Should Teachers Be Allowed to Spank Students?

A Texas school district changes its corporal-punishment policy — by expanding rather than limiting teachers' rights to paddle students. Is spanking really the best way to discipline kids?

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Spanking is one of the many things about which parents agree — passionately — to disagree. Most American parents swear by the old adage “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” but others are horrified by the very thought of raising a hand to a kid.

And that’s why corporal punishment in schools is an even thornier issue, as highlighted by a Texas school district’s recent decision to change its spanking policy. After two parents complained that their daughters had been beaten hard enough to develop bruises and burnlike redness on their skin, the Springtown school board voted last week to amend its corporal-punishment rules. Rather than abolishing the practice, however, the board members took pains to preserve teachers’ ability to physically discipline students: parents must now opt in with written permission allowing their children to be paddled when teachers feel it’s justified; previously, parents had to opt out of corporal punishment.

The school board also expanded its spanking policy overall by deciding to allow teachers to punish students of the opposite gender. Parents can now designate whether they’re O.K. with a male or female school official doling out the paddling. The initial complaints from the two parents had centered on the fact that their daughters were punished by a male teacher, violating Springtown’s then requirement that same-gender teachers carry out any physical punishment.

(MORE: The First Real-Time Study of Parents Spanking Their Kids)

A bigger question for many is why some states still allow corporal punishment in schools at all. Texas is one of 19 states that permit principals or teachers to put kids under the paddle. (However, 97 of the U.S.’s 100 largest school districts have banned corporal punishment.)

While there isn’t much research specifically on the effects of corporal punishment in schools, the matter has been studied extensively in the home. And the consensus is that spanking isn’t effective in properly disciplining children, at least not if the goal is to control children’s behavior over the long term or help them understand what’s appropriate behavior. “There isn’t a single study that shows kids’ behavior gets better over time,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. “Every study I’ve looked at that links parent spanking and kids’ aggression found that the more kids are spanked, the more aggressive and problematic their behavior is.”

Gershoff should know. She has conducted the most comprehensive analysis of the existing research on the effects of spanking by parents. In the variety of studies she has reviewed — in which spanking was reported by parents or children themselves, and children’s behavior was measured by a standardized survey that asked parents and teachers how often children acted out, talked back or were disobedient or delinquent in any way — all the results point in one direction: the more children were spanked, the more aggressive they became.

So what of that old adage about sparing the rod? “Dozens of studies now show quite the opposite,” says Dr. Robert Block, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Corporal punishment is a physically stressful situation that is embedded biologically in some kids to the detriment of their health and well-being later on in terms of their own acceptance of aggression and violence.”

(MORE: Why Spanking Doesn’t Work)

The most recent polls show that approval of corporal punishment in general, and in schools in particular, is waning. But the percentage of parents who are in favor of spanking is still surprisingly high: in the 1960s, for example, 94% of adults approved of physical punishment both at home and in schools; by 2004, that proportion had dropped to 71.3%. Mostly, however, that figure appears to represent spanking by parents in the home, since only 23% of adults say it’s O.K. for teachers to spank students in school.

Indeed, there is the possibility that physical punishment delivered by a non–family member may be perceived by children as being different from and more harmful than that meted out by parents. “Any kind of discipline has to be motivated by love and concern,” says Robert Larzelere, a professor of human development and family science at Oklahoma State University. “And in a crowded classroom or school setting, there is more risk of the teacher or principal coming across as rejecting of the child.”

Gershoff says children who are spanked are more likely to develop depression, anxiety and even thoughts of suicide, not to mention antisocial behavior that can lead to difficult relationships as adults. In a 2009 study on the effects of spanking, some researchers even suggested that corporal punishment can lead to problems in kids’ cognitive development and lower IQs.

(MORE: The Long-Term Effects of Spanking)

There’s also the delicate issue of distinguishing between discipline and abuse. It’s a fine line that is difficult to define by any measure, and it’s one that can be easily crossed, especially in schools. Further, there’s a disturbing trend showing a close relationship between abuse and corporal punishment; while not every child who is spanked is physically abused, nearly every abused child has been spanked. About two-thirds of parents in abuse cases say the abuse started out as an attempt to discipline their child but escalated into something more. “It’s a really troubling finding,” says Gershoff. “It means we wouldn’t have as much physical abuse if we weren’t spanking our kids.”

