The Fallacies of Pro-Spanking Science:
A Point-by-Point Rebuttal to the Apologetics of Two Pediatricians
By Tom Johnson, 1997

Belief in the corporal punishment of children, though still held to a varying degree by the majority of Americans, currently suffers an image problem. More and more, it seems that the time-honored practice of spanking children is viewed with disfavor, particularly among academics, as crude, unenlightened, oppressive, perhaps even faintly barbaric. Reinforcing this negative perception is an accumulation of scientific studies that present a connection between corporal punishment and a number of individual and social pathologies, including depression, anxiety, drug abuse, domestic violence, and delinquency.

Enter Den A. Trumbull, M.D. and S. DuBose Ravenel, M.D., two pediatricians who have split ranks from the American Medical Association to lend their authority and sophistication to the defense of parental spanking. In a joint essay entitled "Spare the Rod?"1 published last year in The Family Research Council's Family Policy magazine, Drs. Trumbull and Ravenel attempt to discredit one by one the many arguments made against spanking. To meet their challenge, I will attempt here to rebut their counterpoints in sequence.

In their introduction the authors cite an FRC poll which reveals that "more than than four out of five Americans [of 1000+ surveyed] who were actually spanked by their parents say that it was an effective form of discipline." The authors call these results "impressive" without taking into account two very strong and natural biases: reluctance to fault one's beloved parents and desire to present oneself as a well-formed individual. The first, touching as it may often be, has many times led even horribly abused children to blame themselves for the hurts they have received, thereby acquitting the abuser (though when there is the threat of further abuse, these pardons may be interpreted partly as the repression of provocative anger.) The latter is suggested in the familiar argument of "I got spanked and I turned out okay"--as if someone could as readily state that they turned out not so good.

The authors' central criticism of all the research that points to a negative view of spanking is that these studies "fail to distinguish appropriate spanking from. . . abusive forms of physical punishment such as kicking, punching, and beating," which are "commonly grouped with mild spanking." This may at first sound like an egregious failure indeed, as if all these scientists had somehow indicated that kicking or punching is no more pychologically harmful to children than mild spanking. I suspect that in most cases, however, the "grouping" criticized by the authors is actually the essential recognition of physical punishment as a quantitative variable. In other words, there are many different degrees of physical punishment (in terms of severity2 as well as frequency) inflicted on children, degrees ranging from the mildest (e.g., isolated swats) to the most extreme (e.g., intensive beating). Rather than dividing this range into a few imprecise sections, it makes practical sense to express it all in a single variable. On a graph, this would be represented as a single continuous line, as is proper for testing the correlation between physical punishment and negative results. Rather than labeling certain degrees of physical punishment as "appropriate" or "abusive" in their data, many scientists--much to their credit--refrain from interjecting their own opinions on just where that line should be drawn.3 Such judgements, though informed by science, are properly left to general society.

The authors also object to studies which include data on the physical punishment of adolescents as well as pre-school children, for whom spanking is presumably a more effective means of discipline. This complaint is logical only if in fact these studies have not given various age groups separate as well as collective consideration. Otherwise, the inclusion of data on teens--they get physically punished too--only augments the value of the research.

I would concede the authors' point that most (certainly many) of the arguments against spanking could also be leveled against non-physical forms of discipline, which may be used very injudiciously to the detriment of a child's development. At the same time, however, corporal punishment has unique qualities that are missed in such superficial comparisons. Because it makes the body a direct transmitter of condemnation, corporal punishment is an inherently personal, and thus inherently problematic method of conditioning behavior. Unlike many non-physical punishments, moreover, a spanking is naturally irrevocable, difficult to make up for should a child be subsequently vindicated, and, most importantly, prone to dangerous escalation. It should also be noted that while the authors assure us that "disciplinary spanking can fall well within the boundaries of loving discipline and need not be labeled abusive violence," it is a fact that spanking often goes far beyond their conception of loving discipline without being labeled abusive violence.

Argument #1: Many psychological studies show that spanking is an improper form of discipline.

Counterpoint: Researchers John Lyons, Rachel Anderson and David Larson of the National Institute of Healthcare Research recently conducted a systematic review of the research literature on corporal punishment.6 They found that 83 percent of the 132 identified articles published in clinical and psychosocial journals were merely opinion-driven editorials, reviews or commentaries, devoid of new empirical findings. Moreover, most of the empirical studies were methodologically flawed by grouping the impact of abuse with spanking. The best studies demonstrated beneficial, not detrimental, effects of spanking in certain situations. Clearly, there is insufficient evidence to condemn parental spanking and adequate evidence to justify its proper use.
6. Lyons, Dr. John S., Anderson, Rachel L., and Larson, Dr. David B. "The Use and Effects of Physical Punishment in the Home: A Systematic Review." Presentation to the Section on Bio-Ethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics at annual meeting, Nov. 2, 1993.
Countercounterpoint: There is, first of all, a technical problem with the wording of Argument #1, although it is unclear whether such problems should be attributed to the authors or to certain unnamed spanking opponents whom the authors might be paraphrasing. "Improper," in any case, is not a scientific but rather an ethical judgement and thus beyond the realm of truly empirical psychological study.

Such an objection might seem petty were it not for the authors' closing assertion that there is "insufficient evidence" to denounce spanking and "adequate evidence" to justify it. Most condemnation of spanking, in fact, does not rest solely, or even mainly, upon evidence. It rests upon simple--though some might call them simplistic--moral standards. I don't know if there is "sufficient evidence" to condemn petty theft, but I nonetheless will maintain that it is improper.

This point can be put aside, however, if we assume that "propriety" generally accords with being "beneficial," to use the authors' subsequent language, rather than "detrimental." The authors cite a systematic review which "found that 83 percent of the 132 identified articles [on corporal punishment] published in clinical and psychosocial journals were merely opinion-driven editorials, reviews or commentaries, devoid of new empirical findings" and that "the best studies [which differentiated spanking from abuse] demonstrated beneficial, not detrimental, effects of spanking in certain situations."

From the authors' abstract, we can only speculate as to whether this evaluation also might be "opinion-driven." But even giving these researchers the benefit of the doubt, we should scrutinize for ourselves the methodology of studies favorable to spanking, as well as unfavorable. Specific studies which the authors cite in their upcoming counterpoints, it turns out, are themselves inherently flawed.

Argument #2: Physical punishment establishes the moral righteousness of hitting other persons who do something which is regarded as wrong.

Counterpoint: The "spanking teaches hitting" belief has gained in popularity over the past decade, but is not supported by objective evidence. A distinction must be made between abusive hitting and nonabusive spanking. A child's ability to discriminate hitting from disciplinary spanking depends largely upon the parents' attitude with spanking and the parents' procedure for spanking. There is no evidence in the medical literature that a mild spank to the buttocks of a disobedient child by a loving parent teaches the child aggressive behavior.

The critical issue is how spanking is used more than whether it is used.

