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Should Parental Spanking Be Outlawed in the United States

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Should parental spanking be outlawed in the United States?

There are widely varying opinions about parents in the United States who choose to spank, or not to spank, their children.  Comments posted on Yahoo! in response to the question: “Did you receive spankings as a child?” attests to the wide variance of opinions on the topic of spankings. Some included:

“Until I had children of my own, I used to think my parents were too hard on us.  After having my own children I went back and thanked my parents for spanking me. I wouldn’t change anything about the way they raised us” (Penny G).

I was spanked and I spanked my children, but if I could do it over, I wouldn’t spank them.  I think there are better methods of discipline” (Djmom).

“I was, but not very often.  I still remember being scared of my parents, that’s the worst feeling in the world…being afraid of the people who were supposed to take care of you” (Katie).

I was never spanked, my parents let me do whatever I wanted then they would explain to me why it was bad to do that” (Giorgio)

With such different viewpoints, it is understandable that the discipline strategy of spanking has become very controversial.  Should parents be permitted to spank their children? Currently, no state in the union has succeeded in outlawing parental spanking.  However, with such opposing viewpoints as to whether spanking should be illegal or not, the debate surrounding the practice is escalating.  On one side of the issue are individuals who argue that parents are capable of deciding how to raise their children, specifically regarding selecting the discipline strategies for rearing them.  On the other side of the issue are individuals who argue the government should regulate the discipline choices parents have in order to protect children from any potential harm.

As the debate develops, individuals who support spanking feel it is their responsibility to utilize any acceptable discipline strategy in rearing their child.  Dr. James Dobson in his book, The New Dare to Discipline, advocates that it is the moral responsibility of parents to discipline their children.  He supports parents who utilize spanking as a discipline technique.  He said, “There are occasions when spanking is not only a right but a duty…to educate one’s child in moral good and evil” (201).  In 1996 the American Academy of Pediatrics held a consensus conference to address corporal punishment.  Dr. Wolraich reported in Pediatrics that spanking is considered acceptable by “90% of parents in the United States [who] spank their children” (101: 726) and that this trend continued for generations because most adults surveyed were spanked when they were children (101:726).  Furthermore, the survey indicated that “59% of pediatricians support the use of corporal punishment, at least in certain situations;” thus, making spanking an acceptable technique for discipline for the majority of pediatricians surveyed (101: 726).  With such data, proponents of spanking continue to encourage parents to exercise their legitimate right when deciding whether to spank their children or not.  Even, the existing laws in the Unites States mandate that parents be the responsible authority over their minor children.  Therefore, it is a parent’s prerogative to utilize whatever discipline strategy desired.

For centuries, parents from varying countries and cultures have utilized spanking as an effective strategy that had no detrimental effects.  And although, the practice of spanking is under greater public scrutiny today, parents still feel it is an effective tool that they wish to keep in their discipline repertoire.  This is supported by doctors in Pediatrics who acknowledged that “corporal punishment is effective when part of a comprehensive approach” (101:723).  This was further supported by clinical field studies published in a 1990 volume of Behavioral Therapy.  The authors, Roberts and Powers concluded that spanking “has consistently been found to reduce the subsequent frequency of noncompliance” when balanced by other discipline strategies (21:260).  A decade long study presented to the 2002 America Psychological Association by Dr. Diana Baumrind, found that the strategy of spanking was most effective when used as part of a balanced discipline program.  Used in this manner, she said, “Spankings were an effective deterrent to disobedience.” And she concluded that there was no evidence of any lasting harm among adolescents who received childhood spankings (Baumrind 40).  Consequently, it is common to hear adults, who were spanked, express gratitude towards their parents for electing to spank them.  They show no evidence of long lasting harm, quite the contrary; many state that the spankings were extremely effective in shaping their character as an adult.

Proponents of disciplinary spanking argue that spanking does not lead to physical child abuse.  They feel spanking and child abuse are two very different behaviors that have no direct connection.  They claim choosing to include spanking, as part of a discipline program, does not incline parents to abuse their children.  And the medical community supports these pro-spankers.  An article published in Pediatric Management by Dr. Kristin White, reported “70% of primary care pediatricians reject the idea that spanking sets the stage for parents to engage in forms of physical abuse” (September 1993: 13-15).  Then in 1995, Drs. L. Wissow and D. Roter of Johns Hopkins University published their findings in Pediatrics that no “definitive link” had been identified between spankings and child abuse (96: 794-795).  Dr. Kenelm McCormick published an article in the Journal of American Medical Association expressing that spanking, as recommended by most primary care physicians, “is not violence and parents who properly spank do not injure or abuse their children” (267: 3163).

Lastly, the 61st United Nations General Assembly Address on “Rights of the Child” cites the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children report, which highlights the complex factors of multicultural corporal punishment.  The Global Initiative report admits, the vast majority of people in the world−with varying religions across many countries− permits, and in some cultures, expects parents to spank their children (UN 8-12).  Hence, parents in the United States, who elect to use spanking as a discipline strategy stand with the majority of parents in the world.  Proponents of spanking argue that the undeniable factors of religion, culture, race, and ethnicity must be seriously considered when shaping child rights policies.  They argue that they have experienced positive results from the discipline strategy of spanking.  



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