Corporal punishment of children: Think globally, act locally
By Ron Goldman
Brookline Tab, May 26, 2004

When I was studying early child development for my Ph.D. in psychology, I discovered much professional literature that demonstrated that corporal punishment of children was harmful. I found other literature based on various national surveys that showed that corporal punishment was a deeply embedded national problem and was used by the majority of American parents. Then I learned that societies in which parents do not hit children are societies where relationships between adults tend to be nonviolent.

With this knowledge, I submitted petition Article 16 to Brookline Town Meeting, a resolution which encourages parents and caregivers to refrain from corporal punishment of children and to use alternative methods of child discipline. The resolution defines corporal punishment as intentionally causing pain to a child for the purpose of punishment. Examples include slapping, spanking, hitting with objects, shaking and pinching. This nonbinding resolution seeks only to raise awareness about the consequences of and alternatives to corporal punishment.

This resolution is supported by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Massachusetts Citizens for Children and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (which "strongly opposes the use of corporal punishment of children, and hopes that this resolution will be adopted.").

As described in the explanation of the resolution, the American Academy of Pediatrics dispels many cultural myths about one form of corporal punishment, spanking, and recommends alternative methods of discipline. Dr. Benjamin Spock and the office of the U.S. Surgeon General also have advised against corporal punishment of children.

The wide support for the goals of the resolution among pediatric professionals and children's advocates is partly due to the compelling research on the subject. A large-scale meta-analysis of 88 studies demonstrates strong associations between corporal punishment and 10 negative outcomes (e.g., eroded trust between parent and child, aggression toward siblings, bullying and disobedience at school). Children who are hit are more likely to exhibit such behaviors. It does not mean that everyone will exhibit these behaviors. Similarly, everyone who smokes cigarettes does not die of lung cancer. In addition, studies show that corporal punishment is not effective as a discipline strategy. For example, it does not teach an alternative behavior, children usually feel resentful, humiliated and helpless after being hit, and what they learn is not to get caught.

The harmful consequences of corporal punishment are not primary for some people. For them it is enough that corporal punishment breaches ethical principles. If it is not acceptable to hit a person who is 18 years old or over, then it should not be acceptable to hit a person who is under 18 years old.

Sensitivity to these considerations has led to changes in other countries. Twenty-five years ago, Sweden voted 259-6 to oppose corporal punishment as a guideline for parents. It has accomplished the goal of altering public attitudes. Parliaments in 11 countries have taken positions opposing corporal punishment. This fact supports the view that corporal punishment of children is an important public issue, and that there is international support for raising public awareness about it.

Town Meeting's approval would be a very important demonstration of public support for using alternative methods of child discipline and management. Such methods include demonstrating appropriate behaviors to make them clear to the child; modeling patience, kindness, empathy and cooperation; rewarding appropriate behavior with encouragement and praise; setting clear, reasonable, age-appropriate limits on behaviors; teaching children conflict resolution and mediation skills; reasoning and talking with children in age-appropriate ways; allowing children to participate in setting rules and identifying consequences for breaking them; encouraging children's autonomy, letting their conscience guide them; and maintaining a well-supervised, stimulating environment for children.

This resolution has the potential to raise awareness inside and outside Brookline and to assist children's welfare organizations. Please support the effort to adopt this resolution. For more information or to comment on it, you may contact me at

Ron Goldman is a Longwood Avenue resident and sponsor of Article 16.


Whereas the nation's pediatric professionals and children's advocates advise against the use of corporal punishment of children;

Whereas corporal punishment teaches children that hitting is an acceptable way of dealing with problems and that violence works;

Whereas there are effective alternatives to corporal punishment of children;

Whereas children, like adults, have the right not to be physically assaulted;

Whereas 25% of infants are hit before they are 6 months old;

Whereas about 1200 children die each year from corporal punishment in the United States;

Whereas studies demonstrate that the more children are hit, the greater the likelihood that they will engage in aggression and anti-social behavior;

Whereas in a study of 8000 families, children who experience frequent corporal punishment are more likely to physically attack siblings, develop less adequately-developed consciences, experience adult depression, and physically attack a spouse as an adult;

Whereas this country has extremely high rates of violence compared to other developed countries;

Be it hereby RESOLVED that Town Meeting encourages parents and caregivers of children to Refrain from the use of corporal punishment;
Use alternative nonviolent methods of child discipline and management with an ultimate goal of mutual respect between parent and child.

Town Meeting requests that appropriate Town groups such as the Domestic Violence Roundtable, the Advisory Council on Public Health, and PTOs explore how they can raise awareness of this issue, and organizations that deal with children's welfare shall be informed of this resolution.


This voluntary resolution is in no way intended to undermine parental authority or familial autonomy. Its goal is to promote and advocate mutual respectful relationships between children and their parents and encourage thoughtful determination of discipline methods. It seeks to bring attention to this issue and is meant to be a gentle, reasonable, and respectful suggestion. It could result in more support and discussion of options for disciplining children.

Corporal punishment is the intentional infliction of physical pain for the purpose of punishment. Examples of corporal punishment include slapping, spanking, hitting with objects, shaking and pinching.

Parents who support the use of corporal punishment commit significantly more child abuse than parents who do not.

The more corporal punishment a child receives, the more likely the child will demonstrate physical aggression against an individual outside of the family.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the following consequences of spanking lessen its desirability as a strategy to eliminate undesired behavior.

  • Spanking children 18 months of age increases the chance of physical injury, and the child is unlikely to understand the connection between the behavior and the punishment.
  • Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.
  • Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school children.
  • Spanking and threats of spanking lead to altered parent-child relationships, making discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option, such as with adolescents.
  • Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use. Time-out and positive reinforcement of other behaviors are more difficult to implement and take longer to become effective when spanking has previously been a primary method of discipline.
  • A pattern of spanking may be sustained or increased. Because spanking may provide the parent some relief from anger, the likelihood that the parent will spank the child in the future is increased.

"If we are ever to turn toward a kinder society and a safer world, a revulsion of physical punishment would be a great place to start."-- Dr. Benjamin Spock

"After nearly two decades of research on the causes and consequences of family violence, we are convinced that our society must abandon its reliance on spanking children if we are to prevent intimate violence." -Richard J. Gelles, Ph.D. and Murray A Straus, Ph.D., sociologists

"The cultural acceptance of violence should be decreased by discouraging corporal punishment at home." --U.S. Surgeon General's Workshop on Violence and Public Health

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