The critical issue is how spanking (or, in fact, any punishment) is used more so than whether it is used. Physical abuse by an angry, uncontrolled parent will leave lasting emotional wounds and cultivate bitterness and resentment within a child. The balanced, prudent use of disciplinary spanking, however, is an effective deterrent to aggressive behavior with some children.

Researchers at the Center for Family Research at Iowa State University studied 332 families to examine both the impact of corporal punishment and the quality of parental involvement on three adolescent outcomes -- aggressiveness, delinquency, and psychological well-being. The researchers found a strong association between the quality of parenting and each of these three outcomes. Corporal punishment, however, was not adversely related to any of these outcomes. This study proves the point that quality of parenting is the chief determinant of favorable or unfavorable outcomes.7 Remarkably, childhood aggressiveness has been more closely linked to maternal permissiveness and negative criticism than to even abusive physical discipline.8

It is unrealistic to expect that children would never hit others if their parents would only exclude spanking from their discipline options. Most children in their toddler years (long before they are ever spanked) naturally attempt to hit others when conflict or frustration arises. The continuation of this behavior is largely determined by how the parent or caregiver responds. If correctly disciplined, the hitting will become less frequent. If ignored or ineffectively disciplined, the hitting will likely persist and even escalate. Thus, instead of contributing to greater violence, spanking can be a useful component in an overall plan to effectively teach a child to stop aggressive hitting.

Any form of discipline (time-out, restriction, etc.), when used inappropriately and in anger, can distort a child's perception of justice and harm his emotional development.

7. Simons, Ronald L., Johnson, Christine, and Conger, Rand D. "Harsh Corporal Punishment versus Quality of Parental Involvement as an Explanation of Adolescent Maladjustment." Journal of Marriage and Family. 1994; 56:591-607.

8. Olweus, Dan. "Familial and Tempermental Determinants of Aggressive Behavior in Adolescent Boys: A Causal Analysis." Developmental Psychology. 1980; 16:644-660.

Countercounterpoint: The authors take a considerable liberty with the English language that is common in such apologias for corporal punishment: presenting spanking as something outside the definition of "hitting." In actuality, spanking is a specialized form of hitting. It may be only the open hand deftly hitting the buttocks. It may be hitting done only with the most loving parental objectives. But it is hitting nonetheless. (If a child spanks one of his classmates, do school rules against hitting still apply?)

Even so, this type of hitting may not be generally severe enough to qualify as abuse in the popular sense. We can therefore proceed with the authors' discussion of "nonabusive spanking."

"There is no evidence in the medical literature that a mild spank to the buttocks of a disobedient child by a loving parent teaches the child aggressive behavior," the authors assert. There may well not be--although "medical literature" is curiously narrow; the vast majority of scientific literature on corporal punishment would not be considered "medical" as such. I wonder, though, if any medical studies of spanking have actually controlled for these variables of "disobedient" and "loving." As the authors never acknowledge anything intrinsic to spanking that could promote aggressive behavior, we might infer more simply that "a mild spank to the buttocks of a child by a parent will not teach the child aggressive behavior." Is there evidence in the medical literature to refute this broader claim?

Even if there is not, I doubt the authors would feel comfortable saying so. Without their righteous and pacifying qualifiers (however unscientific), they would have a harder time selling spanking--even "mild" spanking--as something free of drawbacks.

Of course, the authors make a point that spanking, or any punishment, must be considered in context ("how it is used" rather than "whether it is used") to understand its effect. A more complete perspective, however, demands that we also consider spanking itself, even apart from the context of punishment. Context is always important, but it is not necessarily decisive. Moreover, it is relatively subjective and thereby prone to distortion, ambiguity, or even corruption (by which context becomes pretext). Context is hence not the most dependable indicator of true psychological import.

More troublesome is the way the authors gratuitously characterize child abuse as the act of an "angry, uncontrolled parent." While this is an accurate picture of many cases, it is also something of a stereotype. The more chilling reality is that a lot of child abuse is committed in a fairly calm and deliberate manner, and usually with a disciplinary purpose.

The image of the angry, uncontrolled abuser is possibly favored by the pro-spanking movement because abusers who maintain a cool demeanor while professing concern for children's moral correctness are less clearly cast against the "reasonableness" that is often ascribed to nonabusive corporal punishment. 4 When the contrast is less immediate, it becomes apparent that distinguishing abuse from appropriate discipline is not always so easy as the authors often suggest and may require a more probing--and thus more controversial--examination of parents' disciplinary techniques. In any case, child abuse has a long history of passing for reasonable discipline, not only in the mind of the abuser but also in the eyes of society. It must therefore be stressed that cruelty, not anger or lack of composure, is the essence of this crime against children.

One can hardly dispute the authors' conclusion, backed by research, that "quality of parenting, rather than corporal punishment, is the chief determinant of favorable or unfavorable outcomes." However, this is like saying that quality of diet, rather than candy bars, is the chief determinant of good or poor nutrition. Though true enough, it tells us nothing as to whether candy bars are a positive, negative or neutral factor among the many factors that make up nutrition. Likewise, this "finding" cited by the authors says nothing as to whether corporal punishment affects quality of parenting for good, for bad, or not at all. Corporal punishment and quality of parenting are, after all, a far cry from being discrete variables.

On the other hand, the authors do report that corporal punishment "was not adversely related to any of these [adolescent] outcomes [of aggresiveness, deliquency, and psychological well- being]." Interestingly, however, the subject of this study, according to the footnotes, was specifically "harsh corporal punishment." So these conclusions, if accepted as sound, would seem to vindicate even quite severe spankings. Considering their statement in this article's very first paragraph that "loving and effective discipline is quite definitely not harsh and abusive," and as much they emphasize "mildness," it is surprising that the authors are not misgiven about this research.

As some level of aggression under stress seems to be innate in humans and most other animals, there is reason in the authors' belief that the elimination of spanking would not ensure the end of aggressive behavior in children. The real question is whether hitting children, to use an expression, adds fuel to the fire. When children are hit or see other children hit by adults in authority, it presents a model of conflict resolution to a very impressionable audience. The supposed critical difference between parents hitting children and children hitting children may easily be lost on very young children--and questioned by older children. But even if a child does not follow this example of his or her parents, I think the authors might grant that the primal anger which naturally comes from being hit ("deservedly" or not) can compound aggressive tendencies as much as physical pain may deter them. Positive parental love surely offsets a great deal of this negativity, but the ambivalence of being struck by a loved one is a problem in and of itself which the authors, like most spanking advocates, fail to address.

Argument #3: Since parents often refrain from hitting until the anger or frustration reaches a certain point, the child learns that anger and frustration justify the use of physical force.

Counterpoint: A study published in Pediatrics indicates that most parents who spank do not spank on impulse, but purposefully spank their children with a belief in its effectiveness.9 Furthermore, the study revealed no significant correlation between the frequency of spanking and the anger reported by mothers. Actually, the mothers who reported being angry were not the same parents who spanked.

