By Jacqueline Howard, CNN
Published 11:08 PM EDT, Mon March 12, 2018
Who invented spanking? Christians point to Proverbs 13:24: "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." However, Olivier Maurel, a retired French teacher author, said the practice appears to be universal in history: "From Sumer to Egypt to China, from ancient India to pre-Columbian America, from Athens to Rome, children were hit," he wrote.
A whipping or "cobbing" was also historically used as a punishment for adults. This etching shows Bishop of London Edmund Bonner punishing a heretic in "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" from 1563. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Bonner was characterized as a monster who enjoyed burning Protestants at the stake during the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I, who was known as "Bloody Mary."
The tools of spanking are varied. In this vintage image, a man uses a paddle. For adults administering punishment, the use of switches, belt straps, paddles and the like delivered increased punishment while saving their hands from the sting of the swat.
In the slave trade, there was a crueler reason for the use of a paddle or strap. In his book "Flagellation and the Flagellants: A History of the Rod in all Countries from the Earliest Period to the Present Time," the Rev. William Cooper explains that straps were used to keep from scarring slaves and reducing their value: "It is said that with this instrument a slave could be punished to within an inch of his life, and yet come out with no visible injury, and with his skin as smooth as a peeled onion."
Spanking reaches across many races and cultures. Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has been studying corporal punishment for 15 years, said research shows that spanking is more common among African-Americans than among other racial and ethnic groups in the United States, including whites, Latinos and Asian-Americans.
An 1879 drawing from "Cole's Funny Picture Book," one of many created by Australian E.W. Cole, billed as the "Cheapest Child's Picture Book ever published." The drawing illustrates "the macabre Snooks' Patent whipping machine for flogging naughty boys in school," says the National Library of Australia.
Spanking was common in Europe, as well. This illustration from the weekly French youth publication La Jeunesse illustre, published between 1903 and 1935, shows a teacher spanking a student while two others wait with faces to the wall. Today, a growing body of research shows that spanking can lead to aggression and mental illness later in life; one 2009 study showed that "harsh punishment" -- defined as being struck with objects like a belt, paddle or hairbrush at least 12 times a year for a period of three years -- produced less gray matter in the brains of children.
In an apparently staged performance whose date is unknown, a teacher "strikes" a child over her knee while the rest of the class grimaces. In-school corporal punishment is allowed in 22 states, according to the US Department of Education, with the vast majority occurring in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.
In-school corporal punishment is allowed in 22 states, according to the US Department of Education, with the vast majority occurring in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.
Spanking was a common theme in pop culture. In Mark Twain's classic "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Aunt Polly, played in the 1938 movie by May Robson, frequently punishes Tom, played by Tommy Kelly, for playing hooky and other mischief.
Catholic schools were known for their knuckle-rapping nuns, administering corporal punishment to any and all educational slackers. In this 1990 skit from NBC's "Saturday Night Live," Dana Carvey's Church Lady takes way too much pleasure in punishing "schoolboy" Rob Lowe. Today, most teachers in Catholic schools are not nuns or priests, and most have put the paddle away.
Children were not the only victims of corporal punishment. Wives were often whipped by their husbands; the "right" to do so dates all the way to 1800 BC in the Code of Hammurabi. In the 1963 Western comedy "McLintock!" John Wayne's character, George Washington McLintock, gives his wife, Katherine, played by Maureen O'Hara, a public spanking after chasing her through the town.
Over-the-knee spanking is still practiced as a form of wife discipline as part of Christian Domestic Discipline, described as a Christian patriarchy movement.
A history of spanking
"Explaining why a behavior is wrong is the most common form of discipline used across countries," one expert says
Here's where spanking and other forms of corporal punishment in the home are illegal
Most parents know the proverb, “spare the rod, spoil the child.”
But in recent years, many have debated whether to practice physical discipline, such as spanking or smacking, in their own homes. To spank or not to spank has become a highly contentious issue.
Many experts have advised against using physical discipline to teach kids lessons. Others argue that the uproar surrounding spanking has been overblown.
Some parents have decided not to spank and view it as harmful to their child’s development, whereas others see no harm in physical discipline and believe it teaches respect.
Though there is no clear definition of “spanking” in the scientific literature, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the act as “to strike especially on the buttocks with the open hand.”
In some countries, such discipline could land a parent in jail.
Around the world, close to 300 million children aged 2 to 4 receive some type of physical discipline from their parents or caregivers on a regular basis, according to a UNICEF report published in November.
That discipline includes spanking, shaking or hitting the hands or other body parts with an instrument, said Claudia Cappa, a statistics and monitoring specialist at UNICEF and an author of the report.
Overall, simply “explaining why a behavior is wrong is the most common form of discipline used across countries,” Cappa said.
“What was interesting to me as a researcher to see is that parents use a combination of methods, not just one,” she said. “They use violent and nonviolent forms, and they use a combination of physical punishment and psychologicalaggression,” such as yelling or screaming.
Here’s a look at how children are disciplined around the world, including where spanking is legally allowed and where it isn’t.
In these countries, it’s illegal to spank your kids
Sixty countries, states and territories have adopted legislation that fully prohibits using corporal punishment against children at home, according to both UNICEF and the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
Globally, about 1.1 billion caregivers view physical punishment as necessary to properly raise or educate a child, according to UNICEF.
Some of the countries and territories that have bans are: Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Aruba, Austria, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curaçao, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Pitcairn Islands, Poland, and Portugal.
