spanking inhibits children's cognitive development and predicts various mental illnesses in adulthood. Dr. Durrant maintains that no study has demonstrated any long‑term benefit to spanking. Dr. Alan Kazdin, psychology professor at Yale University and former president of the American Psychological Association, echoed Dr. Durrant's assertion in 2012, saying, "There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work".
The authors of a 2009 study found reduced gray matter in areas of the brain related to self‑control, depression, and addiction in young adults who had been regularly spanked as children. Murray Straus, regarded as the "foremost researcher" on child corporal punishment according to Science Daily, has also reported damage to cognitive development and subsequent lower academic performance in children who were spanked.
Straus also published a study in 2013 which found that children across numerous cultures who were spanked committed more crimes as adults than children who were not spanked. He noted, "So many parents and child psychologists believe that if spanking is done by loving and helpful parents, it has no harmful effect...This study and only one other study I know of that empirically investigated this belief found that it is not true. Spanking seems to be associated with an increased probability of subsequent child behavior problems regardless of culture and, regardless of whether it [is] done by loving and helpful parents".
A few researchers have been critical of the methodology used in many of the studies on spanking, as well as their authors' conclusions. But even these scientists contend that spanking beyond a specific set of criteria (children age 2–6, no objects, in private, less than once per week) is still harmful. A 2013 meta‑analysis by Dr. Chris Ferguson employed an alternative statistical analysis that still showed negative outcomes in children subjected to spanking and corporal punishment, but found the overall relationship to be "trivial" or nearly so. However, Ferguson acknowledged this still indicates harmful outcomes and noted some limitations of his analysis, stating "On the other hand, there was no evidence from the current meta-analysis to indicate that spanking or CP held any particular advantages. There appears, from the current data, to be no reason to believe that spanking/CP holds any benefits related to the current outcomes, in comparison to other forms of discipline."
There is an ongoing debate on whether or not the sexual deviation "spanking fetishism" is caused by spankings received or witnessed in childhood (or puberty age). A study by Murray Straus found a positive correlation with childhood spanking and adult interest in masochistic sexual practices, but also found that up to 40% of adults with such interests had no history of childhood spanking. This suggests that while spanking may contribute, there are other significant variables involved.
Corporal punishment, usually delivered with an implement (such as a paddle or cane) rather than with the open hand, used to be a common form of school discipline in many countries, but it is now banned in most of the western world. These bans have been controversial, and in many cultures opinion remains sharply divided as to the efficacy or suitability of spanking as a punishment for misbehaviour by school students.
Formal caning, notably for teenage boys, remains a common form of discipline in schools in several Asian and African countries, especially those with a British heritage; in these cultures it is referred to as "caning" and not "spanking".
In the United States, the Supreme Court in 1977 held that the paddling of school students was not per se unlawful. However, 31 states have now banned paddling in public schools. It is still common in some schools in the South.
In some cultures, the spanking of women, by the male head of the family or by the husband (sometimes called domestic discipline) has been – and sometimes continues to be – a common and approved custom. In those cultures and in those times it was the belief that the husband, as head of the family, had a right and even the duty to discipline his wife and children when he saw fit, and manuals were available to instruct the husband how to discipline his household. In most western countries, this practice has come to be regarded as socially unacceptable wife-beating, domestic violence or abuse. Routine corporal punishment of women by their husbands, however, does still exist in some parts of the developing world, and still occurs in isolated cases in western countries.
In popular culture
Adult spanking, or the threat of being spanked, has appeared in numerous films and TV series. In most cases, it is a man spanking or threatening to spank a woman. Some examples include:
- In the 1933 movie Man of the Forest Randolph Scott spanked Verna Hillie over his arm 12 times for trying to take his gun away from him.
- In both the novel Gone With the Wind (1936), and the 1939 film adaptation of it, Rhett Butler pulls Scarlett O'Hara out of bed and spanks her for not getting ready for Melanie's party.
- In the Eroll Flynn film Dodge City (1939), Olivia De Havilland asks what happens to those who object to the face of the law, Flynn replies "We put them across our knees and spank them soundly."
- Yvonne De Carlo was spanked by Rod Cameron in 1945's Frontier Gal.
