Proposed Resolution to Protect Children*
Arlington, Massachusetts, May, 2006

40 years of research, over 100 research studies in the US, Canada, and other countries, have shown conclusively that corporal punishment is risky, and works poorly in promoting good behavior. The most common finding in these studies is that corporal punishment increases aggressive behavior. It also greatly increases the chance a child will have learning problems, be angry, have low self-esteem, and relationship problems. Adults who were corporally punished as children are more likely to have lower IQs, lower scholastic achievement, drug and alcohol problems, be depressed, suicidal, and more likely to commit violent crimes such as domestic violence, a number one cause of calls to the Arlington Police.

Studies have shown that the majority of documented child abuse cases are the result of corporal punishment. Estimates range around 70% (1). In 2003, 5,940 children were reported as physically abused in MA (2), so according to the estimates, over 4,000 of these cases were the result of corporal punishment. Relative exposure to spanking is positively related to greater risk for child abuse. Whether you think corporal punishment is abuse or not, it’s a primary cause of the majority of documented child abuse cases.

Research at Maclean Hospital in Belmont (3), found that hitting a child actually changes the child’s brain chemistry. A study done at the University of Houston (4) showed that even “mild” corporal punishment, such as slapping a toddler’s hand, has been linked to worse behavior and less obedience. Another study has shown that when parents stop spanking a child, the child’s behavior actually improves (5). And consider this one: a recent study has found that people who were hit as children are more likely to hit their elderly parents (6).

Medicines are taken off the shelf with far less evidence of risks. But with corporal punishment, old habits die hard.

Some people say “but there are already laws against child abuse”. Sure, but only if the punishment reaches the level of causing “substantial physical injury”.

And so, corporal punishment continues at a high rate. 57% of Massachusetts adults approve of slapping and spanking, 23% think it’s OK to put soap in a child’s mouth (7), a practice that medical doctors condemn because it can cause burning of the esophagus, choking, and severe allergic reactions. Child abuse laws in MA don’t protect children from these practices. They are legal. Only if the punishment reaches the level of “substantial injury” is it possible to legally stop it, because assault laws used for adults are not applied to children. This is because of the myths surrounding corporal punishment, the myth of “a good spanking”, the old wives’ advice of “washing a child’s mouth out with soap”. Attitudes toward corporal punishment need to change.

Around the world, governments are taking action to educate the public about the risks of corporal punishment. The research studies, most of which have taken place in the US, are being used in Europe, Canada, South America, New Zealand, and Africa, to change policies toward the common practice of hitting children. 17 countries have banned all corporal punishment. They don’t imprison parents, they don’t give them big fines; they educate parents and caretakers about better modes of discipline. Spain doesn’t have a ban, but they have instituted a massive nation-wide educational program, as have several other countries. Canada’s government encourages parents to use gentler forms of discipline, and publishes 2 pamphlets on positive discipline that are widely distributed. Also, Canada’s Supreme Court has banned hitting babies and teenagers, and using an object to hit a child.

But in the US, we’re not making progress. Government is letting children down. The US is where most of the policy-changing research has been done, but our government neglects to take action. Our federal government gives lip-service to children’s needs, and then guts programs to help them. The US has not ratified the UN treaty on the Rights of the Child. 192 nations have ratified this treaty. Only the US and Somalia have not. And Somalia has no government to ratify anything. The US stands pretty much alone, in not even taking this basic step in affirming children’s rights to an upbringing free of physical violence.

The US is the only country to allow “boot camps” for 8 to 18 year olds. These “boot camps” allow the most heinous physical punishment of children, hitting them, roughing them up, and punching them. 44 children have died in these institutions. The US is the only country to allow the sale of devices specifically to whip children, such as this whip, called “The Rod”. The US has the highest child abuse rate of all industrialized countries. We also have the highest violent crime rate, and the highest incarceration rate. We have a huge problem with violence, which has its roots in the common violence toward children in this country.

Estimates of deaths of US children from corporal punishment range from 1,000 to 5,000 per year. It’s hard to get accurate statistics; adults typically try to cover up the truth about these deaths, and make them look like accidents. But even with the most modest estimate, we have a rate of death per year that is higher than the rate of death per year of US military personnel in Iraq! Look at the huge outcry on behalf of these servicemen and women! Where is the outcry on behalf of US children physically punished to death? How many children have to die from corporal punishment before we finally take a stand and condemn corporal punishment once and for all?

It is brave and noble to take a stand for children. And you’ll be in good company. Resolutions of this type have passed in Brookline, and in Chicago. Nothing bad happened! A change in attitudes toward corporal punishment is needed, that is the first and most important step in breaking the cycle of violence. And we must act locally, with resolutions, because our federal and state governments are not addressing the problem.

In 2003, a resolution against corporal punishment was presented at Arlington Town Meeting. The selectmen approved it. Now, in 2006, the selectmen are saying this type of resolution is “inappropriate” for Town Meeting. Yet, 3 years ago, it was considered appropriate for Town Meeting.

