Friday, August 24, 2007

The spanking debate

I was disheartened to read in today’s Ledger-Enquirer, that corporal punishment is still used in Georgia and Alabama schools. Somehow I was thinking by now it was illegal here. You can read Wednesday’s story about a Harris County boy who was suspended (after his parents opted against a spanking or paddling) for throwing grapes in the cafeteria and other misbehavior, along with today’s story, which spells out policies for various school districts around here (all of which allow limited use of corporal punishment) and includes a chorus of comments from readers expressing approval for paddling in schools.

While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often lost as to how to best discipline our willful Will, Rob and I have made a very deliberate decision not to hit him. On occasion when Will gets in a resistant mode he will start flailing his arms, and hitting at our legs or arms. We remove him from the scene and then talk about hitting. One of the first things I point out is how it hurt me to be hit and how no matter how frustrated we get, mommy and daddy never hit. We use our words.

I’ll admit that we might be able to scare Will out of hitting in the short term if we wailed on him every time he started to hit. But in the long term we would be teaching him a lesson: It’s okay to use physical force when you don’t like someone’s behavior. It would be a lot more difficult to explain to Will a year from now why it’s not okay to hit little brother Owen when he messes up your railroad track or your block tower. I know Will’s going to work through some aggression as a toddler trapped in that primitive state where you aren’t able to do many things for yourself and yet desperately want to assert your independence. But I want to model nonviolent ways of coping with frustration so that as he matures we can build toward a peaceful house. It may require some creative approaches for venting frustration (I have a friend whose father insisted that his sons could only wrestle, not hit each other, when they were angry. So they wrestled through their younger years, then tired of it and just got along like great friends for the rest of their years in the same house.)

A hitting-free household may sound like a pipe-dream for a mom facing life with two testosterone-filled siblings. We’re not there yet, but I like the challenge and I’m hoping with some deliberate, loving discipline we can make it happen.

Check out this website to find out which states have banned corporal punishment (I counted 29 of them) and for statistics about how frequently it is used in states that permit it.

Here are a couple quotes from this American Academy of Pediatrics article entitled “Guidance for Effective Discipline”:

“Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school children.”

“Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.”

“Spanking is not more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use.”

And for some insight on alternatives to punishment, check out this book by Alfie Kohn: "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason." (It's influenced my parenting, although we still resort to carrots and sticks some of the time.)

What do you think? Is it ever appropriate to spank or paddle a child – and should school administrators be allowed to use corporal punishment as one among many discipline tools?


Jennifer said...

That is why the newspapers have headlines as crazy as today's shooting. If parents of today would think about how the country was 70, 50, 30 or even 15 years ago, there was not as much violence and victimizing going on. That is because when these people where raised there teachers would paddle them AND THEN the parents would whip them for disrespecting adults or for getting into trouble at school.

There was no talking about it, no what is your side of the story, just act up and get spanked. Violence does not beget violence, when children are young they learn good from bad and consequences (spanking), so when they are older they use this knowledge to act like upstanding adults.

The talking and pleading and begging game, gives these children the false knowledge that no matter what they do, the worse thing that can happen to them is to be reprimanded. We all know this is not the worst thing that can happen to them.

Annie Addington said...

I think it might be a leap in logic to assume that the Thursday night drive-by shooting in Columbus (in which a black 18-year-old male was shot in the head apparently by one of two to three white males who, the victims said, were shouting racial slurs from their truck) was a result of the aggressors having received too few spankings, whippings or paddlings as children. Just as likely they suffered from a lack of love or from parents who failed to model respect for all people, regardless of their skin color. Or maybe they had model parents but were led astray somewhere along the way. Who knows…
Still, I really appreciate your perspective and I know there are many wonderful parents out there who choose to spank under certain circumstances. I think the issue is a complex, divisive and personal enough one, though, that it ought to be left to parents. School administrators have plenty of disciplinary tools to draw on without resorting to paddling.
Go to this link: for some interesting statistics tracking the correlation between spanking and later aggressive behavior or disorders.
And here’s one last link to an editorial by an Indiana University professor with several interesting points on the subject:
A couple quotes: “The use of corporal punishment in public schools attracts strong supporters and even stronger critics—few people are neutral. Surprisingly, the United States stands almost alone among industrialized nations in allowing corporal punishment in public education. Canada finally joined the mainstream by banning this disciplinary technique in 2004.”
“There is mounting criticism of corporal punishment, and more than 40 organizations, including the American Bar Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Education Association, have gone on record opposing the use of corporal punishment in schools. Although this discipline strategy is still widely used in American schools, there has been a steady decline in incidents of corporal punishment since the mid-1970s. If its use continues to decline, perhaps the U.S. will move more in line with the policies and practices of other countries.”