Reactive, impulsive hitting after losing control due to anger is unquestionably the wrong way for a parent to use corporal punishment. Eliminating all physical punishment in the home, however, would not remedy such explosive scenarios. It could even increase the problem. When effective spanking is removed from a parent's disciplinary repertoire, he or she is left with nagging, begging, belittling, and yelling, once the primary disciplinary measures--such as time-out and logical consequences--have failed. By contrast, if proper spanking is proactively used in conjunction with other disciplinary measures, better control of the particularly defiant child can be achieved, and moments of exasperation are less likely to occur.

Remarkably, childhood aggressiveness has been more closely linked to maternal permissiveness and criticism than to even abusive physical discipline.

9. Socolar, Rebecca R. S., M.D. and Stein, Ruth E.K., M.D. "Spanking Infants and Toddlers: Maternal Belief and Practice." Pediatrics. 1995; 95:105-111.
Countercounterpoint: The premise of Argument #3 is that corporal punishment often occurs impulsively from a build-up of anger and frustration. While expressing disapproval for reactive, emotional hitting, the authors counter this premise with a study indicating that such spankings are not typical, at least by the report of parents interviewed. The authors moreover advise that parents who resist the use of spanking may be all the more prone to such "explosive scenarios" once non-physical discipline has failed.

This rationale for spanking is somewhat resigned to the human fallibility of parents, who like everyone else lose their temper at times and who may be caught off guard by the continual trials of raising children. An allowance for pre-emptive spanking may therefore appear realistic, prudent, even compassionate. The problem with this thinking becomes more apparent, however, when applied to conflicts other than those between parent and child. If husbands once again had the right to spank their wives on occasion, it would arguably defuse much of the marital conflict and tension that often explodes into bruising domestic violence (or brims over into degrading verbal abuse), yet this is not an acceptable approach to reducing wife-battery. Depending on the moral convictions of the reader with regard to parental spanking, the authors' advice is more indulgent than practical.

The authors are right, of course, that spanking with calm composure would avoid giving children the message that "anger and frustration justify the use of physical force." Unfortunately, the authors' prescriptions teach rather that anger and frustration are simply not necessary to justify the use of physical force. Exactly what is necessary in their view is something the authors would do well to clarify.

Argument #4: Physical punishment is harmful to a child.

Counterpoint: Any disciplinary measure, physical, verbal or emotional, carried to an extreme can harm a child. Excessive scolding and berating of a child by a parent is emotionally harmful. Excessive use of isolation (time-out) for unreasonable periods of time can humiliate a child and ruin the measure's effectiveness. Obviously, excessive or indiscriminate physical punishment is harmful and abusive. However, an appropriately-administered spanking of a forewarned disobedient child is not harmful when administered in a loving controlled manner.

Without the prudent use of spanking for the particularly defiant child, a parent runs the risk of being inconsistent and rationalizing the child's behavior. This inconsistent manner of parenting is confusing and harmful to the child and is damaging to the parent-child relationship. There is no evidence that proper disciplinary spanking is harmful to the child.

Countercounterpoint: In addressing this question of whether physical punishment is "harmful" to a child, the authors have simply rephrased their earlier claim that spanking can be "beneficial, not detrimental," according to research (see Argument #1). They also reiterate their introduction's final point that any form of discipline, physical or otherwise, can be taken to harmful extremes. 5 My respective answers, in short, are that research cannot resolve the basic moral issue of corporal punishment and that corporal punishment is inherently personal, therefore in a class by itself.

The authors' state that by not spanking, one "runs the risk of being inconsistent and rationalizing the [defiant] child's behavior." This presents a false choice between spanking and acquiescence. In truth, discipline can be quite firm and even strict without resorting to the infliction of physical pain. The fact that many successful day care services have policies of no physical punishment shows just how non-essential spanking really is to the management of children's behavior.

Argument #5: Physical punishment makes the child angry at the parent.

Counterpoint: All forms of punishment initially elicit a frustrated, angry response from a child. Progression of this anger is dependent primarily upon the parent's attitude during and after the disciplinary event, and the manner of its application. Any form of punishment administered angrily for purposes of retribution, rather than calmly for purposes of correction, can create anger and resentment in a child. Actually, a spanking can break the escalating rage of a rebellious child and more quickly restore the relationship between parent and child.

The use of the term 'violence' in the spanking debate only serves to deepen the confusion.

Countercounterpoint: The authors tie the anger and resentment of a spanked child largely to the spanking parent's attitude, manner, and purpose. Though significant, these factors are marginal to the primal anger that being hit naturally produces in children and adults alike. Even when it is not deliberately inflicted, the sensation of physical pain can generate intense, even irrational anger. The knowledge that another person has intentionally inflicted this pain gives insult to injury (though a young child will be anxious to reconcile with the parent shortly thereafter to re-establish the important bond between them).

While the authors argue that even non-physical punishments initially make a child angry and frustrated 6, they fail to acknowledge physical punishment's distinct qualities. To illustrate, consider the crying of a spanked child versus the crying of a child punished non-physically. Are they equally voluntary, or involuntary? Is one generally easier to quell? The answers should hint strongly at the basic difference between spanking and other forms of discipline.

Argument #6: Spanking teaches a child that "might makes right," that power and strength are most important and that the biggest can force their will upon the smallest.

Counterpoint: Parental power is commonly exerted in routine child rearing and spanking is only one example. Other situations where power and restraint are exercised by the average parent include:

The young child who insists on running from his parent in a busy mall or parking lot.

The toddler who refuses to sit in his car seat.

The young patient who refuses to hold still as a vaccination is administered, or as a laceration is repaired.

Power and control over the child are necessary at times to ensure safety, health and proper behavior. Classic child rearing studies have shown that some degree of power, assertion,10 and firm control11 is essential for optimal child rearing. When power is exerted in the context of love and for the child's benefit, the child will not perceive it as bullying or demeaning.

10. Hoffman, Martin. "Parental Discipline and Child's Moral Development." Journal of Personal Social Psychology. 1967; 5:45-57.

11. Baumrind, Diana, Ph.D. "Rearing Competent Children." Damon, W. (Ed.) Child Development Today and Tomorrow. 1989; pp.349-378. San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.

Countercounterpoint: The authors make a valid point that the use of power by those in authority, including physical power, is an inevitable fact of life and often quite justifiable (although generally, the lesson here is not "might makes right" but rather "might makes rule"). This is true with or without corporal punishment, so Argument #6, as stated, might well be dismissed from the spanking debate.

In their answer, however, the authors regrettably fail to distinguish between physical punishment and physical constraint or control. Police officers, for example, have the license to use physical force if necessary to apprehend and subdue potentially dangerous suspects. This task may sometimes require rough and painful handling. Once the suspect is under control and the threat is contained, however, an officer cannot strike him to punish his resistance. To do so would be police brutality.

