A large number of scientific studies conducted over several decades and using thousands of children have demonstrated that corporal punishment, including mild forms such as spanking as well as harsher forms such as paddling with an object, is a risk factor for a wide range of child adjustment problems including aggression, anxiety, depression, and difficulties in social relationships. The international community is increasingly taking the position that outlawing corporal punishment is one way to advance children’s right to protection from abuse and optimize their development; indeed 46 countries have outlawed all forms of adults’ corporal punishment of children, including in the home.
There are effective ways to manage children’s behavior that do not involve the use of physical force (e.g., distraction, time-outs, manipulation of privileges). Parenting should not be just reactive—whether physical or otherwise. The point of discipline is to teach children right from wrong and to promote desired behavior in the future. This can best be accomplished proactively by setting clear expectations, reasoning with children, offering them explanations, and modeling desired behaviors. Through experiencing corporal punishment, children learn that hitting is an acceptable way of handling interpersonal problems. It is time that we take a stand against adults’ corporal punishment of children.
Jennifer E. Lansford, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist and Research Professor at the Duke University Center for Child and Family Policy and Social Science Research Institute.