The other countries and territories that have bans are: Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, South Sudan, Spain, St. Maarten, Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Sweden, Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
In the United States, corporal punishment is still lawful in the home in all states, and legal provisions against violence and abuse are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment, like spanking, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
“It’s just in the last 10 years that more countries and a larger set of countries have decided to prohibit corporal punishment,” Cappa said.
“In most of the countrieswith available data, childrenfromwealthier households are equally likely to experience violent discipline as those from poorer households,” she said, based on UNICEF’s data.
“We tend to think sometimes that only certain categories, particularly socioeconomically deprived households, use violent disciplinary practices, but this is not confirmed by the data on the global level,” even if such differences are seenin some countries, she said.
In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban the physical punishment of children by law.
Then, “by 1996 only four more states had followed suit,” Anna Henry, director of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, wrote in an email.
“Global progress towards prohibition of all corporal punishment of children has accelerated, particularly in recent years,” she wrote. “Since 2006, however, when theWorld Report on Violence against Children recommended prohibition as a matter of urgency, the number of states banning corporal punishment has more than tripled.”
She added that a further56states have indicated commitment to achieving a complete legal ban.
There has been a recent move to discourage parents worldwide from spanking or physically punishing their children, led by UNICEF, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children and other organizations calling for more laws.
“The majority of countries have actually not prohibited corporal punishment, and there are only 9% of children under the age of 5 living in countries where corporal punishment at home is fully prohibited,” said Cappa, who is not involved in the Global Initiative.
In other words, “there are more than 600 million children under the age of 5” in countries where there are no such laws, Cappa said.
A study of six European countries found that the odds of having parents who reported using occasional to frequent corporal punishment were 1.7 times higher in countries where it was legal, controlling for sociodemographic factors.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One in 2015, involved data from Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania and Turkey. At the time of the study, all but two of those countries – Turkey and Lithuania – had legal bans on corporal punishment in the home.
“We also know that legislation is notsufficientwhen it’s not accompanied by changes inindividual attitudes and social norms, and that can even become dangerous, because it can push certain things into a secret sphere,” said Cappa, who was not involved in the study.
Yet not all experts agree that laws should dictate how parents decide to punish their children.
Ashley Frawley, senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at Swansea University in the United Kingdom, said that such laws disproportionally impact marginalized groups – such as the working poor or certain ethnic minorities – regardless of whether incidences of physical punishment actually warrant such surveillance or not.
“This sort of thing happened in Canada and Australia. In Canada where I’m from it was called the ‘Sixties Scoop’ where large numbers of indigenous children were taken from their homes in the [incorrect] belief that indigenous women were not good parents,” said Frawley, who identifies as Ojibwa.
“So I see these smacking bans, which are promoted as awareness raising, as highly suspect,” she said. “There’s a long history in lots of different countries of looking down on parenting styles of the ethnic minorities and working classes.”
Some parents still may prefer to spank their children as, anecdotally, they notice that it might help with more immediate compliance; this preference might also be tied to how they themselves were disciplined or social norms.
What the science says about spanking
Many experts say that spanking is linked with an increased risk of negative outcomes for children – such as aggression, adult mental health problems, and even dating violence – while a few others warn against jumping to such conclusions.
“The clear consensus among experts is that spanking is harmful,” said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, who has researched spanking and child outcomes.
“One plausible explanation is that spanking disrupts the emotional bond between caregiver and child,” he said.
To determine how spanking might have lasting impacts on kids, Grogan-Kaylor and Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, analyzed previous studies on spanking published in the past 50 years and involving 160,927 children.
Their meta-analyses found no evidence that spanking was associated with improved child behavior and rather found spanking to be associated with increased risk of 13 detrimental outcomes.
“Across study designs, countries, and age groups, spanking has been linked with detrimental outcomes for children, a fact supported by several key methodologically strong studies that isolate the ability of spanking to predict child outcomes over time,” the researchers wrote.
Their analysis was published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2016.
Robert Larzelere, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University, disagrees with that analysis.
“Gershoff and her colleagues have yet to identify a single alternative disciplinary tactic in their own research that would significantly reduce behavior problems in children,” he said.
‘Taking away privileges … can be useful’
In a previous meta-analysis, Larzelere dealt with that issue by summarizing 26 studies since 1957 that investigated physical punishment and other alternative disciplinary tactics that parents could use instead.
He found that spanking that was used only as a “back-up” method when other discipline methods were ineffective resulted in either less defiance or less aggression in children when compared with 10 out of 13 disciplinary alternatives, such as reasoning or timeout.
“When used to back-up milder disciplinary tactics consistently, parents are able to phase it out because children learn to cooperate with the milder disciplinary tactics,” Larzelere said. “The only kind of physical punishment that had worse outcomes than alternatives, was if it was used too severely like using an instrument or slapping the face, or if it was the main thing that parents did in disciplining their children.”
That analysis was published in the journal Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review in 2005.
“We have to find the right balance, I think. Children need love and positive parenting … but sometimes they also need effective negative consequences, especially when young children are defiant,” he said. “It’s a complex topic.”
Overall, most pediatricians argue that any form of physical punishment should be avoided, and that there are non-physical ways parents can discipline their children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a number of alternatives to spanking, including taking toys and privileges away and the age-old technique of timeout.
The Academy notes that it does not recommend spanking. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also does not support the use of corporal punishment as a method of behavior modification.
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“Before even thinking about discipline, parents need to think about creating a warm, emotionally supportive and loving connection with your children,” Grogan-Kaylor said.
“You need to make clear to your children that you love them, care about their opinions and want to listen to them,” he said. “When discipline is necessary, taking away privileges in a developmentally appropriate manner – so, not too long for the age of the child – can be useful.”