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Adult/child symbol

Child corporal punishment: Spanking

The anti-spanking position

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We recommend that you first read our introduction to spanking:

We have a companion essay on the pro-spanking position

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bullet "...the use of corporal punishment in schools is intrinsically related to child maltreatment. It contributes to a climate of violence, it implies that society approves of the physical violation of children, it establishes an unhealthy norm...Its outright abolition throughout the nation must occur immediately." - U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1991-SEP-15

bullet "The fundamental need of American education is to find ways of engaging today's children in the thrill of learning. Fear of pain has no place in that process." The Christian Science Monitor, 1989-MAR-21

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Topics in this essay:

bullet The case against spanking
bullet United Nations convention on the rights of the child
bullet Useful books
bullet References

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The case against spanking:

There are many arguments against spanking:


It is ineffective: Spanking a child will stop the child from misbehaving for the moment, but studies have shown that the child's compliance will only last for a short time; corporal punishment actually increases the child's non-compliant behavior in the future. Psychologist H. Stephen Glenn said

"Corporal punishment is the least effective method [of discipline]. Punishment reinforces a failure identity. It reinforces rebellion, resistance, revenge and resentment. And, what people who spank children will learn is that it teaches more about you than it does about them that the whole goal is to crush the child. It's not dignified, and it's not respectful." 1

bullet It may trigger criminal, anti-social, violent, aggressive behavior later in life: A longitudinal study of 442 boys born in 1972, found that one out of every three boys -- those who have a specific version of a gene -- who was maltreated during childhood will be almost certain to exhibit anti-social or criminal behavior as an adult. Maltreatment was defined as including physical abuse. If this is true for boys subjected to physical abuse, one wonders if the violence associated with conventional levels of corporal punishment could also trigger some level of violent or aggressive behavior later in life?  Unfortunately, researchers do not yet know what level of violence is needed to trigger the negative adult behavior. It can be argued that, in the absence of precise data, parents should err on the side of caution and avoid spanking at all costs. More details

bullet It has been linked to many adult problems. Corporal punishment studies have linked spanking during childhood to higher levels of adult depression, psychiatric problems, and addictions. Another study shows that children who were spanked have a lower IQ when compared to children whose parents used other methods of discipline and control.

bullet It can escalate to abuse: Because a spanking works for a while, the parent often repeats the spanking whenever the child misbehaves. Corporal punishment may then become a standard response to any misbehavior. This can lead to increasingly frequent and harsher spanking which can  exceed the "reasonable force" threshold and become abuse. According to the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse, "85% of all cases of physical abuse result from some form of over-discipline through the use of corporal punishment". Each year about 44 Canadian children are known to have been killed by family members; 35 of them by parents. The figures for the United States are probably about 10 times higher.

bullet It can unintentionally cause serious physical damage:
bullet Boxing on the ear can burst an eardrum.
bullet Shaking can cause a concussion, whiplash, blindness, serious brain damage, or even death.
bullet Spanking can injure muscles, the sciatic nerve, pelvis, coccyx (tail bone), genitals or spine.
bullet Hitting a child's hands can injure bones, blood vessels, joints and ligaments; it can induce premature osteoarthritis.
bullet A child who is hit can accidentally fall and seriously injure themselves.

bullet It trains a child to use violence: Spanking can teach children that it is acceptable for the strong to use force against the weak -- the concept "Might makes right" is regularly reinforced. They have an increased likelihood of becoming more aggressive towards their siblings, their fellow students, and (later in life) against their spouses and their own children. Violence as a way of behaving is a learned response.

bullet Slapping or any other type of force used on the buttocks is a sexual violation: The buttocks are an erogenous zone of the human body. Their nerve system is connected to the body's sexual nerve centers. Slapping them can involuntarily trigger feelings of sexual pleasure which become mixed with the pain. This can lead to confusion in the child's mind which influences the way in which they express their sexuality as adults.

bullet Spanking may lower a child's IQ: A study at the University of New Hampshire, released in 1998-JUL, found that spanking children apparently slows down their intellectual development. 3 A study of 960 children found an average 4 point reduction in IQ among students, from and average IQ of 102 (above average) for children who are not spanked, to an average IQ 98 (below average) for who are. A reduction of 4 points is enough to have a significant negative functional effect on the students. However, these studies only show a correlation between spanking and lower IQ. It does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship. More information


Spanking creates fear in the child: Irvin Wolkoff wrote:

"The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That's terrifying to a little kid...However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can't yet resolve or manage." 2

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UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

All but one of the federal governments who are members of the United Nations have signed it. The lone holdout is the United States.