Grace said...

Though we do not spank our two children, I realize this is a personal decision and obviously not everyone is going to agree on what is right - so we all have to make an informed decision about what is best for our families.
In thinking and reading about this issue, I found two interesting web sites. The first link shows maps, etc. about corporal punishment in american schools
The second is the view/statement of the American Academy of Child and Adolecent Phychiatry, which I found relevant. Take a look:

Michael said...

I'll bet you use Time Out. The time-honored tradition of not actually teaching a kid that actions have consequences.

I see parents like you all the time. My wife, as a teacher, has to deal with the little jerks every day.

Junior. I'm not telling you again. Junior. One more time and I'm taking away your game boy. Junior, I'm not telling you again. Junior, I'm taking away your cell phone. Junior...

Your kids don't respect YOU, so why should they respect anyone or anything else?

This is why YOUR kids will be jerks, smoke pot and end up working at a Spectrum one day covered in tattoos. They have no respect for anyone or themselves.

Congratulations, parent!

Annie Addington said...


I respect your concern for the lack of parental support your wife gets as a teacher. As a former high school English teacher (I quit teaching to be a mostly stay-at-home mom for my children's early years) I taught plenty of challenging students -- and I am convinced that the thing the majority of them were lacking was consistent support, love and guidance from parents. One of the things I promised myself when I began writing this blog was that I was going to keep it honest. And I'll be the first to admit I am a far from perfect mom. Looking back there are many things I would do differently with Will were I to start over again, but adding spanking to my repertoire of discpline strategies is not one of them. I recognize that I may at times lose that comfort of feeling in total control in my home by choosing not to spank. And you probably think that the fact that Will sometimes starts hitting in frustration is a sign of that. (Will came into this world a very spirited kid -- "This kid has a temper" the nurses said in his first couple minutes of life -- which makes things both quite challenging and incredibly fun and hilarious with him.) But my belief is that by working through his aggression and his willfullness and his impulsive toddler instincts inside our home I am actually doing a lot to support his teachers at school. By always modeling talking things out, he is learning appropriate ways to deal with frustration outside the home. We've had a couple blips on the road at school (I think I can count three tantrums over the course of two years in preschool when he didn't want to fingerpaint, didn't want to clean up, and when he saw another kid hugging his mom goodbye and suddenly desperately wanted me) but to date Will has never pushed or hit another child at school to my knowledge. I'm not congratulating myself on that fact -- I'm sure that day is probably coming. But I wanted to let you know that it is possible to negotiate with your child without hitting at home and still have him behave relatively well most of the time with his teachers at school. I am so conscientious about wanting to support his teachers that I ask about his day every time I pick him up. Almost always things have gone well and they talk about Will as a pleasant student to teach. I'll mention occasionally that he's plenty stubborn and defiant at home some of the time, and they say, well that's different. That's what toddlers do at home. They're asserting their indepence.) Will tells us about being pushed or hit at school but he apparently doesn't push back. Sometimes that frustrates Rob; he's tempted to tell Will to stand up for himself. But I continue to encourage Will to use his words. To say things like, "Don't hit, that's not nice." It's my naiive attempt to try to help Will think about how to navigate a violent world in a nonviolent way.
This is meant as an explabation of my perspective, not an indictment of parents who choose another approach. I'm assuming you are a parent, and if so you seem confident that you have found a more apppropriate path for raising your children. Congratulations to you on that. (No sarcasm intended here -- I believe in the value of every child and of every parent who is working hard to raise their children well. And I'm sure you are.)
But if we can recognize that good parents may employ different strategies and have a right too, I think the school environment should support all approaches. What that requires is communication with parents. If a child acts up at school and you choose a bit of physical punishment at home to reinforce any school consequences that is your choice. But now schools are left in the awkward position of, if they choose to use corporal punishment, using it only on students whose parents grant permission. That means teachers and administrators can't be consistent in the way they dole out consequences. So no matter your opinion on the effectiveness of corporal punishment in the home, I think it makes good sense to eliminate its use in schools.
(And no we don't resort to time outs -- they've proved ineffective with Will, and I agree with you that they often aren't a real and logical consequence for whatever "infraction" is committed.)

