When Paddling Doesn’t Get Us Anywhere

Proverbs 23:13-14:  “Do not withhold correction from a child,  For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.  You shall beat him with a rod,  And deliver his soul from hell.”

Spanking is a huge debate topic on the internet – you can get even the mildest of people whipped into quite an emotional frenzy when the issue comes up.  Some are concerned with the effectiveness of the discipline strategy and some argue in favor of parental rights.  Many folks who don’t spank believe that it’s not harmful for those who choose to use it, as long as it is not disproportional to the child’s age or size.  Some think it’s fine as long as not done with an object such as a belt or stick.  Some think it’s abusive under any circumstance at all.

This recent article from Time.com discusses the lack of effectiveness it has as well as the profound psychological harm done to the child from repeated spankings:

Now researchers at Tulane University provide the strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking: of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5. The research supports earlier work on the pitfalls of corporal punishment, including a study by Duke University researchers that revealed that infants who were spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.

Led by Catherine Taylor, the Tulane study was the first to control simultaneously for variables that are most likely to confound the association between spanking and later aggressive behavior. The researchers accounted for factors such as acts of neglect by the mother, violence or aggression between the parents, maternal stress and depression, the mother’s use of alcohol and drugs, and even whether the mother considered abortion while pregnant with the child.

Compared with children who were not hit, those who were spanked were more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, get frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against others.

Parental control is another issue.  Many parents want the ability to discipline their children as they feel is necessary.  After all, they know their child best and know what makes that child tick, so the argument goes.  I am sympathetic to the concern. 

I have, very infrequently, and after numerous warnings, given one of my sons a swat on the butt.  Do I think I harmed him?  No.  However at 4 and 6 years old, both boys can and usually will listen to reason, removing the need for spanking completely in our house.  Do I think there are more effective methods of discipline that I could have used?  Probably, yes.  Almost certainly.

Despite the admission that I have spanked a few times, I loathe the idea of anyone else touching my kids.  Their grandparents would never spank them and I would be horrified if either of their schools suggested it.    A 2008 ABC News article reports that:

The public by a 2-1 margin approves of spanking children in principle, and half of parents say they sometimes do it to their own kids, an ABCNEWS poll found. But an overwhelming majority disapproves of corporal punishment in schools.

Sixty-five percent of Americans approve of spanking children, a rate that has been steady since 1990. But just 26 percent say grade-school teachers should be allowed to spank kids at school; 72 percent say it shouldn’t be permitted, including eight in 10 parents of grade-schoolers.

Indeed, even among adults who spank their own child, 67 percent say grade-school teachers should not be permitted to spank children at school.

Honestly, I was very surprised the numbers condoning the practice in schools was that high.  I would be concerned with the hurt being too much for the offense or that it was used without fair warning, but it’s possible some people just don’t think that far ahead.

As it turns out, it’s just not that effective.

Paddling in schools is perfectly legal in Texas (are you surprised?)  as well as many other states. I remember the threat in elementary school myself – I never saw the paddle, but I heard tales!  Most districts in this state, among them Houston and Dallas ISDs, however, have long banned the practice.

According to a 2008 CNN article, over 200,000 kids are paddled annually.  Here are a few more statistics:

Corporal punishment in schools remains legal in 21 U.S. states and is used frequently in 13: Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida

The highest percentage of students receiving corporal punishment was in Mississippi, with 7.5 percent of students. The highest number was in Texas, with 48,197 students.

The punishment is disproportionately applied to black students, according to the organizations. During the 2006-07 school year, for instance, black students made up 17.1 percent of the nationwide student population but 35.6 percent of those paddled at schools

Black girls were paddled at twice the rate of their white counterparts in the 13 states using corporal punishment most frequently.

In addition, special education students with mental or physical disabilities were more likely to receive corporal punishment

Some of the reasoning behind corporal punishment is based on religious thought.  I strongly encourage anyone interested in more information on different religions and their views on spanking to check out this link to The Center for Effective Discipline.

Somewhat disturbingly, despite the possibility of harm done to children psychologically, and the fact that it is applied often to special education and minorities disproportionately, one school district in Texas which formerly outlawed the practice recently put it back on the table by removing the ban:

…Temple is unusual in that after banning the practice, the school district revived it last May at the request of parents who were nostalgic for the orderly schools of yesteryear. Without it, there weren’t any consequences for students, according to Steve Wright, Temple’s school board president.