She points out that American society doesn’t allow physical aggression under any circumstances — not between husbands and wives, not between adult strangers and not even against animals. Yet some states allow teachers to hit children, albeit for disciplinary reasons, not as aggression. But as the data increasingly show, young children aren’t able to distinguish the difference, and they interpret any violence, regardless of the reason, in the same way, which explains why they end up incorporating aggression into their own reactions and behavior.

Larzelere says such studies are finding only correlations between punishment and negative outcomes, however, noting that they are biased by the fact that they involve children who have behavior problems to start with. These kids are more likely both to be punished and to continue to exhibit aggression or other behavior issues. Because of this bias, he says, any form of punishment — from spanking to nonphysical forms of discipline such as verbal correction, time-outs and even pharmaceutical interventions like Ritalin for hyperactivity — is correlated with negative behavior outcomes.

(MORE: Kids Behaving Badly? Blame It on Mom)

In a review, Larzelere and his colleagues looked at disobedience and aggression after children were given scoldings or verbal threats, deprived of privileges or sent to time-outs; he says children’s behavior remained unchanged. “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says.

He argues that what researchers are measuring is really the extent of the child’s misbehavior. In other words, disobedient children are more likely to elicit disciplinary action. Gershoff counters that even after adjusting for the extent of disobedience, corporal punishment is still associated with more negative outcomes for children; those who are spanked are worse off than those who aren’t.

How can the data be applied to school-district policies? Larzelere says more research is needed: it would be worth exploring, for example, whether districts that ban corporal punishment have higher rates of suspensions or expulsions than those that allow the practice; if that’s the case, then alternatives to physical discipline, such as removing problem students from the classroom, may not be so desirable, since they may be associated with greater delinquency.

(MORE: Children Who Hear Swear Words on TV Are More Aggressive)

It’s a difficult line to walk for both parents and teachers, and one solution isn’t likely to fit all needs. Gershoff agrees that spanking, particularly for very young children, can bring a quick end to a tantrum, but she notes that the short-term relief comes at the price of longer-term health. While parents may disagree about whether it’s acceptable to raise their hand against their own children, many governments have decided on one solution to the problem: banning violence of any kind, by anyone, against children. “Societies around the world have decided that violence in general is not O.K.,” says Gershoff. “It violates kids’ right not to be hit. So 31 countries have banned spanking of children by anybody. Then they don’t have to worry about a line, because it’s all or nothing.”

The U.S. hasn’t adopted such a ban; a bill to end corporal punishment in schools was introduced in Congress in 2011 but remains in committee. In the meantime, spanking is likely to continue generating high passions and even higher stakes as individual states and school districts decide how to interpret the available evidence on the effect of corporal punishment on our children’s health.

MORE: A Girl Is Punished to Death in Alabama. Does Running Count as Corporal Punishment?

Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

43 comments
KimberlyStevensSims
KimberlyStevensSims

I really hate to bust all of your brain bubbles, but: SPARE THE ROD, SPOIL THE CHILD is not an ole wise tail! People like you all are who puts feeble minded crap out here when in fact you know nothing of your own knowledge, by saying words and making a sentence, then to proclaim you know...well you don't know. because if you did know, the ledge In your know would give you a little biblical knowledge.  PROVERBS 13:24 The Bible Says: "He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes"  and "Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell" (goes on to verse 23:13-14.  As you well know, the parenting adventure is different with each child — and it's vital to recognize and adapt to your children's various temperaments, strengths, and weaknesses. Think of yourself as a sculptor shaping and molding the lives of your young ones. With each child, you may be working with a different medium. You could be endeavoring to form one youngster who appears to be as hard as marble. As an artist, you might use a chisel, hammers, even water, while sculpting your masterpiece. You may have another child who is more pliable, like clay. Even then, as a potter, you might use fire, a knife, and your bare hands. It doesn't matter what substance you're working with, be it wood, ice, bronze, wax, sand, steel, or foam. Each raw material requires a distinct combination of tools to strike the balance between respecting its uniqueness and steadfastly pursuing the potential beauty within.  If one idea doesn't work, try something else and come at it from another direction. But don't dismiss a failed method altogether; it may work on another child or at another stage of childhood. Believe me, your departure from the ordinary ways of correction will keep your kids on their toes, wondering what you'll next pull out of your bag of tricks. The road is long, but it doesn't have to be dull.  *Please don't go wise tailing. pick up the bible and read.  and also, just to footnote; in the old testament The rod in this verse from the Book of Proverbs was actually a walking wood cane..also a little education to boot,  "shebet" Hebrew word meaning Rod, Shebet is in the original Hebrew scrolls.  Remember, only speak of what you know, with truth and knowledge.  One day you will meet your wisdom so be wise until you do.