The Convention defines a child as any "human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier."

Article 19:

"States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and education measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programs to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement."

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Useful Books.

These books recommend discipline techniques other than spanking:

  • Judy Arnall, "Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery," Professional Parenting Canada (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from online bookstore

  • Dr. Halm G. Ginott, et al., "Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication," Three Rivers Press (2003). Review/order this book

  • Philip Greven, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., (1990). Review/order this book
    An excerpt:

    "Corporal punishments always figure prominently in the roots of adolescent and adult aggressiveness, especially in those manifestations that take antisocial form, such as delinquency and criminality. Assaults upon children by adults in the name of discipline are the primary familial models for aggression, assaults, and other forms of antisocial behavior, delinquency, and crime that emerge when children grow up."

  • Irwin A Hyman, "The Case Against Spanking: How to Discipline Your Child Without Hitting," Jossey-Bass (1997). Review/order this book

  • Robert J, Mackenzie, "Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing CLEAR, Firm, and Respectful Boundaries," Three Rivers Press, (2013). Review/order this book

  • Murray A. Straus, "Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effects on Children," Transaction Publishers (2001). Review/order this book
    An excerpt:

    "Straus contends that this believed-to-be-"minor" form of physical violence is precursor to much violence that plagues our world. Children who are spanked quickly learn that love and violence can go hand in hand. Since spanking is generally done by loving, caring parents-for the child's own good-a child can learn that hitting is "morally right." Straus describes what he has learned through two decades of research: children who are spanked are from two to six times more likely to be physically aggressive, to become juvenile delinquents, and later, as adults, to use physical violence against their spouses, to have sadomasochistic tendencies, and to suffer from depression. ... Professionals in fields such as social work, child protection, delinquency and criminology, psychology, and politics will find it of critical importance."

  • Abigail Zeman, "80 Ways to Discipline Your Child Without Spanking," Kindle format (2012) . Review/order this book

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Associated essay on this web site:

An open letter to President Clinton on school spanking

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References used:

  1. J.K. Ni, "Spanking denounced as ineffective, harmful -- Expert at 'Families Alive' [conference] urges positive discipline," Deseret News, 1998-MAY-9, at: 
  2. Irvin Wolkoff, "Spanked child can become self-loathing adult," The Toronto Star, 1999-NOV-26, Page F4.
  3. Jane Gadd, "Spanked children suffer intellectually," The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-JUL-30

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 Internet sources of information:

bullet Robert G. Ingersoll, a famous freethinker from the 19th Century wrote an article "Is Corporal Punishment Degrading? in response to an article in the American Review, 1891-DEC. See:

bullet The Center for Effective Discipline (CED) "provides educational information to the public on the effects of corporal punishment of children and alternatives to its use." See: They coordinate two organizations: NCACPS (National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools) and EPOCH-USA (End Physical Punishment of Children). They sponsor a "SpankOut Day, USA" at the end of Child Abuse Prevention Month (April) each year.

bullet The No Spanking Page has an amazingly complete collection of "anti-spanking" material is at:

bullet Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) is a non-profit organization promoting zero-tolerance for assault and battery against children since 1978. They have a website "Project NoSpank" which contains many links. See: Included is an essay by by Tom Johnson: "The Sexual Dangers of Spanking children" at: 

bullet Parenttime magazine has a column called "Your Growing Child. One issue dealt with spanking:

bullet End Physical Punishment of Children (EPOCH) has a web page at:

bullet Kathryn Kvols, President of the International Network for Children and Families has a site promoting "9 Things to do Instead of Spanking" at:

bullet Jan Hunt of The Natural Child Project has written an essay: "Ten Reasons Not to Hit Your Kids" at

bullet Parent Soup, "We have found that in the Christian community not spanking is a real issue,"

bullet The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the physical punishment of children in school. See:

bullet Parents Centres New Zealand, Inc, "Discipline," at:

bullet M.A. Straus, "Demystifying the defenses of corporal punishment," at: Dr. Straus, an opponent of spanking, cuts a wide swath through traditional rationales for corporal punishment.

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Copyright © 1995 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-MAR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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