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Corporal punishment / spanking of children

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About spanking:

Since 1995 when this website was founded, spanking has become a much higher-profile controversy in North America.

bullet Fundamentalist, other evangelical Christians have become the main supporters of corporal punishment of children, probably because of their belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, and the frequent advocacy in the book of Proverbs of spanking as the only recommended method to discipline children.
bullet Many religious and social conservatives feel that abandoning spanking will leave their children undisciplined and lead to their increased lawlessness and violence as they reach adulthood.
bullet Most child psychologists, religious liberals, secularists, and others now oppose spanking. Children are probably not too keen on it either; from their reactions, it is obvious that they regard spanking as a frightening act of terrorism.
bullet The trend among most non-evangelicals in North America is to abandon spanking in favor of other less violent and more effective methods of child discipline. This philosophy is portrayed in TV by Supernanny and Nanny 911 programs.
bullet Studies conducted over many decades have shown that even a minor amount of spanking during childhood is correlated with increases in alcoholism, other drug abuse, clinical anxiety and depression during adulthood. However, a cause and effect relationship between corporal punishment and adult problems has not been proven and may be impossible to prove.

The use of the word "spanking" to refer to the discipline of children appears to be largely a North American term. In Britain, it is generally called "smacking; the word "spanking" often has sexual overtones.

Status of corporal punishment in schools:

School corporal punishment:

bullet Was banned in Costa Rica during 2008. Its Family Code now states: "Parental authority confers the rights and imposes the duties to orient, educate, care, supervise and discipline the children, which in no case authorizes the use of corporal punishment or any other form of degrading treatment against the minors."
bullet Was banned in the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela during 2007.
bullet Is banned in all 175 Catholic Diocesan School Systems in the U.S., according to a survey by the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools.
bullet Is banned in about 28 states of the U.S.
bullet Is legal in Utah with the permission of a parent or guardian. However. it is not widely practiced in the state. Most school districts there have a formal ban in place.
bullet Is still permitted by some public and private schools in the U.S.
bullet Is becoming more popular in Kentucky.
bullet Was almost banned in South Africa. The government passed the Children's Amendment Bill in 2007-JUN but withdrew clauses that would have prohibited spanking because of the objections of some conservative religious groups.

Status of corporal punishment by parents:

It is:

bullet Legal in all 50 states of the U.S., although most states limit its severity.  Massachusetts recently considering a state-wide ban. The bill did not pass. 4
bullet Illegal in Canada if the child is under 24 months, or over 12 years-of-age, of if the child is struck in the face, or if an implement of any kind -- other than an open hand -- is used.
bullet Promoted by many fundamentalist and other evangelical leaders and organizations.
bullet Opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other professional associations.
bullet Prone to being escalated to a lethal level. The Department of Health and Human Services and the New England Journal of Medicine estimate that 1,000 to 2,000 children die every year in the U.S. from corporal punishment that has gotten out of control. They estimate that 142,000 are seriously injured annually. 1
bullet Is disapproved of by non-binding resolutions in Brookline, MA and Chicago, IL. 4

Our group's opinions and biases:

bullet We feel that the debate corporal punishment of children is one of the most important, current, religiously-based, conflicts in North America.
bullet In the past, studies into spanking have been inconclusive. Those researchers who initially opposed spanking generally found that it was dangerous and ineffective. Those who initially supported spanking typically found that it was safe and effective. This is fairly common in such studies: the researchers' original opinions tend to be confirmed by the data that they collect.
bullet However, recent, longitudinal and objective studies in Ontario, Canada, New Zealand, and elsewhere definitely show that even moderate spanking is correlated with devastating results for a minority of children -- particularly males -- that only become obvious after they reach adulthood.
bullet We suspect that when the results of some of these large, long-term behavioral studies become generally known, that many parents will stop spanking their children.