Physical pain or discomfort is sometimes a by-product of proper child care and supervision, as with vaccinations or the stifling of reckless motion. With spanking, by contrast, pain is the essential ingredient.

A CLOSER LOOK--Distinguishing Spanking from Abuse

Corporal punishment is often defined broadly as bodily punishment of any kind. Since this definition includes spanking as well as obviously abusive acts such as kicking, punching, beating, face slapping, and even starvation, more specific definitions must be used to separate appropriate versus inappropriate corporal punishment.

Spanking is one of many disciplinary responses available to parents intended to shape appropriate behavior in the developing toddler and child. It is an adjunctive corrective measure, to be used in combination with primary responses such as restraint, natural and logical consequences, time-out, and restriction of privileges.

Child development experts believe spanking should be used mainly as a back-up to primary measures, and then independently to correct deliberate and persistent problem behavior that is not remedied with milder measures. It is most useful with toddlers and preschoolers from 18 months to 6 years of age, when reasoning is less persuasive.

Moreover, child development experts say that spanking should always be a planned action by a parent, not an impulsive reaction to misbehavior. The child should be forewarned of the spanking consequence for each of the designated problem behaviors. Spanking should always be administered in private. It should consist of one or two spanks to the child's buttocks, followed by a calm review of the offense and the desired behavior.

                  Spanking         Physical Abuse

The Act       Spanking: One or   Beating: To strike 
              two spanks to the  repeatedly (also    	
              buttocks           kick, punch, choke)

The Intent    Training: To       Violence: Physical       
              correct problem    force intended to 
              behavior           injure or abuse 

The Attitude  With love and      With anger and 
              concern            malice

The Effects   Behavioral         Emotional and   
              correction         physical injury

Comments: Rather than simply explain that "spanking" is not abuse by definition, the authors try to restrict the literal meaning of this term. In taking such license, they encourage the false notion that "spanking," by definition, is not abuse.

If the average spanking in America consisted only of "one or two spanks to the buttocks," then the authors' generalizing usage might be easily pardoned. In reality, though, the range of socially accepted (and legally approved) "spanking" goes far beyond the mild chastisement they wish to denote. 7 Beating, which the authors define as "to strike repeatedly," can surely take the form of a spanking.

The chart by which the authors delineate spanking vs. physical abuse in terms of "The Act, The Intent, The Attitude, The Effects" suggests a concept of child abuse that is woefully simplistic. Specifically, the authors should be advised of the following: Physical abuse often intends to correct problem behavior, not to injure or abuse. Physical abuse may be attended by love and concern, not by anger and malice. Proper intent and attitude, moreover, do not necessarily lessen the emotional injury of abuse and may add confusion to the pain--even though behavioral correction has perhaps been accomplished.

Argument #7: Spanking is violence. 8

Counterpoint: Spanking, as recommended by most primary care
physicians,12 is not violence by definition ("exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse").13 Parents who properly spank do not injure or abuse their child.

The use of this term "violence" in the spanking debate only serves to deepen the confusion. Why do anti-spanking authors repeatedly fail to distinguish between abusive violence and mild spanking? The distinction is so fundamental and obvious that its omission suggests that these authors use such terminology for its propaganda value, not to clarify issues.

When effective spanking is removed from a parent's disciplinary repertoire, he or she is left with nagging, begging, belittling, and yelling, once the primary disciplinary measures have failed.

12. McCormick, Kenelm F., M.D. "Attitudes of Primary Care Physicians Toward Corporal Punishment." Journal of the American Medical Association. 1992; 267:3161-3165.

13. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. 1987; p. 1316. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Countercounterpoint: Considering their previous liberties with the English language, the authors' argument here is striking in its reference to Webster's Dictionary for the definition of violence ("exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse"). Given the overwhelming consensus in America that mild spanking is not abuse, and since temporary inflammation (reddening) of the skin is not considered an injury as such, 9 the authors' claim that such spanking is not violence seems perfectly logical and literal. But let us also consider these dictionary definitions:
     injure\ vt  1  a : to do an injustice to : WRONG 
     b : to harm, impair, or tarnish the standing of         
     c : to give pain to <~ a man's pride>  2  a : to inflict
     bodily hurt on  b : to impair the soundness of  c : to
     inflict material damage or loss on 

abuse\ vt 1 : to attack in words : REVILE 2 obs : DECEIVE 3 : to put to a wrong or improper use <~a privilege> 4 : to use so as to injure10 or damage: MALTREAT <~ a dog>

Even strictly within the senses most applicable to violence (the same ones which I have italicized), the words "injure" and "abuse" have much broader meaning than the authors--and for that matter, most pro-spanking rhetoric--would suggest. It has never been claimed that spanking is mayhem, but inasmuch as spanking physically hurts and may at least sometimes be wrong or improper, it is linguistically valid to say that spanking is violence, however minimal. (Presumably, the authors do not take issue with the laws under which a man who forcibly spanked a grown woman would be charged with assault and/or battery.)

Argument #8: Spanking is an ineffective solution to misbehavior.

Counterpoint: Though the specific use of appropriate spanking has rarely been studied, there is evidence of its short-term and long-term effectiveness. When combined with reasoning, the use of negative consequences (including spanking) does effectively decrease the frequency of misbehavior recurrences with preschool children.14 In clinical field trials where parental spanking has been studied, it has consistently been found to reduce the subsequent frequency of noncompliance with time-out.15 Spanking, as a effective enforcer of time-out, is a component of several well-researched parent training programs16 and popular parenting texts.17

Dr. Diana Baumrind of the Institute for Human Development at the University of California-Berkeley, conducted a decade-long study of families with children 3 to 9 years old.18 Baumrind found that parents employing a balanced disciplinary style of firm control (including spanking) and positive encouragement experienced the most favorable outcome in their children. Parents taking extreme approaches to discipline (authoritarian-types using excessive punishment with less encouragement or permissive-types using little punishment and no spanking) were less successful.

Baumrind concluded that evidence from this study "did not indicate that negative reinforcement or corporal punishment per se were harmful or ineffective procedures, but rather the total patterns of parental control determined the effects on the child of these procedures."

This approach of balanced parenting, employing the occasional use of spanking, is advocated by several child rearing experts.19 In the hands of loving parents, a spanking to the buttocks of a defiant toddler in appropriate settings is a powerful motivator to correct behavior and an effective deterrent to disobedience.

14. Larzelere, Dr. Robert E. and Merenda, Dr. J.A. "The Effectiveness of Parental Discipline for Toddler Misbehavior at Different Levels of Child Distress." Family Relations. 1994; 43 (4).

15. Roberts, Mark W. and Powers, Scott W. "Adjusting Chair Time-out Enforcement Procedures for Oppositional Children." Behavioral Therapy. 1990; 21:257-271, and Bean, Arthur W. and Roberts, Mark W. "The Effect of Time-out Release Contingencies on Changes in Child Noncompliance." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 1981; 9:95-105.

