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Child corporal punishment: spanking

History of corporal punishment.

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Time line and trends:

When we wrote the original version of this essay in 1995, it started with the prediction:

"... restriction of parents hitting their children is expected to become one of the main topics of debate between religious conservatives and liberals during the next decade."

We were wrong. It seems that same-sex marriage came along instead. However, concern about corporal punishment does seem to be increasing slowly as more people become aware of the links between corporal punishment and youth rage, youth criminal acts, adult alcoholism and abuse of other drugs, adult clinical depression, adult clinical anxiety, etc.

Looking at the broader picture of state-sanctioned violence, we see that it is gradually decreasing. In the past:

bullet Slave-owners could whip slaves. This was theoretically abolished in the U.S. at the end of the Civil War.
bullet Masters could whip indentured servants.
bullet Husbands could beat wives with little chance of being arrested; this immunity has been greatly reduced in recent years throughout North America.
bullet The public could commit violence against people found guilty and held captive in a pillory. This was abolished in most US states by 1839. In 1905. Delaware was the last state to eliminate stocks.
bullet Jail guards could cane or whip prisoners. The last flogging in Britain was in 1967; in the U.S. it ended in 1952, again in Delaware.
bullet Ship officers could flog sailors until the practice was abolished by the U.S. Senate in 1850; and in Britain in 1957.
bullet Boxers were and are expected to beat each other senseless to the point that they can no longer function. Over time, this still often causes brain damage.
bullet School teachers could use corporal punishment on their students. Laws were passed to abolished spanking in British state-run schools in 1986, and in privately funded schools in 1998. The Supreme Court of Canada prohibited corporal punishment by Canadian schools in 2004. Punishment in schools is still permitted in about 60% of the states.
bullet Parents and guardians could -- and continue to -- use corporal punishment on their children in the U.S. and Canada, subject to some restrictions.

Currently, only the last three categories are still legal in North America. And the degree of violence is in decline:

Corporal punishment in schools:

bullet The use of physical violence against students in US public schools dropped from 1.4 million students in 1981 to 500,000 in 1991.
bullet The Boston-based national Coalition of Advocates for Students found that in the late 1980s, 5.2% black schoolchildren and 2.3% of white students were spanked annually. 1
bullet In 1999-AUG, 27 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico banned corporal punishment in their school systems. 2 25 states permitted the hitting of students.
bullet By the year 2000, 23 states -- mostly in the South -- continued to allow their students to be beaten: AL, AZ, AR, CO, DE, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, MS, MO, NM, NC, OH, OK, PA, SC, TN, TX, WY. It is still legal in Rhode Island, but is banned by each of the public school districts in the state. 3
bullet By 2003-FEB, 23 "spanking" states still remained. A bill to ban corporal punishment in Wyoming died in the Senate with a 15-15 tie vote. Bills to outlaw the beating of students were active in four other states.
bullet By 2003-APR-1, Bill SB15, which bans paddling and other forms of physical punishment of students in public schools, passed by a healthy margin in the Delaware Senate (14 to 7) and House (22 to 16). Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed the bill into law  in 2003-APR. 4,5

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bullet As of 2003-APR-15, there was active discussion in Pennsylvania and Missouri about the banning of corporal punishment of students. 4
bullet About 120 countries had prohibited corporal punishment in their schools by 2008-MAY. 6
bullet By the start of 2009, 21 U.S. states still allow corporal punishment in schools. 7
bullet During the 1997-8 school year, 49,859 students (10.1%) were physically punished in Mississippi; 40,811 (9.2) in Arkansas, and 45,811 (6.3%) in Alabama. All of the other states punished fewer than 5% of their students. 8

Corporal punishment by parents:

bullet A 1993 survey of U.S. parents showed a drop in the use of spanking as the main disciplinary method from 59% in 1962 to 19% in 1993. Parents now prefer using time-outs (38%) and lecturing (24%).
bullet Drs. T. Berry Brazelton, Penelope Leach, and Benjamin Spock, probably the most influential child psychologists and pediatricians, all oppose spanking. So does the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers. The American Academy of Pediatrics seems to be having difficulty reaching a consensus on a complete ban. However, 90% of their membership recommend either that spanking never be used, or that it be used on only very rare occasions. 9
bullet The American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a survey in 1997-1998 of their membership. 9 They reported:
bullet Most pediatricians (53%) discuss corporal punishment with parents.

"Five out of 10 pediatricians discourage the use of corporal punishment under any circumstance. Four out of 10 pediatricians recommend corporal punishment be used only under limited circumstances and with specific conditions or rules. Nine percent make no recommendation regarding corporal punishment."

bullet "Although pediatricians oppose spanking as a primary form of discipline, only 50% agree with the statement, 'Pediatricians must try to eliminate the practice of spanking as a form of discipline.' 30% disagreed and 20% are unsure. "
bullet Among the pediatricians who responded to the survey, 48% "think there is a link between corporal punishment and child abuse, 21% think there is no link and 31% are undecided."
bullet "While 74% of pediatricians report being spanked as a child, only 12% say it was the form of discipline most commonly used by their parents."
bullet "Only 35% of pediatricians say they use spanking as one form of discipline with their own children, and almost no pediatricians (less than 1%) say spanking is the most commonly used method of discipline for their own children."

Some argue that if we are to promote a less violent culture, then we should ban spanking. A few suggest that we criminalize all interpersonal violence. Others believe that spanking children is a useful form of discipline that does not harm the child if it is done carefully and with love.

References used:

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

  1. Jordan Riak, "Corporal Punishment in Schools Must End," New York Times letters column, 1989-JAN-11. Online at:
  2. Project NoSpank maintains a list of states that still engage in corporal punishment of students. See:
  3. Dennis Randall, "Corporal punishment in school," Learning Network, at:
  4. "Breaking News: Delaware becomes 28th state to ban school paddling," Press release from the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools and the Center for Effective Discipline, 2003-APR-1 at:
  5. Joe Rogalsky, "Spanking bill signed," CorPun, 2003-APR-15, at:
  6. "Discipline and the Law: Legal Reforms, StopHitting, at:
  7. "21 to Go!," at:
  8. "Top ten pupil-battering states: 1997-98 school year," at:
  9. "AAP survey on corporal punishment reveals divergent views," AAP, at:

Copyright 1995 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAY-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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