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
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
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
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
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
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
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)
WARRANT ARTICLE - POSITIVE PARENTING RESOLUTION
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.