- The 1953 film version of Kiss Me Kate included a scene with Howard Keel spanking Kathryn Grayson in public view as part of the musical-within-a-film based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. The scene was used in the film's main poster.
- In the 1955 film The Quiet Man, John Wayne spanks Maureen O'Hara. John Wayne also spanks Maureen O'Hara's in The Wings of Eagles (1957).
- In the TV series I Love Lucy (1951–1957), a recurring theme was Lucille Ball's punishment by being spanked by real life and on-screen husband Desi Arnaz for various misdeeds.
- The 1951 film Too Young to Kiss starring June Allyson features a spanking.
- In 1956, Tab Hunter spanked Natalie Wood in The Girl He Left Behind.
- 1959's Holiday for Lovers had Gary Crosby spanking Carol Lynley.
- In 1961's Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley spanked Jenny Maxwell.
- In 1963, McLintock! included two scenes of adult spanking in which Maureen O'Hara and Stephanie Powers are each spanked with a coal shovel. The scene was used in the promotion of the film: at first a poster with the shovel in hand was used, but after protests, a picture with an open hand replaced the original.
- Also in 1963, John Wayne spanked Elizabeth Allen in Donovan's Reef.
- In Thunderball (1965), James Bond threatens an uncooperative Miss Moneypenny with a spanking over the phone, "Next time I see you, I'll put you across my knee", to which Moneypenny replies, "I can hardly wait." The raising of her eyebrows indicates the threatened spanking is sexual in nature.
- The 1969 western True Grit featured a spanking for Kim Darby; in the 2010 Coen Brothers remake, the young actress Hailee Steinfeld, playing the same role, was also spanked.
- In the TV series Bonanza (1969-1973),the threat of spanking was a common theme which occurred in a number of episodes, including "The Many Faces of Gideon Flinch", and "Woman of Fire". In 1980s the Anne of Green Gables series Anne gets spanked with a horse whip by Gilbert Blythe then he takes her across his knee and spanks her in that position with his hand.
- The 2002 film Secretary is a notable example of a spanking film. It is a dominant/submissive-themed romantic comedy-drama film directed by Steven Shainberg. It stars Maggie Gyllenhaal as Lee Holloway and James Spader as E. Edward Grey. The film is based on a short story from Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill.
- In 2003's Kill Bill Volume 1, Uma Thurman spanked a young yakuza.
- In 2007's Shoot 'Em Up, Clive Owen's character sees a mother spanking her son in public. He protects the boy by grabbing the mother and giving her a spanking in front of everyone who was watching.
- In 2012, the TV Series The Big Bang Theory Sheldon spanks Amy after learning that she was pretending to be sick in order to receive more care and attention.
In North America, the word "spanking" has often been used as a synonym for an official paddling in school, and sometimes even as a euphemism for the formal corporal punishment of adults in an institution.
In American English, dictionaries define spanking as being administered with either the open hand or an implement such as a paddle. Thus, the standard form of corporal punishment in US schools (use of a paddle) is often referred to as a spanking, whereas its pre-1997 English equivalent (strokes of the cane) would never have been so described.
The word "licks" is also a common term in West Indian countries, especially Trinidad & Tobago. It usually refers to any sort of spanking or beating. Licks can involve "switches" or small tree branches, pieces of cocoyea, or any object nearby. These can also include belts, spoons, brooms, and even rolling pins.
In Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the word "smacking" is generally used in preference to "spanking" when describing striking with an open hand, rather than with an implement. Whereas a spanking is invariably administered to the bottom, "smacking" is less specific and may refer to slapping the child's hands, arms or legs as well as its bottom.
Ritual spanking traditions
There are some rituals or traditions which involve spanking. For example, on the first day of the lunar Chinese new year holidays, a week-long 'Spring Festival', the most important festival for Chinese people all over the world, thousands of Chinese visit the Taoist Dong Lung Gong temple in Tungkang to go through the century-old ritual to get rid of bad luck, men by receiving spankings and women by being whipped, with the number of strokes to be administered (always lightly) by the temple staff being decided in either case by the god Wang Ye and by burning incense and tossing two pieces of wood, after which all go home happily, believing their luck will improve.
According to Ovid's Fasti (ii.305), during the ancient Roman festival of the Lupercalia naked men ran through the streets of the city, carrying straps with which they swatted the outstretched palms of the hands of women lining the racecourse who wished to become pregnant.