Tina said...

I am deeply chocked by the facts that corporal punishment is still used in this country, in this state and in my school district. It came as a chock to me. I come from Sweden where it is even illegal for parents to spank their children. A concept like “time out” is something that is also highly criticized and discussed by child psychologist, pediatricians and care provider. Sweden is one of the most peaceful countries in the world with a very low crime rate. We are also a neutral country who has not been involved in a war for a very long time. Children learn from a very young age to use their language to solve conflicts.
Sweden is a very family oriented country where the child is always put in the center. We are spending our tax money on long paid maternity and paternity leave, up to one and a half year. This helps both parents to bond with their children at a young age. In this country children are so often put in someone else’s care for the majority of the day, I swear this is where the problem starts. The problem with discipline can never be solved with a paddle; it would not even be working as a band-aid. We should look at the rest of the world with open eyes and learn from others.
Please, please, top this brutal practice, get educated and use your heart!

Please review the follow facts:

The United States is one of only two countries in the world that have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Somalia—a country without an internationally-recognized government—is the other. The Children's Rights Division has focused its efforts on U.S. practice in three areas that fall measurably short of standards included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child—conditions for children in the justice system, detention of children by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and the use of children as soldiers.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Article 19 (Protection from all forms of violence): Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after
them. In terms of discipline, the Convention does not specify what forms of punishment parents should use. However any form of discipline involving violence is unacceptable. There are ways to discipline children that are effective in helping children learn about family and social expectations for their behavior – ones that are non-violent, are appropriate to the child's level of development and take the best interests of the child into consideration. In most countries, laws already define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is up to each government to review these laws in light of the Convention.

Every industrialized country in the world now prohibits school corporal punishment, except the U.S., Canada and one state in Australia. The following list shows a sample of the trend towards the elimination of corporal punishment in schools, dating as far back as the 1700s:
1783- Poland
1820 Netherlands
1845 Luxembourg
1860 Italy
1867 Belgium
1870 Austria
1881 France
1890 Finland
1900 Japan
1917 Russia
1923 Turkey
1936 Norway
1949 China
1950 Portugal
1958 Sweden
1967 Denmark
1967 Cyprus
1970 Germany
1970 Switzerland
1982 Ireland
1983 Greece
1986 United Kingdom
1990 New Zealand
1990 Namibia
1996 South Africa
1998 American Samoa
1999 Zimbabwe
2000 Zambia
2000 Trinidad and Tobago
2001 Kenya
2002 Fiji

Ginny said...

To say that children who are raised in a household that does not use corporal punishment will turn out to be disrespecting hoodliums would be as narrow-minded as saying that certain kids will turn out to be equally unfortunate members of society because they grew up with an angry. Oh wait, did I make a judgement on someone's parenting abilities from the tone of an e-mail?

Disiplining methods work differently, depending on the child... you have to do what works best for your kid.

Rob said...

To Michael above -- I’m a bit hesitant to engage here because I figure anyone willing to make personal jabs about one’s kids in a space like this is likely not much worth bothering with, but I just want to say that I somehow doubt that my kids will be anything less than extraordinary in whatever they choose to do in life, be it gas station attendant or rocket scientist, because they are being raised in a loving household by parents who care deeply about them and who don’t feel they need the rod to teach values, respect, and the difference between right and wrong. I’m sorry that you’re so judgmental, and I hope you’re denied service next time you visit your neighborhood Spectrum store.

Tina said...

A correction to my previous post:
We can now add Canada to the list of countries that have banned the practice of corporal punishment in public schools. This happened in 2004.
Good going!!!!!!!!