A Resolution to Encourage Parents and Caregivers of Children to Refrain from the Use of Corporal Punishment
Author: Ron Goldman
Brookline, Massachusetts - May 2005
WHEREAS the nation’s pediatric professionals and children’s advocates oppose the use of corporal punishment of children;
WHEREAS research shows that corporal punishment teaches children that hitting is an acceptable way of dealing with problems and that violence works;
WHEREAS there are effective alternatives to corporal punishment of children;
WHEREAS national surveys show that corporal punishment is common and 35% of infants are hit before they are one year old;
WHEREAS adopting national policies against corporal punishment has been an effective public education measure in various countries;
WHEREAS accumulated research supports the conclusion that corporal punishment is an ineffective discipline strategy with children of all ages and, furthermore, that it is sometimes dangerous;
WHEREAS studies show that corporal punishment often produces in its victims anger, resentment, low self-esteem, anxiety, helplessness, and humiliation;
WHEREAS research demonstrates that the more children are hit, the greater the likelihood that they will engage in aggression and anti-social behavior as children imitate what they see adults doing;
WHEREAS in a study of 8000 families, children who experience frequent corporal punishment are more likely to physically attack siblings, develop less adequately-developed consciences, experience adult depression, and physically attack a spouse as an adult;
WHEREAS, according to human rights documents, children, like adults, have the right not to be physically assaulted;
WHEREAS the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently stated that persisting legal and social acceptance of corporal punishment is incompatible with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child;
BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED that Town Meeting encourages parents and caregivers of children to refrain from the use of corporal punishment and to use alternative nonviolent methods of child discipline and management with an ultimate goal of mutual respect between parent and child.
Town Meeting requests that appropriate Town groups explore how they can further raise awareness of this issue, and organizations that deal with children's welfare shall be informed of this resolution.
This voluntary resolution is in no way intended to undermine parental authority or familial autonomy. Its goal is to promote and advocate mutual respectful relationships between children and their parents and encourage thoughtful determination of discipline methods. It seeks to bring attention to this issue and is meant to be a gentle, reasonable, and respectful suggestion. It could result in more support and discussion of options for disciplining children.
Corporal punishment is the intentional infliction of physical pain for the purpose of punishment. Examples of corporal punishment include assault and battery that do not cause bodily injury, slapping, spanking, hitting with objects, shaking and pinching. Such incidents are not reported to any agency. Child abuse is already subject to State law and is not the focus of this resolution. Discipline is training to act in accordance with rules of conduct.
This resolution is supported by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Massachusetts Citizens for Children, and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
A large-scale meta-analysis of 88 studies (Gershoff, 2002) published by the American Psychological Association, found strong associations between corporal punishment and ten negative outcomes, including eroded trust between parent and child, more aggression toward siblings, bullying, spousal abuse as adults, and other anti-social behavior.
American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations
Parents should be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following consequences of spanking lessen its desirability as a strategy to eliminate undesired behavior.
Spanking children <18 months of age increases the chance of physical injury, and the child is unlikely to understand the connection between the behavior and the punishment. 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 models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school children.
Spanking and threats of spanking lead to altered parent-child relationships, making discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option, such as with adolescents.
Spanking is no 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. Time-out and positive reinforcement of other behaviors are more difficult to implement and take longer to become effective when spanking has previously been a primary method of discipline.
A pattern of spanking may be sustained or increased. Because spanking may provide the parent some relief from anger, the likelihood that the parent will spank the child in the future is increased.
Consequences of Corporal Punishment
Children whose parents use corporal punishment to control antisocial behavior show more antisocial behavior themselves over a long period of time, regardless of race and socioeconomic status, and regardless of whether the mother provides cognitive stimulation and emotional support (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997; Kazdin, 1987; Patterson, DeBaryshe, & Ramsey, 1989; Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997).
A consistent pattern of physical abuse exists that generally starts as corporal punishment, and then gets out of control (Kadushin & Martin, 1981; Straus & Yodanis, 1994).
Adults who were hit as children are more likely to be depressed or violent themselves (Berkowitz, 1993; Strassberg, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994; Straus, 1994; Straus & Gelles, 1990; Straus & Kantor, 1992).
The more a child is hit, the more likely it is that the child, when an adult, will hit his or her children, spouse, or friends (Julian & McKenry, 1993; Straus, 1991; Straus, 1994; Straus & Gelles, 1990; Straus & Kantor, 1992; Widom, 1989; Wolfe, 1987).
Corporal punishment increases the probability of children assaulting the parent in retaliation, especially as they grow older (Brezina, 1998).
Corporal punishment sends a message to the child that violence is a viable option for solving problems (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980; Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997).
Corporal punishment is degrading, contributes to feelings of helplessness and humiliation, robs a child of self-worth and self-respect, and can lead to withdrawal or aggression (Sternberg et al., 1993; Straus, 1994).
Corporal punishment erodes trust between a parent and a child, and increases the risk of child abuse; as a discipline measure, it simply does not decrease children's aggressive or delinquent behaviors (Straus, 1994).
Children who get spanked regularly are more likely over time to cheat or lie, be disobedient at school, bully others, and show less remorse for wrongdoing (Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997).
Corporal punishment adversely affects children's cognitive development. Children who are spanked perform poorly on school tasks compared to other children (Straus & Mathur, 1995; Straus & Paschall, 1998).
The anti-social behaviors associated with corporal punishment may not be exhibited in most cases. However, the increase in the prevalence of such behaviors is significant.
Alternatives to Corporal Punishment
Set firm, consistent, age-appropriate, and acceptable limits. For example, although a 5-year-old child may be able to resist the urge to touch things, it is not reasonable to expect that a 2-year-old will be able to handle such limits. Therefore, parents may need to childproof their homes to protect breakable items, and to keep children away from dangerous objects.
Teach children conflict resolution and mediation skills, including listening actively, speaking clearly, showing trust and being trustworthy, accepting differences, setting group goals, negotiating, and mediating conflicts. Reason and talk with children in age-appropriate ways. Verbal parent-child interactions enhance children's cognitive ability.
Model patience, kindness, empathy, and cooperation. Parents and teachers should be aware of the powerful influence their actions have on a child's or group's behavior.
Provide daily opportunities for children to practice rational problem solving, and to study alternatives and the effect of each alternative.
Encourage and praise children. A nonverbal response such as a smile or a nod, or a verbal response such as "good" or "right" not only provides incentives for accomplishment, but also builds primary grade children's confidence.
Allow children to participate in setting rules-and identifying consequences for breaking them. This empowers children to learn how to manage their own behavior. Provide consistency, structure, continuity, and predictability in children's lives.
Encourage children's autonomy-allow them to think for themselves, and to monitor their own behavior, letting their conscience guide them.