In North America, there is a tradition of "birthday spankings" where the birthday girl or boy receives the same number of hits as her/his age (plus "one to grow on") during the birthday party. Birthday spankings are administered over the clothes and usually by close friends or family members, and are generally playful swats not meant to cause real pain.
- UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Corporal punishment in the home
- School corporal punishment
- Spanking implements
- Erotic spanking
- Day, R.; Peterson, G. W.; McCracken, C. (1998). "Predicting Spanking of Younger and Older Children by their Mothers and Fathers". Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (1): 79–94. doi:10.2307/353443. JSTOR 353443.
- Elder, G.H.; Bowerman, C. E. (1963). "Family Structure and Child Rearing Patterns: The Effect of Family Size and Sex Composition". American Sociological Review 28 (6): 891–905. doi:10.2307/2090309. JSTOR 2090309.
- Gelles, Richard J.; Straus, Murray A.; Smith, Christine (1995). Physical Violence in American Families: risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. ISBN 1-56000-828-8.
- Jacklin, Carol Nagy; Maccoby, Eleanor E. (1978). The Psychology of Sex Differences. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-0974-2.[page needed]
- MacDonald, A. P. (August 1971). "Internal-external locus of control: parental antecedents". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 37 (1): 141–147. doi:10.1037/h0031281. PMID 5565616.
- Straus, Murray A. (1971). "Some Social Antecedents of Physical Punishment: a linkage theory interpretation". Journal of Marriage and the Family 33 (4): 658–663. doi:10.2307/349438. JSTOR 349438.
- R. Claire Snyder-Hall (2008). "The Ideology of Wifely Submission: A Challenge for Feminism?". Politics & Gender 4 (4): 563–586. doi:10.1017/S1743923X08000482.
- Gumbrecht, Jamie (9 November 2011). "In Sweden, a generation of kids who've never been spanked". CNN. Retrieved March 2015.
- "States with full abolition". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Retrieved January 2015.
- Smith, Brendan L. (April 2012). "The Case Against Spanking". Monitor on Psychology (American Psychological Association) 43 (4): 60. Retrieved 8 February 2015.
- Cook, Eliza; Kopko, Kimberley (2014). "Why Spanking Should Be Discouraged" (PDF). Cornell University, College of Human Ecology. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
- Abolishing corporal punishment of children: Questions and answers (PDF). France: Council of Europe. December 2007. p. 7. ISBN 978-92-871-6310-3. Retrieved January 2015.
- "Legality of corporal punishment worldwide". GITEACPOC. October 2014.
- "Singapore's 2nd and 3rd periodic report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child" (DOC). Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Singapore. January 2009.
MCYS' brochures on child discipline, "Love our Children, Discipline, Not Abuse", clearly exclude spanking as an option and instead highlights other forms of discipline.
- Reaves, Jessica (5 October 2000). "Survey Gives Children Something to Cry About". Time (New York).
- Bennett, Rosemary (20 September 2006). "Majority of parents admit to smacking children". The Times (London).
- "Corporal Punishment". Encyclopedia.com. 3 September 1955. Retrieved 19 December 2012.
- Statistics Sweden. (1996). Spanking and other forms of physical punishment. Stockholm: Statistics Sweden.
- "Guidance for Effective Discipline". Pediatrics (American Academy of Pediatrics) 101 (4): 723–728. 1 April 1998. Retrieved February 2015.
- Dobbs, T.A.; Smith, A.B.; Taylor, N.J. (July 2006). "'No, we don’t get a say, children just suffer the consequences': Children talk about family discipline". International Journal of Children’s Rights 14: 137–156. doi:10.1163/157181806777922694. Retrieved 29 January 2015.
- Willow, Carolyne; Hyder, Tina (1998). It Hurts You Inside: Children talking about smacking. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1905818610. (Smacking is generally the British term for what is usually called spanking in North America.)
- Kovac, Sarah (23 July 2014). "Spanking the gray matter out of our kids". CNN. Retrieved February 2015.
