Corporal punishment in the home

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Domestic corporal punishment (also referred to as corporal punishment in the home or parental corporal punishment) refers to the use of physical force by parents or other adult guardians for purposes of punishment of their minor children in response to perceived unacceptable behaviour. Corporal punishment of children typically takes the form of spanking or slapping the child with an open hand or striking with an implement such as a belt, slipper, cane, hairbrush or paddle, shaking, pinching, forced ingestion of substances, or forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions. Severe forms of corporal punishment, including kicking, biting, scalding, and burning, can constitute unlawful child abuse.

Social acceptance of corporal punishment is high in countries where it remains lawful, particularly among some religious groups. In many cultures, parents have historically been regarded as having the right, if not the duty, to use physical force to punish children's transgressions in order to improve their behaviour. Researchers, on the other hand, point out that corporal punishment is ineffective, often being followed by increased aggressive behaviour in children and decreased obedience. Other adverse effects, such as mental illness, crime, and increased risk of abuse, have also been linked to the use of corporal punishment by parents. Evidence shows that spanking and other physical punishments, while nominally for the purpose of discipline, are inconsistently applied, often being used when parents are angry or under stress, further reducing their effectiveness.

Many laws regarding child abuse and criminal battery provide exceptions for "reasonable" physical punishment by parents, a defence rooted in common law. During the 20th century, some countries began removing legal defences for adult guardians' use of corporal punishment, followed by outright bans on the practice, although such bans often do not not carry criminal penalties. Since Sweden's 1979 ban on all corporal punishment of children, an increasing number of countries have enacted similar laws, particularly following international adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, domestic corporal punishment of children remains legal in most of the world.

Forms of punishment[edit]

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines "corporal punishment" as:

any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting ('smacking', 'slapping', 'spanking') children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion.[1]

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Corporal punishment involves the application of some form of physical pain in response to undesirable behavior", and "ranges from slapping the hand of a child about to touch a hot stove to identifiable child abuse, such as beatings, scaldings, and burnings. Because of this range in the form and severity of punishment, its use as a discipline strategy is controversial".[2] There exists disagreement over where to draw the line between corporal punishment and physical abuse. Incidents of physical abuse often result from the use of corporal punishment for purposes of discipline, whether from parents' inability to control their anger or judge their own strength, or from not understanding children’s physical vulnerabilities, for example.[3]

Reasons for use[edit]

Parents tend to use corporal punishment on children out of a desire for obedience, both in the short and long term, and especially to reduce children's aggressive behaviours. This despite a significant body of evidence that physically punishing children tends to have the opposite effect, namely, a decrease in long-term compliance and an increase in aggression. Other reasons for parents' use of physical punishment may be to communicate the parent's displeasure with the child, to assert their authority, and simple tradition.[4]

Parents also appear to use physical punishment on children as an outlet for anger. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that "Parents are more likely to use aversive techniques of discipline when they are angry or irritable, depressed, fatigued, and stressed", and estimates that such release of pent-up anger makes parents more likely to hit or spank their children in the future.[2] Parents commonly resort to spanking after losing their temper, and most parents surveyed expressed significant feelings of anger, remorse, and agitation while physically punishing their children.[5] According to the AAP, "These findings challenge most the notion that parents can spank in a calm, planned manner".[2]


The few existing randomized controlled trials used to investigate physical punishment's effectiveness have shown that physical punishment is not more effective than other methods in eliciting children's compliance.[6] Previous research indicated that spanking did increase children's immediate compliance with parents' commands.[7] However, a later analysis found that spanking children was not more effective than giving children time-outs in eliciting immediate compliance, and that spanking led to a reduction in long‑term compliance.[8] According to Gershoff, findings of increased immediate compliance were overly influenced by one study which found a strong relationship, but with a small sample size (only sixteen children studied).[4]

Change in aggressive behaviour[edit]