Kimtail@exede.net

SylviaWoon
SylviaWoon

its ok to do it to your child , because the child belongs to you ,, you created the child and are responsible for its future  ~  its far deeper than Law. 

roy4
roy4

yeah, you can't hit an adult because it's assault. You also can't take away another adult's things, that would be stealing. You can't force an adult to stay in a room, that would be kidnapping...guess you can't discipline a kid at all going by that logic

haeleyd
haeleyd

As the parent of a child with autism I already have enough to fear with all the stories coming out of schools these days.  Restraint methods injuring and even killing kids, kids being locked away in "isolation" or "seclusion" for hours, teachers and bus drivers bullying kids verbally.  Seriously, do we really need to be adding yet another thing to the list of items that teachers can get away with doing to children that it is unacceptable for parents to do?  As far as I know if I hit my child WITH A PADDLE that is not the same as spanking and could be seen as abusive.  Like I said I already have enough to worry about.  So glad I do not live in TX.

TerranRich
TerranRich

It's physical assault. Plain and simple. I can't spank another adult against their will lest I face criminal charges; why is it OK to do it to a child? In the name of parenting? Sorry, but if it has come to that, then you have failed as a parent. I'm a parent of two well-behaved children who are not spanked at all. There are ways to discipline children without causing them physical pain like they're Gitmo detainees or something.

RobertSF
RobertSF

I will beat senseless anyone who assaults my children, and I don't care who they are.

Demo River
Demo River

Sure, spank away! But don't be surprised if some come spank your ass, too! Some call it "karma"

Jodee
Jodee

While the news presented them as saintly figures, those girls misbehaved and knew the consequences. They were offered the choice of ISS (in school suspension) or swats.  They chose swats.  Their parents were contacted AND approved the punishment, so they are clearly not philosophically opposed to spanking.  They could have been present, but they apparently did not think it necessary.  What exactly those girls were expecting when they chose swats, a tap on the wrist and a hug?  The point of a spanking not to be pleasant, it is to deter unacceptable behavior and to keep children from continuing on to more serious trouble.  Hopefully, it worked for these girls and they will someday be glad that they were straightened out before they got into serious trouble.

 

 

G.A. Lewis
G.A. Lewis

Fancy Lad has got a point, but only in extremis, and within the immediate family circle, when a child is so over boisterous as to be in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.

If society does not permit corporal punishment for adult felons, in what moral universe can pedagogic staff have to resort to physical violence against beings placed in their care.

The only lesson a child can learn from this is that might is right.

Being not a tree hugging utopian with deviant tendencies, I would humbly point out empirical evidence.

Not too many generations ago, the military enforced discipline by flogging and hanging. When this was replaced by fining recalcitrant individuals, morale and behaviour improved exponentially.

nblock
nblock

Larzalere says “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says. Not quite. As Gershoff notes research has long shown a correlation between spanking and physical abuse. Time-outs and other alternatives do not lead to physical abuse. As a recent study from Yale researchers showed, severe physical abuse has gone up over the past ten years. What would a physician recommend if he/she had one medication that was linked to serious harm and an alternative medication that was not linked to serious harm?

nblock
nblock

Larzalere says “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says. Not quite. As Gershoff notes research has long shown a correlation between spanking and physical abuse. Time-outs and other alternatives do not lead to physical abuse. As a recent study from Yale researchers showed, severe physical abuse, has gone up over the past ten years. What would a physician recommend if he/she had one medication that was linked to serious harm and an alternative medication that was not linked to serious harm?

nblock
nblock

Larzalere says “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says. Not quite. As Gershoff notes research has long shown a correlation between spanking and physical abuse. Time-outs and other alternatives do not lead to physical abuse. As a recent study from Yale researchers showed, severe physical abuse, has gone up over the past ten years. What would a physician recommend if he/she had one medication that was linked to serious harm and an alternative medication that was not linked to serious harm?

nblock
nblock

Larzalere says “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says. Not quite. As Gershoff notes research has long shown a correlation between spanking and physical abuse. Time-outs and other alternatives do not lead to physical abuse. As a recent study from Yale researchers showed, severe physical abuse, has gone up over the past ten years. What would a physician recommend if he/she had one medication that was linked to serious harm and an alternative medication that was not linked to serious harm?