- Gershoff, Elizabeth T. (September 2013). "Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children". Child Development Perspectives (The Society for Research in Child Development) 7 (3): 133–137. doi:10.1111/cdep.12038. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
- Wyatt, Nelson (6 February 2012). "Physically punished children tend toward aggression: survey of studies". Winnipeg Free Press. Canadian Press. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
- Taylor, CA.; Manganello, JA.; Lee, SJ.; Rice, JC. (May 2010). "Mothers' spanking of 3-year-old children and subsequent risk of children's aggressive behavior". Pediatrics 125 (5): e1057–65. doi:10.1542/peds.2009-2678. PMID 20385647.
- Park, Alice (3 May 2010). "The Long-Term Effects of Spanking". Time (New York).
- "UNC study shows link between spanking and physical abuse". UNC School of Medicine. 19 August 2008. Retrieved March 2015.
- French, Cameron (7 February 2012). "Spanking kids can cause long-term harm: Canada study". Reuters. Retrieved February 2015.
- Tomoda, A.; Suzuki, H.; Rabi, K.; Sheu, Y.S.; Polcari, A.; Teicher, M.H. (2009). "Reduced prefrontal cortical gray matter volume in young adults exposed to harsh corporal punishment". Neuroimage. 47 Suppl 2:T66-71. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.03.005 PMID 19285558
- "Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says". Science Daily. 11 December 2013. Retrieved February 2015.
- "College students more likely to be lawbreakers if spanked as children". Science Daily. 22 November 2013. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
- Baumrind, Diana; Larzelere, Robert E.; Cowan, Philip A. (2002). "Ordinary physical punishment: Is it harmful? Comment on Gershoff (2002)". Psychological Bulletin 128 (4): 580–9; discussion 602–11. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.4.580. PMID 12081082.
- Ferguson, C. J. (2013). "Spanking, corporal punishment and negative long-term outcomes: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies". Clinical Psychology Review 33 (1): 196–208. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2012.11.002. PMID 23274727.
- Straus, Murray (28 February 2008). "Corporal punishment of children and sexual behavior problems: results from four studies." (PDF). Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Summit Conference on Violence and Abuse in Interpersonal Relationship, Bethesda, Maryland. Retrieved 17 February 2013.
- Ingraham v. Wright, 97, S.Ct. 1401 (1977).
- Beichman, Arnold, "Where wife-beating is up for debate", Washington Times, 2 October 2005.
- Haj-yahia, Muhammad M. (August 2003). "Beliefs About Wife Beating Among Arab Men from Israel: The Influence of Their Patriarchal Ideology". Journal of Family Violence 18 (4): 193–206. doi:10.1023/A:1024012229984.
- 498A_Crusader (12 December 2007). "Most Indian women okay with wife beating". MyNation Foundation. Archived from the original on 28 March 2013. Retrieved 30 October 2008.[unreliable source?]
- E.g. "Corporal punishment — spanking or paddling the student — may be used as a discipline management technique ... The instrument to be used in administering corporal punishment shall be approved by the principal or designee".Texas Association of School Boards – Standard Code of Conduct wording.
- See e.g. Evidence of Colonel G. Headly Basher, Deputy Minister for Reform Institutions, Ontario, Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on Capital and Corporal Punishment and Lotteries, Canada, 1953–55.
- Oxford English Dictionary: "Spank: To slap or smack (a person, esp. a child) with the open hand." Collins English Dictionary: "Spank: To slap or smack with the open hand, esp. on the buttocks."
- American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: "Spank: To slap on the buttocks with a flat object or with the open hand, as for punishment."
- Oxford English Dictionary: "Smack: To strike (a person, part of the body, etc.) with the open hand or with something having a flat surface; to slap. Also spec. to chastise (a child) in this manner and fig."
- "Ring in the new year with a spanking for luck". Independent Online (South Africa). 26 January 2004.
- Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R. (2004). Encyclopedia of sex and gender: men and women in the world's cultures. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. pp. 382. ISBN 0-306-47770-X.
- Montley, Patricia (2005). In Nature's Honor: Myths And Rituals Celebrating The Earth. Boston, MA: Skinner House Books. pp. 56. ISBN 1-55896-486-X.
- Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz (1993). Polish customs, traditions, and folklore. New York: Hippocrene. ISBN 0-7818-0068-4.
- Walters, Joanna (12 November 2000). "Reach for the top and a birching". The Guardian (London).
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