In examining several longitudinal studies that investigated the path from spanking to aggression in children from preschool age through adolescence, Gershoff concluded: "In none of these longitudinal studies did spanking predict reductions in children’s aggression [...] Spanking consistently predicted increases in children’s aggression over time, regardless of how aggressive children were when the spanking occurred".[8] An earlier study at Tulane University 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.[9] 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."[10]

Cultural differences[edit]

In a 2005 study, findings from China, India, Italy, Kenya, the Philippines, and Thailand revealed differences in the reported use of corporal punishment, its acceptance in society, and its relation to children’s social adjustment. Where corporal punishment was perceived as being more culturally accepted, it was less strongly associated with aggression and anxiety in children. However, corporal punishment was still positively associated with child aggression and anxiety in all countries studied. Researchers have found that while the use of corporal punishment predicts variation in children's aggression less strongly in countries where there is more social acceptance of it, the same countries have higher overall levels of societal violence.[3]

Associations between corporal punishment and increased child aggression have been documented in the countries listed above as well as in Jamaica, Jordan, and Singapore, as have links between corporal punishment of children and later antisocial behavior in Brazil, Hong Kong, Jordan, Mongolia, Norway, and the United Kingdom. According to Elizabeth Gershoff at the University of Texas, these findings appear to challenge the notion that corporal punishment is "good" for children, even in cultures with histories of violence.[4]

A 2013 study by Murray Straus at the University of New Hampshire found that children across numerous cultures who were spanked committed more crimes as adults than children who were not spanked, regardless of the quality of their relationship to their parents.[11]

Social acceptance[edit]

Opinions are divided on whether spanking and other forms of physical punishment are appropriate techniques for child-rearing, and 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%.[12][13] 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%,[3] and less than 34% considered it acceptable in a national survey.[14]

Social acceptance toward, and prevalence of, corporal punishment by parents in some countries remains high despite a growing scientific consensus that the risks of substantial harm outweigh the potential benefits.[4] Social psychologists posit that this divergence between popular opinion and empirical evidence may be rooted in cognitive dissonance.[15][16][17] In countries such as the US and UK, spanking is legal but overt child abuse is both illegal and highly stigmatized socially. Because of this, any parent who has ever spanked a child would find it extremely difficult to accept the research findings. If they did acknowledge, even in the smallest way, that spanking was harmful, they would likely feel they are admitting they harmed their own child and thus are a child abuser. Similarly, adults who were spanked as children often face similar cognitive dissonance, because admitting it is harmful might be perceived as accusing their parents of abuse and might also be admitting to having been victimized in a situation where they were helpless to stop it. Such feelings would cause intense emotional discomfort, driving them to dismiss the scientific evidence in favor of weak anecdotal evidence and distorted self-reflection.[16] This is commonly expressed as "I spanked my children and they all turned out fine" or "I was spanked and I turned out fine."[17]

Religious views[edit]

Pope Francis has declared his approval of the use of corporal punishment by parents, as long as punishments do not "demean" children. The Vatican commission appointed to advise the Pope on sexual abuse within the church criticized the Pope for his statement, contending that physical punishments and the infliction of pain were inappropriate methods for disciplining children.[18]

The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe asserts that "While freedom of religious belief should be respected, such beliefs cannot justify practices which breach the rights of others, including children’s rights to respect for their physical integrity and human dignity". They maintain that "Mainstream faith communities and respected leaders are now supporting moves to prohibit and eliminate all violence against children", including corporal punishment.[19] Indeed, in 2006, a group of 800 religious leaders at the World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, Japan endorsed a statement urging governments to adopt legislation banning all corporal punishment of children.[20]

Encouragement for corporal punishment can be found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs:

He that spareth the rod, hateth his son; but he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes. (Proverbs, XIII, 24)

A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes. (Proverbs, XVIII, 6) Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs, XIX, 18) Judgements are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the backs of fools. (Proverbs, XIX, 29) Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it from him. (Proverbs, XXII, 15) Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beatest him with a rod, thou shalt deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs, XXIII, 13-14)

A whip for a horse, a bridle for an ass, and a rod for a fool's back. (Proverbs, XXIX, 15)[21]

