Should parents spank their children? (And other questions about corporal punishment)

LawrenceWomen is where we will unpack nationally publicized issues that are important to women and have a discussion about what they mean on a local level. Read previous posts here.

• • •

Spanking is defined by the American Academy of Pediatrics as “striking a child with an open hand on the buttocks or extremities with the intention of modifying behavior without causing physical injury.”

You’ve probably heard by now — the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges after hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch, leaving him covered in bruises, lacerations and welts.

Publicity surrounding Peterson’s case and domestic abuse in the NFL have brought the long debate about corporal punishment into the spotlight again.

By the time American children are adolescents, 85 percent of them will have been spanked at least one time, according to Dr. Alan Kazdin. Kazdin is a psychologist at Yale University who has studied the use of spanking to discipline children.

There are a lot of questions to ask: Is spanking a form of child abuse? In general, should parents spank their children? Do more women or men believe that corporal punishment is acceptable? Should spanking be illegal? What implications does this leave on kids? What about on the parents? On a spectrum of corporal punishment, is hitting a child with a switch worse or better or no different from a spanking?

Will spanking lead to “parenting regrets?” What role do religious and cultural background play in the debate? Where do parents draw the line? What is a “reasonable standard?” Why do parents choose corporal punishment over other forms of discipline?

I took a look at a couple of the questions surrounding the debate. Please leave comments or email to continue the conversation.

Is spanking an acceptable form of punishment?

The majority of Americans say “yes.” Between 2010 and 2012, about 70 percent of Americans agreed with the use of physical punishment.

AAP’s answer is a resounding “no.”

Corporal punishment is legal in Kansas, but people can be (and have been) arrested for inhumane corporal punishment to a child in Douglas County.

The line between excessive force and acceptable force is thin, though. The Kansas Department for Children and Families defines corporal punishment as “activity directed toward modifying a child’s behavior by means of physical contact such as spanking with the hand or any implement, slapping, swatting, pulling hair, yanking the arm or any similar activity.”

What are women’s vs. men’s attitude toward corporal punishment?

77 percent of men, and 65 percent of women 18 to 65 years old agreed that a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking,” according to Child Trends Databank.

What happens, to you and to your child, when you spank as a form of discipline?

AAP’s official position on physical punishment states:

“It is harmful emotionally to both parent and child. Not only can it result in physical harm, but it teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to discipline or express anger. While stopping the behavior temporarily, it does not teach alternative behavior. It also interferes with the development of trust, a sense of security, and effective communication. (Spanking often becomes the method of communication.) It also may cause emotional pain and resentment.”

AAP released a study in 2012 that links mental illness to physical punishment, and more specifically, spanking.

Another study released in 2009 suggests that “exposing children to HCP (harsh corporal punishment) may have detrimental effects on trajectories of brain development.” That means a child’s brain could have less gray matter.

What roles do cultural and religious backgrounds play in the debate?

Though social scientists and doctor groups agree the risks outweigh the benefits of corporal punishment, and specifically spanking, there is a national disparity.

Depending on where you grew up or whether or not your parents spanked you might play a part in whether you will spank your child.

The Centers for Disease Control promotes healthy parenting practices across cultural groups and did research on the subject. Its study found, however, that all cultural “groups said they used spanking as a ‘last resort’ (‘You don’t start with spanking’).”

The national conversation:

NPR — Is corporal punishment abuse? Why that’s a loaded question

Spanking is an appropriate form of punishment:

Time — Spanking can be an appropriate
form of child discipline
CNN — Spanking isn’t child abuse; it’s
common sense

Spanking is not an appropriate form of punishment:

Forbes — Adrian Peterson, the NFL and whippings
The Week — Christians have no moral rationale for spanking their children

What do you think?