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The author's personal biases:

When writing essays on this web site, I try to just "tell it like it is" without allowing my personal beliefs or recommendations to intrude. I am making an exception here by adding this personal note, because I feel that the adverse consequences of spanking children are very serious.

A particularly large study in Ontario Canada has shown that, on average, children who are sometimes or often spanked experience a higher level of anxiety, severe depression, alcoholism, and/or drug addiction in adulthood. About one in seven children experiences more than one of these problems. The Ontario study shows that, on average, for every ten children who are spanked, one more child will be destined to suffer from more than one of the above disorders during adulthood.

I have a hunch that if all parents replaced spanking with other methods of discipline there would be a major reduction in adult mental health problems and addiction within a generation.

In this section, you will read that:

bullet The Book of Proverbs in the Bible -- traditionally believed to have been written by King Solomon -- strongly recommended corporal punishment of children.
bullet Many Evangelical Christian leaders favor spanking.
bullet There is an alternate interpretation of the Bible's message about spanking -- that strong physical discipline can lead to vicious, bullying, and hateful behavior when a child becomes an adult.
bullet Some countries have outlawed spanking, both in the home and at school.
bullet Some child protection services In North America regard any corporal punishment that leaves marks on the skin to be abuse.
bullet A massive, long-term study in Ontario shows that spanking of children is correlated problems in adulthood, including anxiety, major depression, drug addiction and alcohol addiction.
bullet One in three boys in New Zealand has a mood-altering gene which will cause 85% of them to engage in criminal and antisocial behavior later in life, if they are seriously abused during childhood. The study has not yet investigated whether moderate levels of spanking will also trigger this behavior. There is little reason to believe that this same gene does not exist in males in North America.

Angry with our website?

Since we explain all viewpoints on spanking, you are certain to see material in this section that is offensive to you. Please do not write us a complaint letter, unless you feel that we have misrepresented your position.

Please direct your Emails to the pro- or anti-spanking groups with which you disagree.

Books about spanking, written from different perspectives:

bullet CON: Murray Straus, "Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Children," Transaction Publishers, (2nd edition; 2001) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

Dr. Straus of the University of New Hampshire is one of the world's leading experts in family violence, including the spanking of children. His book compares commonly held beliefs about spanking with the results of carefully made studies about the negative effects of spanking. This is a book aimed at the general public.

Customer rating at both Barnes & Noble and, is five stars out of five.

bullet PRO: Dr. James C. Dobson, "The New Strong-Willed Child: Birth thorugh Adolescence," Tyndale House Publishers (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

Dr. Dobson is founder and recently retired head of Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian advocacy group. He advocates spanking children from the age of 18 months -- a criminal act in Canada.

Customer rating at was 2.4 out of five stars -- a relatively poor rating.

bullet CON: Dr Thomas W. Phelan and Chris Webb, "1-2-3 Magic for Christian Parents: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12: Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

Amazon product description: "Containing relevant Bible verses, explanations, and exercises, this guide builds on the enormously popular 1-2-3 Magic discipline system by addressing the needs of a Christian parent. ... Addressing everything from homework and chores to more serious tantrums and fighting, this guide teaches parents to take charge?yet refrain from any physical discipline or yelling?leading to happier parents, better behaved children, and a more peaceful home environment."

Customer rating was 5 stars out of 5.

Books from's book inventory: is an online bookstore. A search of their books on spanking and corporal punishment produced the following list. If a generic Amazon image appears, click on your browser's refresh key:


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References used:

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

  1. Holly Rossi, "Sparing the Rod,", 2005-FEB, at:

  2. Robert Fathman, "2006 ends with very good news about school corporal punishment," 2006-DEC-15, at:

  3. "Costa Rica achieves full prohibition,", 2008-JUL, at:

  4. "Anti-spanking," Wikipedia, at:

  5. "Is spanking a thirteen year old child illegal?," La Vista Church of Christ, at:

  6. "Announcement," 21 to Go!, at:

Copyright 2002 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-MAY-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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