Robert McCole Wilson argues, "Probably this attitude comes, at least in part, from the desire in the patriarchal society for the elder to maintain his authority, where that authority was the main agent for social stability. But these are the words that not only justified the use of physical punishment on children for over a thousand years in Christian communities, but ordered it to be used. The words were accepted with but few exceptions; it is only in the last two hundred years that there has been a growing body of opinion that differed. Curiously, the gentleness of Christ towards children (Mark, X) was usually ignored".[21]

Efforts to ban[edit]

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, appointed in 2003 to lead a study on violence against children for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, asserts that "The study should mark a turning point—an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as 'tradition' or disguised as 'discipline' [...] Children’s uniqueness—their potential and vulnerability, their dependence on adults—makes it imperative that they have more, not less, protection from violence".[22] Pinheiro remarks that “Throughout the study process, children have consistently expressed the urgent need to stop all this violence. Children testify to the hurt—not only physical, but ‘the hurt inside’—which this violence causes them, compounded by adult acceptance, even approval of it”.[23] His report to the General Assembly of the United Nations recommends prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment in the family and other settings.[22]

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child remarked in 2006 that all forms of corporal punishment, along with non-physical punishment which "belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules" children were found to be "cruel and degrading" and therefore incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the Committee's view, "Addressing the widespread acceptance or tolerance of corporal punishment of children and eliminating it, in the family, schools and other settings, is not only an obligation of States parties under the Convention. It is also a key strategy for reducing and preventing all forms of violence in societies".[1]

The office of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights notes that the defence of "reasonable chastisement" is based on the view that children are property, equating it with former legal rights of husbands to beat wives and masters to beat servants. The Commissioner stresses that human rights, including the right to physical integrity, are the primary consideration in advocating an end to corporal punishment:

The imperative for removing adults’ assumed rights to hit children is that of human rights principles. It should therefore not be necessary to prove that alternative and positive means of socializing children are more effective. However, research into the harmful physical and psychological effects of corporal punishment in childhood and later life and into the links with other forms of violence do indeed add further compelling arguments for banning the practice and thereby breaking the cycle of violence.[19]

According to a 2013 review by Bernadette Saunders of Monash University concerning efforts to ban corporal punishment of children, "Children commonly tell us that physical punishment hurts them physically and can escalate in severity; arouses negative emotions, such as resentment, confusion, sadness, hatred, humiliation, and anger; creates fear and impedes learning; is not constructive, children prefer reasoning; and it perpetuates violence as a means of resolving conflict. Children's comments suggest that children are sensitive to inequality and double standards, and children urge us to respect children and to act responsibly".[24]

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe noted in 2004 that member states must ban "all forms of corporal punishment and any other forms of degrading punishment or treatment of children" as a requirement of the European Social Charter. They further noted that the European Court of Human Rights had found corporal punishment in violation of children's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that bans on corporal punishment did not violate religious freedom or the right to private or family life.[25]

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights concluded in 2009 that corporal punishment "constitutes a form of violence against children that wounds their dignity and hence their human rights", asserting that "the member states of the Organization of American States are obliged to guarantee children and adolescents special protection against the use of corporal punishment".[26]

Save the Children opposes all use of corporal punishment on children as a breach of children's rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[27]

UNESCO also recommends that corporal punishment be prohibited in schools, homes and institutions as a form of discipline, and contends that it is a violation of human rights as well as counterproductive, ineffective, dangerous and harmful to children.[28]

Laws by country[edit]

