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Religious Tolerance logo

Adult/child symbol

Corporal punishment of children --spanking

What the American Academy of
says about spanking

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The Academy's position:

A scan of the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) web site recommends a number of techniques for disciplining children:

bulletNatural consequences,
bulletLogical consequences,
bulletWithholding privileges, and
bulletTime outs. 6

On the other hand:

bulletThey strongly recommend against the use of physical punishment as a form of child discipline. Spanking might make the parent less frustrated; it might cause the child to stop an undesirable behavior. But they regard it as "...the least effective way to discipline." 1

They list some of the negative side effects of spanking: 6
bulletIt may seem to work at the moment, but it is no more effective in changing behavior than a time-out.
bulletSpanking increases children's aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
bulletParents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and regret their actions later.
bulletBecause most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent.
bulletSpanking makes other consequences less effective, such as those used at child care or school. Gradually, even spanking loses its impact.
bulletSpanking can lead to physical struggles and even escalate to the point of harming the child.
bulletChildren who continue to be spanked are more likely to be depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, approve of and hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence as adults.
bulletThese results make sense since spanking teaches the child that causing others pain is justified to control them?even with those they love.

[Emphasis added by us]

In their book "Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12, " they suggest that spanking:

bulletEmotionally harms the child.
bulletEmotionally harms the parent.
bulletCan cause physical harm.
bulletTeaches the child that might makes right -- that the use of violence is a valid way to handle conflicts.
bullet"...interferes with the development of trust, a sense of security, and effective communication" between parent and child. 2
In their "Tips for a Healthier New Year" news release they suggest that parents:
"Prevent violence by setting good examples: Hitting, slapping and spanking teaches children that it is acceptable to hit other people to solve problems. Non-physical forms of discipline work better in the long run. Remember that words can hurt too." 3
In their policy statement: "Guidance for Effective Discipline," they define spanking as: "striking a child with an open hand on the buttocks or extremities with the intention of modifying behavior without causing physical injury." Other methods of corporal punishment, including striking a child with a rod, belt, or other object are "...unacceptable and may be dangerous to the health and well-being of the child."

They suggest that the effectiveness of spanking as a method of disciplining a child diminishes over time. The only way to maintain its effectiveness is to increase the level of the pain inflicted. This can rapidly escalate into abuse.

They suggest that:
bulletThe chance of causing physical injury increases with children under 18 months of age,
bulletYoung children, under 18 months may not be able to connect the punishment with the behavior.
bullet"...repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child."
bulletSpanking has been linked to increase aggression in children of preschool and school ages. 4

Positions taken by members of the Academy:

Between 1997-OCT and 1998-MAR, the Academy conduced a mail survey to 1,629 active members, selected at random from their membership lists. They obtained a response rate of 62% which is unusually high for this type of survey. "The survey defined corporal punishment as 'the use of spanking as a form of discipline. It does not include hitting, beating or other actions that might be considered child abuse'." 5

Results were:

bullet31.4% were completely opposed to the use of corporal punishment.
bullet53.4% generally oppose corporal punishment, but feel that an occasional spanking under certain circumstances can be effective.
bullet13.6% favor the limited use of corporal punishment.
bullet1.5% were unsure.

When asked whether "Pediatricians must try to eliminate the practice of spanking as a form of discipline:"

bullet50% agreed
bullet30% disagreed
bullet20% were unsure. 4

When asked about their methods of disciplining their own children:

bullet35% used spanking as one form of discipline.
bulletFewer than 1% said that spanking was their most common disciplinary technique. 5

Additional information:

Entering the search word spanking into search engine of the AAP's web site at http://www.aap.org returned 155 results as of 2009-MAY-30. Some of them link to interesting reports on long term studies of the relationship between spanking and behavioral problems later in life.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Physical Punishment," American Academy of Pediatrics, at: http://www.aap.org/
  2. Edward Schor, "The Complete and Authoritative Guide: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12," Bantam, (1995; revised 1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  3. "Tips for a healthier new year," AAP, undated, at: http://www.aap.org/
  4. Policy Statement: Guidance for Effective Discipline," Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Pediatrics, Vol 101, #4, 1988-APR-4. Online at: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/ This policy was reaffirmed on 2004-OCT.
  5. "Periodic Survey of Fellows. AAP survey on corporal punishment reveals divergent views," Division of Child Health Research, AAP, at: http://www.aap.org/
  6. "Parenting Corner Q&A: Discipline," American Academy of Pediatrics, 2002-JAN, at: http://www.aap.org/

Copyright © 2005 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2005-JUL-03
Latest update: 2009-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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