Although only one student has been paddled in the past year, officials say the change in student behavior in Temple’s 14 public schools has been dramatic and they note fewer discipline problems.

Many of the parents who pushed for the change paddle their children at home and wanted consistent discipline in the classroom, said John Hancock, Temple’s assistant superintendent of administration.

“We’re rural central Texas,” Hancock said. “We’re very well educated, but still there are those core values. Churches are full on Sundays. This is a tool we’d like in the toolbox for responding to discipline issues.”

I’m glad to see that it has been used very sparingly since its revival, but is “behave or we will hit you” really the best they can do? 

The article cites the district as stating, “Without it, there weren’t any consequences for students.” None? Can they think of no better discipline measures to take? 

Corporal punishment in schools harms children and damages their education. The practice almost always causes immediate pain, and can result in lasting physical injury. It humiliates and degrades students, and may leave them depressed or withdrawn. Corporal punishment teaches students that violence is acceptable: it can make students aggressive, angry, and more likely to lash out against their peers or educators, and it can teach them that domestic violence is permissible. Furthermore, as a result of being physically punished, students can become less engaged in school, less motivated to succeed, and may become more likely to drop out.

And perhaps most importantly, if a child is that unruly that we consider hitting them, perhaps the parents and school need to look into what is really going on with the child – unstable home life, psychological disorder, medical condition, other special needs, or something else? 

Corporal punishment is not permitted in either prisons or mental institutions. 

If corporal punishment is legal in your district, I suggest you contact the principal to opt out in writing – they may have a form to fill out as well, but most schools will allow you to refuse that form of discipline.

Paddling may work short-term on some children, and it’s certainly cheaper than many other options, but what are the long-term consequences?  Maybe we need to consider the overall damage before taking a shortcut in raising our kids?



  1. Jeff Eyges said,

    April 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    “We’re rural central Texas,” Hancock said. “We’re very well educated

    Why do I view that statement with skepticism? (Actually, I’m being polite; I regard it with outright disbelief.)

    If a school administrator even laid a hand on my kid, I’d put him in the hospital. Even if it were a woman, I might still be moved to violence. But then, I’m a liberal atheist from Boston whose parents failed to put the fear of God in him. We all know where I’m going.

    RL, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but this validates my firm conviction (as though it needed validation) that the South is worthless. Worthless. As far as Texas is concerned – we could give it back to Mexico (I’m told they actually still want it) and not notice any effect apart from a significant drop in the national level of dumb-ass.

  2. Jeff Eyges said,

    April 21, 2010 at 6:06 am

    Why are you there? Family reasons? You could practice law elsewhere.

    • April 21, 2010 at 11:14 pm

      We might one day – Mr. Lawyer is from a blue state. But we’re working on some pretty big new ventures here for the time being.

      And besides – if all the libs are airlifted out, there’s absolutely no chance of hopey changey happening. You can’t think further concentrating the Right would be a good thing? I see more and more pockets of blue in the red, too, these days. Baby blue, perhaps, but I’m an optimist.

      I’m not saying most people don’t identify as “conservative” whatever that means, but many moderates I know personally are fed up. They know Bush made some terrible choices – they’ve lost their sons and daughters in the wars too. They are embarrassed by Pretty Hair Perry. They need health care as much as any Democrat. Some of them don’t want to admit it, but they know it will help….if not themselves, then someone they love. Some of them, if polled on the actual issues are Dems in disguise, even if they are horrified by the thought.

      Are they going to flood the voting booth with blue votes? No. A few will. A few are too stubborn. Some are ignorant…and loud. Some have relatively well-thought out reasoning. You’ve got some of that on both sides, if we are going to be honest. But if you actually take the time to talk to people, you find that you have more in common than not.

      So, yes, we might move one day, but it will be for reasons unrelated to politics.

      None of this means I’m gonna shut up, though. 😉

      • Jeff Eyges said,

        April 22, 2010 at 8:52 am

        I’m not an optimist. I don’t believe it will ever get better. There’s a nascent body of evidence suggesting a neurological basis; I’ve suspected it for decades.

        I remain convinced separation is the only long-term solution.

  3. April 22, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Talk to Perry – it may be the one thing you both agree on.

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