16. Forehand, R.L. and McMahon, R.J. Helping the Noncompliant Child. 1981; pp. 79-80. New York: Guilford Press.

17. Clark, Lynn C. SOS! Help for Parents. 1985; pp. 181-185. Kentucky: Parents Press.

18. Baumrind, Dr. Diana. "The Development of Instrumental Competence Through Socialization. Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology. 1973; 7:3-46.

19. Austin, Glenn. Love and Power: How to Raise Competent, Confident Children. 1988. California: Robert Erdmann Publishing. Also, Dobson, Dr. James. The Strong-Willed Child. 1985. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, and Coopersmith, Stanley. The Antecedents of Self-Esteem. 1967. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co. Reprinted 1981. California: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.

Countercounterpoint: If spanking is indeed the intended subject of Dr. Baumrind's research, then there would appear to be some basic flaws in her approach as rendered by the authors. Instead of comparing parents directly in terms of how much they actually spank their children, Baumrind has classed parents into three rather broad and judgmental categories: 1) highly permissive 2) highly authoritarian and 3) authoritative--"employing a balanced disciplinary style of firm control (including spanking [note how this has been reduced to a parenthetical factor]) and positive encouragement." 11 By failing to clearly isolate spanking as a variable, this research merely affirms an obvious truth about overall parenting styles, that more balanced is better, while telling us little about spanking in particular. Other variables should not be disregarded, of course, but focused study sometimes requires that they be set aside.

Perhaps we are supposed to conclude, at any rate, that in the big picture of parenting ("total patterns"), a little spanking is unlikely to be much of a deciding factor. This holistic view seems reasonable enough, but as a defense of corporal punishment, it is a double-edged sword. As much as inconsequentiality might make spanking harder to object to, it also makes spanking less justifiable in the first place.

Argument #9: Adults who were spanked as children are at risk for using violence as a means of resolving conflicts as adults.

Counterpoint: This theory comes from work done by Murray Straus of the Family Research Lab at the University of New Hampshire. Straus' conclusions are based upon theoretical models and survey results of adults recalling spankings as teenagers. His work is not clinical research, and many experts believe that his conclusions go far beyond his data. As with most of Straus' survey research, teenage spanking is the focus, not the selective use of spanking of young children by reasonable parents. The evidence for his conclusion disappears when parental spanking is measured between the ages of 2 and 8 years, and when childhood aggression is measured at a later age.

Parents employing a balanced disciplinary style of firm control (including spanking) and positive encouragement experienced the most favorable outcome in their children.

In a 1994 review article on corporal punishment, Dr. Robert E. Larzelere, a director of research at Boys Town, Nebraska, presents evidence supporting a parent's selective use of spanking of children, particularly those 2 to 6 years old.20 After thoroughly reviewing the literature, Larzelere concludes that any association between spanking and antisocial aggressiveness in children is insignificant and artifactual.

After a decade of longitudinal study of children beginning in third grade, Dr. Leonard Eron found no association between punishment (including spanking) and later aggression. Eron, a clinical psychologist at the Univeristy of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, concluded, "Upon follow-up 10 years after the original data collection, we found that punishment of aggressive acts at the earlier age was no longer related to current aggression, and instead, other variables like parental nurturance and children's identification with their parents were more important in predicting later aggression."21

Larzelere concludes that any association between spanking and antisocial aggressiveness in children is insignificant and artifactual.

Again, it is the total pattern of parenting that determines the outcome of a parent's efforts.

20. Larzelere, Dr. Robert E. "Should the Use of Corporal Punishment by Parents be Considered Child Abuse?" Mason, M., Gambrill, E. (Eds.) Debating Children's Lives. 1994; pp. 204-209. California: SAGE Publications.

21. Eron, Dr. Leonard D. "Theories of Aggression: From Drives to Cognitions." Huesmann, L.R. (Ed.) Aggressive Behavior, Current Perspectives. 1994; pp. 3-11. New York: Plenum Press.

Countercounterpoint: Despite the authors' statement that "this theory comes from work done by Murray Straus," Dr. Straus is neither the first nor the only researcher to link childhood physical punishment with violent adult behaviors. Philip Greven, Ph.D., Irwin Hyman, Ph.D. Adah Maurer, Ph.D. and Ralph Welsh, Ph.D. are just a few of the distinguished scholars who have expounded a connection between the two. The wide and varied research that each has drawn upon goes back at least to the 1940's with the work of Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck.12

It should also be noted that Dr. Straus has recently put forth an entire book on the subject of spanking, entitled Beating the Devil out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families (New York: Free Press, 1994). This work presents a much more complete and challenging argument against spanking than was possible in the earlier journal piece cited by the authors. (Other spanking apologists who criticize Straus's work similarly appear to be acquainted with only the short article. 13)

There is also Dr. Larzelere's conclusion that "any association between spanking and antisocial aggressiveness in children 14 is insignificant and artifactual." Any association at all? This is certainly a big and unqualified claim. Given the high degree of corporal punishment--not necessarily abuse by law--which the average violent criminal (adult or juvenile) has experienced growing up, Dr. Larzelere's statement is overreaching, to say the least.

With Dr. Eron's research, the authors once again make the awkward point that the total pattern of parenting supersedes any single facet of that pattern (which is rather like saying that a sum is greater than any number added in calculation of that sum). In presenting the variable of punishment (including spanking--again in parentheses) simply as a rival to "other variables like parental nurturance and children's identification with their parents," however, Dr. Eron fails to acknowledge the two-way relationship between punishment and these other factors. If data were compiled, for instance, on the quality of parental nurturance achieved with non-spanked children versus children spanked to varying degrees, the results might give a different impression of spanking than the authors have striven for.

Argument #10: Spanking leads a parent to use harmful forms of corporal punishment which lead to physical child abuse. 15

Counterpoint: The abuse potential when loving parents use appropriate disciplinary spanking is very low. Since parents have a natural affection for their children, they are more prone to underutilize spanking than to overutilize it. Both empirical data and professional opinion oppose the concept of a causal relationship between spanking and child abuse.

Surveys indicate that 70 to 90 percent of parents of preschoolers use spanking,22 yet the incidence of physical child abuse in America is only about 5 percent. Statistically, the two practices are far apart. Furthermore, over the past decade reports of child abuse have steadily risen while approval for parental spanking has steadily declined.23

More than 70 percent of primary care pediatricians reject the idea that spanking sets the stage for parents to engage in forms of physical abuse.24

Teaching parents appropriate spanking may actually reduce child abuse, according to Larzelere, in his 1994 review article on corporal punishment.25 Parents who are ill-equipped to control their child's behavior, or who take a more permissive approach (refusing to use spanking), may be more prone to anger26 and explosive attacks on their child.27

Parental child abuse is an interactive process involving parental competence, parental and child temperaments, and situational demands.28 Abusive parents are more angry, depressed and impulsive, and emphasize punishment as the predominant means of discipline. Abused children are more aggressive and less compliant than children from nonabusive families. There is less interaction between family members in abusive families and abusive mothers display more negative than positive behavior. The etiology of abusive parenting is multifactorial with emphasis on the personalities involved, and cannot be simply explained by a parent's use of spanking.