  Countries as of January 2015 where all forms of corporal punishment are outlawed
Legality of corporal punishment of minors in Europe
  Corporal punishment banned in schools
  Corporal punishment banned in schools and the home
Corporal punishment bans
By date By country name
2010 Albania Albania
2014 Andorra Andorra
2014  Argentina
1989 Austria Austria
2015 Benin Benin
2014  Bolivia
2014  Brazil
2000 Bulgaria Bulgaria
2014  Cape Verde
2010 Republic of the Congo Congo, Republic of
2008 Costa Rica Costa Rica
1999 Croatia Croatia
1994 Cyprus Cyprus
1997 Denmark Denmark
2014 Estonia Estonia
1983  Finland
2000  Germany
2006 Greece Greece
2013 Honduras Honduras
2004 Hungary Hungary
2003 Iceland Iceland
2015 Republic of Ireland Ireland, Republic of
2000 Israel Israel
2010 Kenya Kenya
1998 Latvia Latvia
2008 Liechtenstein Liechtenstein
2008 Luxembourg Luxembourg
2013 Republic of Macedonia Macedonia
2014 Malta Malta
2008 Moldova Moldova
2007 Netherlands Netherlands
2007 New Zealand New Zealand
2014 Nicaragua Nicaragua
1987 Norway Norway
2010 Poland Poland
2007 Portugal Portugal
2004 Romania Romania
2014 San Marino San Marino
2015 South Korea South Korea
2011 South Sudan South Sudan
2007  Spain
1979  Sweden
2007 Togo Togo
2010 Tunisia Tunisia
2002 Turkmenistan Turkmenistan
2004 Ukraine Ukraine
2007 Uruguay Uruguay
2007 Venezuela Venezuela

Traditionally, corporal punishment of minor children is legal unless it is explicitly outlawed. According to a 2014 estimate by the organization Human Rights Watch, "Ninety percent of the world’s children live in countries where corporal punishment and other physical violence against children is still legal".[29] Many countries' laws provide for a defence of "reasonable chastisement" against charges of assault and other crimes for parents using corporal punishment. The defence is ultimately derived from English law.[30] As of November 2015, corporal punishment of children by parents (or other adults) is banned in 47 countries (see table at right).[31] The number of countries banning all forms of corporal punishment against children has grown significantly since the 1989 adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, when only 4 countries had such bans.[29] Where corporal punishment is banned, the penalties vary. In Sweden, for example, corporal punishment does not necessarily carry a criminal penalty unless it meets the criteria for assault.[32]


A ban on all corporal punishment of minors in Argentina, passed in 2014, is set to come into force in January 2016.[33]


In Australia, corporal punishment of minors in the home is currently legal provided it is "reasonable".[34][35] Parents who act unreasonably may be committing an assault.[36][37] The Australian state of Tasmania is continuing to review the state's laws on the matter, and may seek to ban the use of corporal punishment by parents. The matter is also under review in other Australian states. A 2002 public opinion survey suggested the majority view was in support of retaining parents' right to smack with the open hand but not with an implement,[38] although as of 2010, there are no laws against using an implement in any state or territory. In New South Wales, S61AA of the Crimes Act (1900) allows a parent a defense of lawful correction.[39]


In Canada, parents may spank their children, but there are several restrictions.

In Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (2004) the Supreme Court upheld, in a 6-3 decision, the use of "reasonable" force to discipline children, rejecting claims that moderate spanking violated children's rights. However, it stipulated that the person administering the punishment must be a parent or legal guardian, and not a school teacher or other person (i.e. non-parental relatives such as grandparents, aunts, or uncles, as well as babysitters and other caretakers, are banned from spanking); that the force must be used "by way of correction" (sober, reasoned uses of force that address the actual behaviour of the child and are designed to restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval of his or her behaviour), that the child must be capable of benefiting from the correction (i.e. not under the age of 2 or over 12, etc.), and that the use of force must be "reasonable under the circumstances", meaning that it results neither in harm nor in the prospect of bodily harm. Punishment involving slaps or blows to the head is harmful, the Court held.[40] Use of any implement other than a bare hand is illegal and hitting a child in anger or in retaliation for something a child did is not considered reasonable and is against the law. In section 43 the Supreme Court of Canada defined "reasonable" as force that would have a "transitory and trifling" impact on the child. For example, spanking or slapping a child so hard that it leaves a mark that lasts for several hours would not be considered "transitory and trifling".[41]

Congo, Rebublic of[edit]

