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Spanking is a type of corporal punishment involving the act of striking the buttocks of another person to cause physical pain, generally with an open hand (more commonly 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.
Parents commonly spank children or adolescents in response to undesired behavior. Boys are more frequently spanked than girls, both at home and in school. Some countries have outlawed the spanking of children in every setting, including homes, schools, and penal institutions, but most allow it when done by a parent or guardian. Adults may spank other adults as well.
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.
In the United Kingdom, 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.
In the home
Spanking of children by their parents is a common form of corporal punishment used in families in the Western world. It is normally done with one or more slaps on the child's buttocks with a bare hand, although, not uncommonly, various objects are used to spank children. Historically, boys have been spanked more than girls. In the United States, the spanking of infants is common, with toddler-age children being spanked the most. The main reasons parents give for spanking children are to make children more compliant, and to promote better behavior, especially to put a stop to children's aggressive behaviors. Research shows, however, that spanking, or indeed any form of corporal punishment, tends to have the opposite effect. Children who are physically punished more often tend to obey parents less with time, and to develop more aggressive behaviors, including toward other children. There are also a number of documented adverse physical, mental, and emotional effects of spanking and other forms of corporal punishment, including various physical injuries, increased anxiety, depression, and antisocial behavior.
Although parents and other advocates of spanking often say that it is necessary to promote child discipline, studies have shown that parents tend to apply physical punishment inconsistently, spanking more often when angry or under stress. The use of corporal punishment by parents increases the likelihood that children will suffer physical abuse, and most documented cases of physical abuse in Canada and the United States begin as disciplinary spankings.
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".
The Supreme Court of the United States 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.
Spanking of a wife by her husband as a punishment also does occur in some instances, often based on a literalist interpretation of the Bible. Men spanking their wives and girlfriends was often seen as an acceptable form of domestic violence in the early 20th century as a way to correct behavior, maintain male dominance, and enforce gender norms. It was a common trope in American movies. The legality of spanking of women in the United States varied by jurisdiction, largely dependent on individual judges.
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 or 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.
- 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."
- Straus, Murray A.; Douglas, Emily M.; Madeiros, Rose Ann (2013). The Primordial Violence: Spanking Children, Psychological Development, Violence, and Crime. New York: Routledge. pp. 31–32. ISBN 1848729537.
- 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.
- Straus, Murray A. (Spring 2010). "Prevalence, Societal Causes, and Trends in Corporal Punishment by Parents in World Perspective" (PDF). Law and Contemporary Problems. Duke University School of Law. 73 (2).
Figure 1. Corporal Punishment Begins With Infants, Is Highest For Toddlers, And Continues Into The Teen Years For Many Children
- 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. PMC . PMID 24039629.
- Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (April 1998). "Guidance for effective discipline". Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. 101 (4 Pt 1): 723–8. PMID 9521967.
- Gershoff, Elizabeth T. (Spring 2010). "More Harm Than Good: A Summary of Scientific Research on the Intended and Unintended Effects of Corporal Punishment on Children". Law & Contemporary Problems. Duke University School of Law. 73 (2): 31–56.
- Ingraham v. Wright, 97, S.Ct. 1401 (1977).
- R. Claire Snyder-Hall (2008). "The Ideology of Wifely Submission: A Challenge for Feminism?". Politics & Gender. 4 (4): 563–586. doi:10.1017/S1743923X08000482.
- Heisel, Andrew. "'I Don't Know Whether to Kiss You or Spank You': A Half Century of Fear of an Unspanked Woman". Pictorial. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
- "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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