In a letter to the editor in a 1995 issue of Pediatrics, Drs. Lawrence S. Wissow and Debra Roter of Johns Hopkins University's pediatrics department acknowledge that a definitive link between spanking and child abuse has yet to be established.29

Finally, the Swedish experiment to reduce child abuse by banning spanking seems to be failing. In 1980, one year after this ban was adopted, the rate of child beatings was twice that of the United States.30 According to a 1995 report from the government organization Statistics Sweden, police reports of child abuse by family members rose four-fold from 1984 to 1994, while reports of teen violence increased nearly six-fold.31

The Swedish experiment to reduce child abuse by banning spanking seems to be failing.

Most experts agree that spanking and child abuse are not on the same continuum, but are very different entities. With parenting, it is the "user" and how a measure is used much more than the measure used that determines the outcome of the disciplinary effort. Clearly, spanking can be safely used in the discipline of young children with an excellent outcome. The proper use of spanking may actually reduce a parent's risk of abusing the child.

22. Straus, Murray A. "Discipline and Deviance: Physical Punishment of Children and Violence and Other Crime in Adulthood." Social Problems. 1991; 38:133-152.

23. National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. Memorandum. May 1995; 2(5).

24.White, Kristin. "Where Pediatricians Stand on Spanking." Pediatric Management. September 1993: 11-15.

25. Larzelere, Dr. Robert E., op. cit.

26. Socolar, Rebecca R.S., M.D. and Stein, Ruth E.K., M.D., op. cit.

27. Baumrind, Dr. Diana, op. cit.

28. Wolfe, David A. "Child-Abusive Parents: An Empirical Review and Analysis." Psychological Bulletin. 1985; 97(3): 462-482.

29. Wissow, Dr. Lawrence S. and Roter, Dr. Debra. Letter to the editor, in reply to corporal punishment letter. Pediatrics. 1995; 96(4): 794-795.

30. Larzelere, Dr. Robert E., op. cit.

31. Statistics Sweden. K R Info. May 1995; pp. 1-6. Stockholm, Sweden.

Countercounterpoint: Here the authors make what is perhaps the most remarkable statement in their article: that parents are "more prone to underutilize spanking than to overutilize it." Do the authors believe that most children are not sufficiently spanked? If not, what evidence do they see of this proneness to underspank?

Maybe the presumption of parents' "natural affection for their children" does not itself need supporting data. It is an agreeable axiom, after all, that parental tenderness is inherent to having produced offspring. History, nonetheless, shows these feelings to be tragically unreliable as a safeguard against cruelty to children. (In the households of the Puritans in early America, children were typically beaten or flogged, sometimes even from infancy. Did the Puritans lack "natural affection" for their young?) Even today, the million-plus children abused each year in the U.S. alone make a grim mockery of the authors' trust in instinctive parental kindness, which--despite its primacy and preciousness--does not always reign supreme.

The authors are correct that the etiology of child abuse is multifactorial, and it would take a myopic scientist indeed to deny their assertion that abusive parenting "cannot be simply explained by a parent's use of spanking." (Is there anyone to whom they could actually attribute a contrary position?) Causation in general can rarely be reduced to a single factor. What apparently has escaped the authors is that mere spanking can and often does proceed from the same factors that can lead to child abuse, such as moodiness, stress, and general punitive attitude.

Obviously, a mild spanking cannot express the same degree of these factors that a heavy thrashing would. But these factors can be just as strong with non-thrashing parents, the difference being that they are better able to keep such negative forces in check. This level of restraint, however great and laudable, may be subject to breaches, a fact the authors seem to realize in arguing that parents' refusal to use spanking can result in "explosive attacks on their child." 16 While the effect of spanking a child on one's adrenaline production is not readily measured, the authors seem to take quite a gamble in encouraging parents to hit their children a little now in order to avoid hitting them really hard later. Even if most parents who spank never end up thrashing, few children are thrashed who are not first spanked. 17

Despite what "most experts" may say, spanking and child abuse are not wholly separate entities. As the authors themselves put it, "a definitive line between spanking and child abuse has yet to be established." Even if spanking per se is not abuse, it is wrong to suppose that spanking is categorically non-abusive. The authors' emphasis on "how a measure is used," moreover, would be better taken if they ever specifically discussed how much the measure is used. Of course, to acknowledge distinctions of degree in spanking would reveal complexities that are lacking in the authors' taxonomy, under which spanking and child abuse are of purely distinct essences. In any case, the ongoing kinship between spanking and abuse demands far more contemplation than most defenders of corporal punishment seem willing to give.

Finally, the authors' interpretation of child abuse data on Sweden is severely flawed. Citing Dr. Larzelere, the authors tell us that in 1980, the rate of child beatings in Sweden was twice that of the United States. At the same time, government statistics indicate that police reports of child abuse rose four-fold from 1984 to 1994. Think about these two figures. Are we really to believe that Sweden today has eight times as much child abuse per capita as the U.S. (assuming that child abuse in Sweden did not decline sharply from 1980 to 1984)? Does the rate of child admissions into Swedish hospitals reflect such a crisis? If not, how can this data be explained?

To begin with, increased reports of child abuse do not necessarily mean that more actual child abuse is taking place. They may simply indicate an increase in people's willingness to make reports. Certainly, it would be no wonder if the abolition of physical punishment created an encouraging climate for any citizens who might not have bothered reporting a case of child abuse under the old, less sympathetic system. The zero-tolerance policy against physical punishment, furthermore, expands enormously the range and hence the number of instances that are subject to reporting. 18 Whereas in the past only heavy beating might have qualified as an offense, now there is legal recourse even for common spankings.

These changes in the Swedish law appear to be accompanied by genuine changes in popular attitude. The same government report which the authors cite reveals that of residents surveyed (in a random sample containing a number of immigrants from markedly authoritarian cultures) 56% favor exclusively non-physical discipline for children; 22% said they disapprove of corporal punishment but find themselves sometimes using it under duress; 11% said they favor corporal punishment at least in lighter forms.

As for the alarming rise of teen violence in Sweden (which the authors do not clearly relate to the argument at hand), this can be explained by recent developments other than the banning of corporal punishment. When Sweden entered the European Economic Union in the early 1990's, it experienced an abundance of new international commerce. Unfortunately, freer trade has also resulted in an unprecedented volume of narcotics trafficking--along with the rise of gangs and gang violence that is normally associated with the drug trade in all parts of the world. (Drug addiction itself can also be an uncivilizing influence, especially with young people.)

Sweden, to conclude, is just one of seven countries 19 that have banned spanking. Whatever negative trends may coincide with this reform in this particular country, they are hardly enough to suggest a correlation, let alone causation.

Argument #11: Spanking is never necessary.