All corporal punishment of minors was banned in Republic of Congo in 2010.[42]


All corporal punishment of minors was banned in Honduras in 2013.[43]


The Children First Act of 2015 removed the "reasonable chastisement" defence for parents in Ireland, making all corporal punishment of minors illegal.[44] The previous Children Act of 2001 permitted "reasonable and moderate chastisement" for parents and those standing in loco parentis.[45][46] The government's review of the various policy issues involved in a total ban on corporal punishment, in response to a complaint filed with the European Committee of Social Rights, began as early as 2013.[47]


In 2000, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that corporal punishment violated children's right to dignity and bodily integrity.[48]


The Supreme Court of Italy has ruled that corporal punishment is not a defensible form of correction, but legislation in Italy has yet to reflect this change.[49]


The Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a light "careful slap" applied immediately after the "offence" was still allowed.[50][51] The legislature abolished this in 2010, and the current law is that any violence against children, including careful slaps, is prohibited.[52]

South Africa[edit]

Common-law precedent in South Africa holds that a parent may "inflict moderate and reasonable chastisement" on a child.[53] As of 2013 the Department of Social Development is preparing legislation to prohibit corporal punishment in the home;[54] it is already illegal in schools and the penal system.[53]

South Korea[edit]

All corporal punishment of minors was banned in South Korea in 2015.[55]

South Sudan[edit]

The Constitution of South Sudan bans all corporal punishment of minors.[56]


Parents' rights in Sweden to spank their children was removed in 1966.[32] In 1979 Sweden became the first country to explicitly ban corporal punishment, through a provision to the Parenthood and Guardianship Code which stated, “Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment.”[3]

In 1982, a group of Swedish parents brought a complaint to the European Commission of Human Rights that the ban on parental physical punishment breached their right to respect for family life and religious freedom, which was rejected.[57]


All corporal punishment of minors was banned in Tunisia in 2010.[58]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, corporal punishment is generally legal but with several limitations. Criminal law has a general prohibition against common assault and battery, but there is a common law defense to such charges for parents striking their children in the context of "reasonable punishment." While never explicitly defined, the Children Act 2004 banned this defense for any instance of punishment beyond common assault/battery where there is any wounding, actual bodily harm, or any act considered "cruelty to persons under sixteen" in violation of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.[59] The Director of Public Prosecutions has produced a charging standard[60] that indicates there where there are persistent marks on the skin, including cuts, scratches, bruises or anything more than temporary reddening of the skin, the offence charged will usually be assault occasioning actual bodily harm rather than common assault. The total abolition of corporal punishment has been discussed.[61] In a 2004 poll by the advocacy group Children are Unbeatable!, 71% of respondents supported giving children the same protection against battery as adults.[62] In a 2006 survey, 80% of the population said they believed in smacking, and 73% said that they believed that any ban would cause a sharp deterioration in children's behaviour. Seven out of ten parents said they themselves use corporal punishment.[63] In a 2012 poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, 63 per cent of Britons voiced opposition to banning parents in the UK from smacking their children.[64]

United States[edit]

Corporal punishment of children by parents or other legal guardians is legal in the United States, through allowances made for "moderate physical discipline" (using this or similar language) in most states' laws regarding assault, criminal battery, domestic violence and/or child abuse. Whether an instance of corporal punishment exceeds these bounds is usually decided on a case-by-case basis in family court proceedings.

Statements by medical and psychological associations[edit]


The Australian Psychological Society holds that corporal punishment of children is an ineffective method of deterring unwanted behavior, promotes undesirable behaviors and fails to demonstrate an alternative desirable behavior. They assert that corporal punishment often promotes further undesirable behaviors such as defiance and attachment to "delinquent" peer groups, and encourages an acceptance of aggression and violence as acceptable responses to conflicts and problems.[65]