Government, in its original form, was intended to protect the weak from the strong. The Code of Hammurabi, the oldest code of government, states “The first duty of government is to protect the powerless against the powerful.” The Mayflower Compact stresses that government officials MUST "love and promote the common good." The Declaration of Independence states that people deserve a government that will promote "Safety and Happiness". It also decries "cruelty". The Constitution states that government is to "ensure domestic tranquillity" and "promote the General Welfare." The 1st Amendment states that "People have a right to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The Pledge of Allegiance proclaims "liberty and justice for all." Certainly Arlington's Town Meeting can also take a stand for safety, happiness, and justice for children! They are 1/4 of Arlington's population, and they are the future. It is both appropriate and right to take such a stand.

It is easy to forget children, to belittle their rights. There are no children here; they can’t vote, not yet anyway. Yet they are people too, they are citizens too! I ask you to listen to their voices. Here are quotes from children, about how they feel when they are corporally punished: unloved, terrified, sad, angry, alone, abandoned, sick, stunned, physically abused, hateful, ashamed, confused, resentful, neglected, humiliated, uncared-for, heartbroken, bullied, depressed, shocked, “It makes you feel sick…because it breaks your heart.” 2 girls at Arlington High School thanked me for standing up for their rights. They both suffered corporal punishment, and were in the care of DSS. When children receive no spanking stickers, they shout “YES!!” they thank me, they ask for more, they stick them to their bodies, they are so happy.

The children of Arlington are listening. My 7 year old daughter is listening. They will find out, sooner or later, how you voted tonight. These people are the voters of the future. I would think they’d be more inclined to vote for someone who stood up for their right not to be hit. I would think they’d be more inclined to vote for someone who stood up for them when they were most vulnerable.

Albert Einstein said “The world is too dangerous to live in – not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.” Philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill said “A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury.”

Please, take action, stand up for the children of Arlington. Government is a noble entity designed to protect the weak, to embrace positive change, to work for the common good, to stand for peace, equality, and progress. As responsible adults, we must speak for the voiceless. It’s the appropriate thing to do. Please vote “YES”! Thank you.

Susan Lawrence, resident of Arlington, Board of Directors EPOCH-USA and PTAVE, Director of Stop the Rod.


1) The Primordial Violence: Corporal Punishment By Parents, Cognitive Development, and Crime Murray A. Straus (to be published by AltaMira Press)

2) US Department of Health and Human Services Child Maltreatment 2003 (last available): 5,940 children were physically abused in MA (substantiated cases)

3) M.T. Teicher, Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA. "Wounds that time won't heal: The neurobiology of child abuse." Cerebrum, vol.2, no.4:Fall 2000.

4) T.G. Power, M.L. Chapieski, University of Houston, TX. "Childrearing and impulse control in toddlers: A naturalistic investigation." Developmental Psychology, 1986 22:271-275. Toddlers who were observed to be subject to mild physical punishment were more likely to ignore maternal prohibitions, to manipulate breakable objects, and to show low levels of nonverbal competence 7 months later, than toddlers who were not hit.

5) M.S. Forgatch, G.R. Patterson, M. Skinner (1988) conducted a study among parents of antisocial boys referred for treatment. This study demonstrated that a reduction in harsh discipline is accompanied by significant reductions in child aggression. (p.258, Something to Cry About, by Susan M. Turner. Also cited in Gershoff meta-analysis)

6) “Teenage Violence Toward Parents as an Adaptation to Family Strain: Evidence From a National Survey of Male Adolescents” by Timothy Brezina, 30 YOUTH & SOCIETY 416, 1999

7) SurveyUSA News Poll #6570 2005.

8) “A Nation’s Shame: Fatal Child Abuse And Neglect in the United States”, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, at xxiv-vi, 16 (1995)


WHEREAS, all children need love, guidance, and safety, and deserve to grow up in an environment free from violence and physical harm; and

WHEREAS, childhood is an especially vulnerable and impressionable stage of life during which future behavior, happiness and psychological health are greatly influenced; and

WHEREAS, positive, non-violent parenting promotes positive, peaceful relationships and respect for the rights and safety of others; and

WHEREAS, current research shows that exposure to violence negatively impacts normal brain development; and

WHEREAS, current research indicates that the majority of child abuse cases start out as corporal punishment, and

WHEREAS, current research shows a strong correlation between corporal punishment and increased aggression, depression, substance abuse, learning disorders, and lower scholastic achievement; and

WHEREAS, current research shows that corporal punishment of children is associated with worse behavior, and the cessation of corporal punishment is associated with improved behavior; and

WHEREAS, current research shows that children who are shown love and respect and are disciplined without corporal punishment are more likely to become adults who enjoy higher self-esteem, better psychological health, higher academic achievement, more peaceful relationships, and more respect for others’ safety; now therefore,

BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED, that Town Meeting of Arlington encourages caregivers to refrain from the use of corporal punishment, and to use positive, non-violent forms of discipline, in the effort to reduce violence and to protect our children’s health and future well-being, and to promote safety and peace for all; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that Town Meeting of Arlington encourages appropriate Town groups to help raise awareness of this important issue by distributing positive parenting literature within the Town through schools and community organizations.

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