Counterpoint: All children need a combination of encouragement and correction as they are disciplined to become socially responsible individuals. In order for correction to deter disobedient behavior, the consequence imposed upon the child must outweigh the pleasure of the disobedient act. For very compliant children, milder forms of correction will suffice and spanking may never be necessary. For more defiant children who refuse to comply with or be persuaded by milder consequences such as time-out, spanking is useful, effective, and appropriate.

For very compliant children, milder forms of correction will suffice and spanking may never be necessary.

Countercounterpoint: The authors' here make a behaviorist argument for spanking, which is interesting since B.F. Skinner, the psychologist who founded the theory of behaviorism, denounced spanking (and for that matter, the very concept of punishment). If only the psychological effect of pleasure and pain on humans were limited to the immediate reinforcement of certain targeted behaviors, the authors' aseptic reasoning might seem very practical. But as everyone surely knows, there is a lot more to the story.

To claim that spanking is an effective deterrent, moreover, fails to satisfy the question of whether spanking is just. Consider the common argument that very young children may require spanking because intellectually they are not yet able to appreciate non-physical sanctions, whereas older children and adults generally are. This rationale is self-defeating in a civilized society, for how deserving of chastisement can a child with such limited mental awareness be in the first place?

The authors should be a little more circumspect in extolling the deterrent value of spanking. There are unfortunately many people who would see no reason why they should take chances on the possible insufficiency of mild spanking to continually deter their pleasure-seeking children.


The subject of disciplinary spanking should be evaluated from a factual and philosophical perspective. It must be distinguished from abusive, harmful forms of corporal punishment. Appropriate disciplinary spanking can play an important role in optimal child development, and has been found in prospective studies to be a part of the parenting style associated with the best outcomes. There is no evidence that mild spanking is harmful. Indeed, spanking is supported by history, research, and a majority of primary care physicians.

Comments: The authors are absolutely right: "The subject of disciplinary spanking should be evaluated from a factual and philisophical perspective." But if we accept their premise that spanking is totally separate from "abusive, harmful forms of corporal punishment," why even bother with such an evaluation? If spanking is categorically harmless and non-abusive, there would certainly be no reason to study it in relation to anything untoward.

As the authors' circular thinking illustrates, the case for spanking generally relies too much on basic semantics to have much scientific weight (though this is hardly the only grounds for discredit). The word "spanking" itself for many people suggests particular virtues (e.g., mildness, judiciousness, caring intent) that are not actually contained in its literal meaning--and certainly not inherent to the act of slapping somebody on the buttocks. Spanking apologists, especially in formal writing, should try to clear up these problems of definition instead of exploiting them in a bait-and-switch fashion. Without some acknowledgement that spanking is slapping, that slapping is hitting, and that any form of hitting, at the very least, can be child abuse, the arguments for corporal punishment will remain intellectually hollow and, for untold numbers of children, woefully deceptive.

Guidelines for Disciplinary Spanking

The following are guidelines that Dr. Den Trumbull has used to advise the parents he serves in disciplining children. These guidelines should help policymakers appreciate the legitimacy of disciplinary spanking.

1. Spanking should be used selectively for clear, deliberate misbehavior, particularly that which arises from a child's persistent defiance of a parent's instruction. It should be used only when the child receives at least as much encouragement and praise for good behavior as correction for problem behavior.

2. Milder forms of discipline, such as verbal correction, time-out, and logical consequences, should be used initially, followed by spanking when noncompliance persists. Spanking has shown to be an effective method of enforcing time-out with the child who refuses to comply.

3. Only a parent (or in exceptional situations, someone else who has an intimate relationship of authority with the child) should administer a spanking.

4. Spanking should not be administered on impulse or when a parent is out of control. A spanking should always be motivated by love for the purpose of teaching and correcting, never for revenge.

5. Spanking is inappropriate before 15 months of age and is usually not necessary until after 18 months. It should be less necessary after 6 years, and rarely, if ever, used after 10 years of age.

6. After 10 months of age, one slap to the hand of a stubborn crawler or toddler may be necessary to stop serious misbehavior when distraction and removal have failed. This is particularly the case when the forbidden object is immovable and dangerous, such as a hot oven door or an electrical outlet.

7. Spanking should always be a planned action, not a reaction, by the parent and should follow a deliberate procedure.

The child should be forewarned of the spanking consequence for designated problem behaviors.

Spanking should always be administered in private (bedroom or restroom) to avoid public humiliation or embarassment.

One or two spanks should be administered to the buttocks. This is followed by embracing the child and calmly reviewing the offense and the desired behavior in an effort to reestablish a warm relationship.

8. Spanking should leave only transient redness of the skin and should never cause physical injury.

9. If properly administered spankings are ineffective, other appropriate disciplinary responses should be tried, or the parent should seek professional help. Parents should never increase the intensity of spankings.

Comments: Dr. Trumbull's guidelines are certainly moderate compared to the intensive levels of physical punishment that the laws in most states allow to be used on children (and which the religious right has made no motion to restrict in the slightest). Nonetheless, these "how to" instructions have some serious flaws.

To begin with, Dr. Trumbull omits two key variables in presenting the "proper" spanking method. Both of these factors are of great and obvious significance to how much physical pain a spanking, even one that consists of only "one or two spanks," can inflict. The first is whether the child is spanked with an implement. Granted, Dr. Trumbull never mentions a specific implement, so he almost surely envisions the simpler, more popular version of spanking, i.e., with an open hand. Dr. James Dobson, however, by far the most widely read and frequently cited proponent of spanking, makes a point of telling parents not to spank with their hands but to use a "neutral object," such as a belt or switch. 20 Quite notably, Dr. Dobson is also a close and regular ally of the Family Research Council, the very organization for which Drs. Trumbull and Ravenel have prepared their article, and has even co-authored a book with FRC president Gar
at Risk: The battle for the hearts and minds of our kids. Dallas: Word Publishers, 1990). It is reasonable therefore to expect that many Family Policy readers also subscribe to Dr. Dobson's views on discipline, and hence that some would take it for granted that spankings are to be done with a belt or switch--however ill-suited that may be to "mild" discipline. Dr. Trumbull also declines to say whether children should be spanked over their clothes or on their bare buttocks. While bare-bottom spankings may no longer be typical, they are by no means uncommon and are actually standard practice for some parents, who may defend the removal of clothing as "safer" as well as more effective. 21 In fact, from Dr. Trumbull's admonition that spanking should leave only "transient redness of the skin," one might infer that the child's buttocks must be exposed for the spanking parent to observe such redness, and perhaps even to cause it, depending on just how hard each "spank" is supposed to be. (How does one interpret "transient redness" in the case of a black child? Is Dr. Trumbull's color guide intended only for use with children of European origin?) Dr. Trumbull would possibly frown upon the disciplinary use of paddles, belts, and switches against children's bare flesh, but any readers inclined to this mode of spanking will find nothing in his guidelines to exclude it.