The Canadian Paediatric Society reviewed research on spanking and concluded that it was associated with negative outcomes, and recommended against spanking. Their policy on corporal punishment states "The Psychosocial Paediatrics Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society has carefully reviewed the available research in the controversial area of disciplinary spanking (7-15)... The research that is available supports the position that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are associated with negative child outcomes. The Canadian Paediatric Society, therefore, recommends that physicians strongly discourage disciplinary spanking and all other forms of physical punishment".[66]

United Kingdom[edit]

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health opposes the striking of children in all circumstances.[67] They state, "Corporal punishment [of] children has both short term and long term adverse effects and in principle should not be used since it models an approach which is discouraged between adults". The College advocates legal reform to change parental views of corporal punishment.[68] They have advocated banning corporal punishment altogether, stating "We believe it is both wrong and impracticable to seek to define acceptable forms of corporal punishment of children. Such an exercise is unjust. Hitting children is a lesson in bad behaviour"[69] and that "it is never appropriate to hit or beat children".[67]

The Royal College of Psychiatrists also takes the position that corporal punishment is unacceptable in all circumstances.[70]

United States[edit]

The National Association of Social Workers "opposes the use of physical punishment in homes, schools, and all other institutions where children are cared for and educated."[71]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated that "Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects". They recommend that parents be "encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior". In particular, the AAP believes that any corporal punishment methods other than open-hand spanking on the buttocks or extremities, including striking with an object, striking which leaves marks lasting longer than a few minutes, pulling by the hair, jerking a child's arm, and shaking a child, "should never be used".

In the AAP's opinion, such punishments, as well as "physical punishment delivered in anger with intent to cause pain", are "unacceptable and may be dangerous to the health and well-being of the child." They also point out that "The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults" and that "spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents".[2]

The AAP believes that corporal punishment polarizes the parent-child relationship, reducing the amount of spontaneous cooperation on the part of the child. In their words, "[R]eliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use". The AAP believes that spanking as a form of discipline can easily lead to abuse, noting also that spanking children younger than 18 months of age increases the chance of physical injury.[2]

Relationship to child abuse[edit]

According to Joan Durrant at the University of Manitoba, physical punishment of children had been considered "conceptually distinct from physical abuse" before studies began to emerge in the 1990s which demonstrated links between ordinary, accepted physical punishment and children's aggression, delinquency, and later domestic assaults.[6]

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health of the United Kingdom remarked in a 2009 policy statement that "corporal punishment of children in the home is of importance to paediatricians because of its connection with child abuse...all paediatricians will have seen children who have been injured as a result of parental chastisement. It is not possible logically to differentiate between a smack and a physical assault since both are forms of violence. The motivation behind the smack cannot reduce the hurtful impact it has on the child". They assert that preventing child maltreatment is of "vital importance", and advocate a change in the laws concerning corporal punishment. In their words, "Societies which promote the needs and rights of children have a low incidence of child maltreatment, and this includes a societal rejection of physical punishment of children".[68]

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse". They note that "Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment".[2]

In the United States, interviews with parents reveal that as many as two thirds of documented instances of physical abuse begin as acts of corporal punishment meant to correct a child's behavior.[4] In Canada, three quarters of substantiated cases of physical abuse of children have occurred within the context of physical punishment, according to the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect.[6] According to Elizabeth Gershoff, "[B]oth parental acts involve hitting, and purposefully hurting, children. The difference between the two is often degree (duration, amount of force, object used) rather than intent".[8]

A 2008 study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that mothers who reported spanking their children were three times more likely to also report using forms of punishment considered abusive to the researchers "such as beating, burning, kicking, hitting with an object somewhere other than the buttocks, or shaking a child less than 2 years old" than mothers who did not report spanking.[72] The authors found that any spanking was associated with increased risk of abuse, and that there were strong associations between abuse and spanking with an object. Adam Zolotor, the study's lead author, noted that "increases in the frequency of spanking are associated with increased odds of abuse, and mothers who report spanking on the buttocks with an object–such as a belt or a switch–are nine times more likely to report abuse".[73]