nblock
nblock

Larzalere says “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says. Not quite. As Gershoff notes research has long shown a correlation between spanking and physical abuse. Time-outs and other alternatives do not lead to physical abuse. As a recent study from Yale researchers showed, severe physical abuse, has gone up over the past ten years. What would a physician recommend if he/she had one medication that was linked to serious harm and an alternative medication that was not linked to serious harm?

nblock
nblock

Larzalere says “If you look at alternatives that parents could use instead, everything else looks just as harmful as routine spanking,” he says.  Not quite.  As Gershoff notes research has long shown a correlation between spanking and physical abuse.  Time-outs and other alternatives do not lead to physical abuse.  As a recent study from Yale researchers showed,  severe physical abuse, has gone up over the past ten years.  What would a physician recommend if he/she had one medication that was linked to serious harm and an  alternative medication that was not linked to serious harm?  

Jeffrey Alan Craig
Jeffrey Alan Craig

I've made the observation over the years that every guy I've ever met who was calm, secure and easy going was never spanked as a child. Yet every insecure, in-your-face, road raging, 'get out of my way' lunk head that I've ever met was spanked. It's been 11 years since I started asking people I know about this and I'm no longer amazed when some angry uptight guy tells me that he was spanked as a child. Spanking - which is in fact violence regardless of the rationalization for it - is responsible for the bulk of violence we have in this country. When looking at countries that have banned spanking for over a generation, such as Sweden, the contrast is undeniable. 

Spank a boy, create another angry jerk in society. It shouldn't be allowed for that reason alone. 

Jeffrey Alan Craig
Jeffrey Alan Craig

I've made the observation over the years that every guy I've ever met who was calm, secure and easy going was never spanked as a child. Yet every insecure, in-your-face, road raging, 'get out of my way' lunk head that I've ever met was spanked. It's been 11 years since I started asking people I know about this and I'm no longer amazed when some angry uptight guy tells me that he was spanked as a child. Spanking - which is in fact violence regardless of the rationalization for it - is responsible for the bulk of violence we have in this country. When looking at countries that have banned spanking for over a generation, such as Sweden, the contrast is undeniable. 

Spank a boy, create another angry jerk in society. It shouldn't be allowed for that reason alone.

KidsRpeople2
KidsRpeople2

See the truth about school paddling, brutally violent injuries to schoolchildren K-12 from Mandatory Child Abuse Reporters, School Teachers, Coaches and Administrators hitting students with wooden boards to inflict Pain Punishment and no safety standards to protect children from excessive force injuries at YouTube Video Trailer for Documentary Movie "The Board of Education" by Jared Abrams.  Support Federal Bill H.R. 3027 "The Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act" at dont hit students dot com  Search "A Violent Education" 2008 Report by Human Rights Watch and ACLU for disturbing facts.  School employees are immune from criminal/civil action when children are injured by excessive force school paddling.  The U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear School Corporal Punishment appeals leaving no legal remedy for injured students.

lilka68
lilka68

Teachers spanking kids is an outward expression of how ineffectual their teaching methods are. You really cannot get a kid involved in a lesson any other way? Then you shouldn't be a teacher. 

I've been hit by my math teacher in the 2 grade, and for many, many years afterward  I feared and hated (and had trouble with) math. Only in college  when I finally got a good , competent, patient teacher, I suddenly shone in math. 

Morgan Sheridan
Morgan Sheridan

Shouldn't be long before spanking fetish videos start coming out of TX high schools now. 

mattbm
mattbm

That picture kind of looks like something on a poster for child abuse. 

FancyLad
FancyLad

Humans and animals evolved to learn from physical discomfort.

Jump into a thorn-bush and get pricked? You'll never do it again.

Touch hot stones around the campfire? lesson learned.

Eat pretty mushrooms? two days of nausea will prevent temptation next time.

Go playing down by the creek in spite of parental warnings? a spank will make you think twice about it next time.

Other animals use physical discipline all the time. A lioness, for instance, will swat a cub that's getting to carried away in a biting game.

But instead of using the methods nature developed, we play abusive head games with our children or drug them into complicity; all of which are far more damaging to a child than physical correction, In spite of what the biased studies and compromised stats mentioned above state.

I'm not advocating beating the child or torturing them, and despite of demagoguery stating otherwise by the drug and manipulate crowd, physical correction and physical abuse are two very different things.

Which does more damage to the child in the long run? A smack on the hand? or 10 years of manipulation and Ritalin?