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Changing public attitudes on spanking.

Changing Public Attitudes on Spanking

Though spanking was once a common method used to punish children when they misbehaved, the majority of the public no longer seems to favor the use of corporal punishment. The National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse (NCPCA) recently released their annual national Public Opinion Survey which found that 72 percent of the American public believes that physical discipline of a child can lead to injury. Fully 90 percent of the public believes that corporal punishment should not occur in schools (even though thirty states still allow it by law). And approximately half of all parents report that they have not spanked or hit their children in the previous year.

There has been a shift in recent years in these views. Data from this study compared with one or two years ago shows that over the last 48 months there has been a 13 percent decline in the number of parents who do use physical punishment as a form of discipline. And, in contrast, a decade ago less than half of the public was opposed to corporal punishment in the schools. As a reflection of that shift in attitudes, in the last two years 11 states have changed their laws to make corporal punishment in schools illegal.

The use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline is for many an emotionally charged issue. Citations of passages in the Bible or references to one's own experiences as a child ("I was whupped as a kid and I turned out okay") are often used to defend the use of physical force to get children to obey. Or, some say: "It works. I once hit my child and he never misbehaved that way around me again." And on the other side, there are claims that any form of force with a child can lead to reportable child abuse.

While it is clear that not all children who are spanked end up on the child abuse rosters, it is also clear that corporal punishment may not be a wise form of discipline for us to tout in this country.

Once again, research shows us:

* Corporal punishment can cause physical harm;

* Corporal punishment does train children to use physical force (rather than reason) to solve problems and control the behavior of others;

* Corporal punishment (such as in the classroom) can interfere with learning;

* While corporal punishment can control behavior in a given situation, it can also increase aggressive behavior in children in other situations; and

* Children can be taught control and responsibility without physical violence.

This is a value-laden issue. And it certainly is clear that the public's values have shifted -- just as the public has become immensely concerned with all forms of child abuse, so too, the public has become concerned with the broader issue of how we raise our children. Included in that concern is a real questioning by parents of the use of corporal punishment.

[Anne H. Cohn, DPH, is a researcher who writes about child abuse, in Memorandum, June 1990.
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Title Annotation:Family Support Bulletin
Author:Cohn, Anne
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1991
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