Even more unsettling is Dr. Trumbull's allowance for spanking children as early as 15 months of age. As much as parents may wish to credit their children with advanced cognitive development, it is an absurd projection of adult thinking to characterize a 15-month-old's actions as "clear, deliberate misbehavior" meriting punishment. There is certainly no scientific support for the notion that children this young can be very meaningfully and precisely "forewarned of the spanking consequence for designated problem behaviors." Whatever stance Dr. Trumbull may take against child abuse, moreover, looks pretty feeble when he describes spanking younger infants as merely "inappropriate."

Possibly Dr. Trumbull's sense of bedside manner prevents him from being any more exacting, and less conciliatory, with his advice to parents. The FRC may also prefer for diplomatic reasons that the delineation of varying degrees and physical methods of spanking be kept to a minimum. For even among those parents who share a general belief in spanking, there is sharp discord over which spankings qualify as reasonable, abusive, or borderline.

The more specific and frank the discussion of "proper spanking" gets, the more these watershed nuances will arise, and the less the pro-spanking camp will be able to claim solidarity of thought across a vast body of constituents. It may not be too cynical to wonder if some pro-spanking leaders are reluctant to pin down all the harsh disciplinarians out there--who after all comprise a substantial base of ardent support for their agenda.


1. The full text of "Spare the Rod?" by Den A. Trumbull, M.D. and S. DuBose Ravenel, M.D. can be seen at:

2. This is not to say that physical severity can be measured with perfect scientific precision. But it can at least be rated according to such objective criteria as the number of blows, physical qualities of both the striking implement and the body parts struck, and the extent of tissue or organ damage that may result.

3. Scientists can, of course, use the term "child abuse" broadly without compromising their detachment in the way specific applications would, since at least the concept of child abuse is accepted by society at large. Solid consensus in America on what level of physical punishment constitutes abuse, however, appears only with the extreme cases that involve serious, even life-threatening injury. Anything less severe (for example, a switching that breaks the skin) is subject to debate.

4. State child abuse laws, in fact, may contain the term "reasonable" to indicate corporal punishment within legal bounds. This wording is curious, as there are no laws against "unreasonable" corporal punishment per se. "Injury" (strictly physical, in some states) is usually the sole criterion.

5. In this segment the authors declare "excessive physical punishment" to be "abusive." This wording is noteworthy because in the July '94 issue of Family Policy (pp. 3-4), FRC's legal policy director criticizes child protective services for intervening too readily in cases of mere "excessive corporal punishment," arguing that the system was created "only to get at the whip-and-burn cases." It is unknown whether Dr.'s Trumbull and Ravenel share the position implied in this critique: that only extreme child abuse warrants intervention.

6. It is more exactly the "progression of anger" which the authors address, but it is unclear whether the authors are thinking of a short-term or long-term progression. In the short term, at least, this progression probably would not differ much according to the manner, purpose, etc. of the spanking.

7. It is notable also that the authors include face-slapping in their examples of "obviously abusive acts." Dr. James Dobson, who is president of Focus on the Family, a group closely allied with the FRC (and whose writings on the subject of spanking are cited in this article's endnotes), was quick to defend a Georgia woman who forcefully slapped her 9-year-old son's face in a grocery store, upon which she was reported to police by a store clerk and charged with assault. Complaining of the law's interference in particular, Dr. Dobson characterized her actions as among "judicious uses of corporal punishment by parents" (Focus on the Family newsletter, January 1995).

8. From the statement that spanking is violence, the authors infer a certain line of reasoning: spanking is violence; violence is never justifiable; therefore, spanking is never justifiable. It is possible, however, to condemn certain uses of violence without condemning violence in all circumstances. Probably most spanking critics would agree, for instance, that injuring or even killing in self-defense would be justifiable.

9. Temporary inflammation of the skin is somewhat more likely to be considered an injury if brought about by other means than slapping, such as spraying with hot water, or if inflicted on an area of the body other than the buttocks, such as the face. (The authors, in any case, have previously deemed face-slapping to be a form of physical abuse, whether injurious or not.)

10. The overlapping senses of "injure" and "abuse" may partly explain why acts of cruelty to children, no matter how reprehensible, must cause physical injury to qualify as child abuse under the law in some states.

11. A lot of parents would not fit well into any one of these characterizations. For example, some parents are harsh disciplinarians who nonetheless lavish much praise and encouragement on their children; others may be lax disciplinarians who nonetheless treat their children with hostility and contempt. It would also be good to know whether Dr. Baumrind has encountered any cases of "firm parental control" excluding spanking, or has found rather that only permissive parents do not spank.

12. Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck, Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency (New York: The Commonwealth Fund, 1950); Sheldon Glueck, "Ten Years of 'Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency': An Examination of Criticisms," in Sheldon and Eleanor's Ventures in Criminology: Selected Recent Papers (London: Travistock Publications, 1964).

13. Psychologist John Rosemond, for example, in To Spank or Not to Spank, pp. 18-25 (Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1994)

14. This data on children seems not well-suited to the question at hand of violent conflict resolution among adults.

15. The authors' phrasing of this argument is curious in its differentiation between "harmful forms of corporal punishment" and "physical child abuse." By most definitions, harmful forms of corporal punishment would actually be a subset of physical child abuse, not just something that falls in between spanking and abuse. (Otherwise, such a sequence would amount to a continuum between spanking and abuse--which the authors insist is not valid.)

16. One could argue similarly that a husband who refuses to spank is more prone to explosive attacks on his wife.

17. The authors' particular statement that spanking and child abuse are "statistically far apart" highlights their omission to consider the statistical overlap that undeniably occurs, however incidentally, between children who are spanked and children who are abused.

18. Actually, it is more than just physical abuse that may be encompassed in the authors' statistics. In her article "Swedish Parents Don't Spank" (Mothering magazine, Spring 1992), Professor Adrienne A. Haeuser explains: "Because Sweden collects incidence data for 'unsuitable environments' rather than for child abuse exclusively, it is impossible to know precisely what effect the 1979 law has had on child abuse."

19. Along with Sweden is Italy, Germany, Austria, Norway, Denmark, and Cyprus.

20. Page 9 of "Questions Parents Ask about Discipline," by James Dobson (pamphlet published by Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, 1991).

21. Dr. Dobson expresses no opinion on the issue of clothed vs. bare-bottom spanking, although other pro-spanking authors have. Roy Lessin, for example, writes, "It is important that when a child is spanked direct contact is made with the child's bottom. Spanking [i.e., with a switch] through diapers or heavy jeans does not bring the desired results." (p. 106, How to Raise Happy and Obedient Children. Medford, Oregon: Omega Publications, 1978.) John Rosemond, on the other hand, advises that "removing a child's clothing before a spanking introduces a thoroughly inappropriate element of humiliation into the process." (p. 57, To Spank or Not to Spank. Kansas City, Missouri: Andrews and McMeel, 1994.)

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