A 2006 retrospective report study in New Zealand showed that physical punishment of children was quite common in the 1970s and 80s, with 80% of the sample reporting some kind of corporal punishment from parents at some time during childhood. Among this sample, 29% reported being hit with an empty hand, 45% with an object, and 6% were subjected to serious physical abuse. The study noted that abusive physical punishment tended to be given by fathers and often involved striking the child's head or torso instead of the buttocks or limbs.[74]

Baumrind and colleagues proposed that parents who are easily frustrated or inclined toward controlling behavior "should not spank", but that existing research did not support a "blanket injunction" against spanking.[75] Gershoff characterized Baumrind et al.'s solution as unrealistic, since it would require potentially abusive parents to monitor themselves. She argues that the burden of proof should be high for advocating corporal punishment as a disciplinary strategy, asserting that "unless and until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of [beneficial] effects of corporal punishment [and] not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists cannot responsibly recommend its use".[76]

One study reported by Murray Straus in 2001 found that 40% of 111 mothers surveyed were worried that they could possibly hurt their children by using corporal punishment.[77]

Effects on development and relationship to parents[edit]

Corporal punishment by parents has been linked to a range of adverse effects, including increased aggression, mental health problems, impaired cognitive development, and drug and alcohol abuse.[4][6][78] Many of these results are based on large longitudinal studies controlling for various confounding factors, and suggest that physical punishment "has a direct causal effect on externalizing behaviour", according to Joan Durrant.[6] No peer-reviewed research has shown improvements in developmental health as a result of parents' use of corporal punishment.[4][6] Randomized controlled trials, the benchmark for establishing causality, are not currently used for studying physical punishment because of ethical constraints against deliberately causing pain to study participants. However, one existing randomized controlled trial did demonstrate that a reduction in harsh physical punishment was followed by a significant drop in children's aggressive behaviour.[6]

When children aged between five and seven in the United Kingdom were asked to describe being smacked by parents, their responses included such remarks as, “it feels like someone banged you with a hammer”, “it hurts and it’s painful inside—it’s like breaking your bones”, and “it just feels horrid, you know, and it really hurts, it stings you and makes you horrible inside”.[79] Elizabeth Gershoff writes that "The pain and distress evident in these first-hand accounts can accumulate over time and precipitate the mental-health problems that have been linked with corporal punishment". She remarks that concerns about the use of corporal punishment endangering parents' relationships with children are consistent with children's comments such as, “you [feel] sort of as though you want to run away because they’re sort of like being mean to you and it hurts a lot” and “you feel you don’t like your parents anymore”.[4]

A 2002 meta-analytic study by Elizabeth Gershoff that combined 60 years of research on corporal punishment found that corporal punishment was linked with nine negative outcomes in children, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, problems in relationships with parents, and likelihood of being physically abused.[7] A small minority of researchers disagree with these results.[80] They suggest that the majority of the studies used in Gershoff's meta-analysis included "overly severe" forms of punishment and therefore did not sufficiently distinguish corporal punishment from abuse.[75] In response, Gershoff points out that "more than one in four parents admit to using an object to hit their children", and that the line between corporal punishment and abuse is necessarily arbitrary, stating that "the same dimensions that characterize 'normative' corporal punishment can, when taken to extremes, make hitting a child look much more like abuse than punishment". She also noted that the studies analysed measured more severe forms of corporal punishment in addition to spanking or slapping according to the Conflict Tactics Scale. According to Gershoff, the CTS is "the closest thing to a standard measure of corporal punishment".[76]

A 2012 study at the University of Manitoba indicated that people who reported being "pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit" even "sometimes" as children suffered more mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and mania, along with more dependence on drugs or alcohol in adulthood. Those who reported experiencing "severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence" were not included in the results. According to the researchers, the findings "provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders".[81] An earlier Canadian study gave similar results.[82]

A 2009 study showed MRI evidence that children subjected to harsh corporal punishment had reduced gray matter when aged 18–25 in their prefrontal lobe. These reductions in gray matter were in areas linked to reduced performance IQ on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.[83]

See also[edit]


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