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Despite evidence against spanking, Georgia permits it in schools. Why?


The nation’s pediatricians today announced a stronger stand against corporal punishment of children. Georgia remains among the 19 states, mostly in the south, that permit schools to use corporal punishment to discipline children.

In updating its 1998 report on the detriments of corporal punishment, the American Academy of Pediatrics says the overwhelming majority of U.S. pediatricians do not endorse corporal punishment and advise parents use positive reinforcement and limit-setting, rather than spanking, verbally attacking or denigrating their children.

Among the reasons outlined by the academy today in the journal Pediatrics:

There appears to be a strong association between spanking children and subsequent adverse outcomes. Reports published since the previous 1998 AAP report have provided further evidence that has deepened the understanding of the effects of corporal punishment. The consequences associated with parental corporal punishment are summarized as follows:

Corporal punishment of children younger than 18 months of age increases the likelihood of physical injury;

Repeated use of corporal punishment may lead to aggressive behavior and altercations between the parent and child and may negatively affect the parent-child relationship;

Corporal punishment is associated with increased aggression in preschool and school-aged children;

Experiencing corporal punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future;

Corporal punishment is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognition problems;

The risk of harsh punishment is increased when the family is experiencing stressors, such as family economic challenges, mental health problems, intimate partner violence, or substance abuse; and spanking alone is associated with adverse outcomes, and these outcomes are similar to those in children who experience physical abuse.

Given all the research showing that hitting kids doesn’t help them, why does it persist? There is a nostalgic attachment to whacking kids – the often-cited “My mama whupped me and I turned out fine” rationale.

Research has found states that allow corporal punishment in the classroom have higher rates of child poverty and child mortality, lower college graduation rates, and lower per-pupil education expenditures than states that have banned school corporal punishment

According to the policy paper “Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy”:

Children have been corporally punished in school for being late to class, failing to turn in homework, violating dress codes, running in the hallway, laughing in the hallway, sleeping in class, talking back to teachers, going to the bathroom without permission, mispronouncing words, and receiving bad grades . A review of over 6,000 disciplinary files in a central Florida school district for the 1987–1988 school year found that whether corporal punishment was used was not related to the severity of the student’s misbehavior or to how frequently they had been referred for a rule violation. This study suggests that school corporal punishment is not necessarily used as a “last resort” for frequently misbehaving students or only for serious infractions.

Black children in Alabama and Mississippi are at least 51% more likely to be corporally punished than White children in over half of school districts, while in one fifth of both states’ districts, Black children are over 5 times (500%) more likely to be corporally punished. Disparities for Black children are also high in several other southeastern states—17% in Arkansas, 20% in Florida, 26% in Georgia, 28% in Louisiana, and 18% in Tennessee meaning they were more than 3 times as likely to receive corporal punishment in school as White children.

The guidance being given now to children’s doctors by the American Academy of Pediatrics ought to be followed by all schools as well: 

The AAP recommends that adults caring for children use healthy forms of discipline, such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, redirecting, and setting future expectations. The AAP recommends that parents do not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.