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.

42 comments
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?

lddubois03
lddubois03

@roy4 Have you seen how police officers treat adults who resist arrest? They get more than a little spanking that is for sure and is not call assault.  If you are drinking and driving police will toll your car away and you need to pay to take it out of the auto pound and they dont call it stealing. Can you force an adult to stay in a room? Well, we dont really call it a room we call it a jail cell and there are no kidnapping charges to the jailor. Yeah, I guess discipline logics are similar for adults as for children.

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@TerranRich True.  What is needed is a complete re-education of people.  This is would involved decades and the alternatives taught would have to be ones that are known to work.  There are people who know these ways and I point to the Mormons (I am not mormon and not interested in being one) as a group who have years of experience and thought into what it takes to raise a healthy child.  To do this would require an enormous commitment on our part but in the long run would save money, reduce crime and drug use, and give us a happier, gentler and more productive society.  Above all it would take the right people directing such a program or else it would derail.  We are not ready but it is something to aim for.

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@nblock A common way good therapists have recommended to discipline children is to begin removing favorite toys, TV's, etc and not giving them back until the behavior is corrected.  Empty the room is necessary.  This is not a new method, It's been around for decades.

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@Jeffrey Alanhave I have noticed the same thing. Those who were not hit as children have an inner calmness. This may sound like some kind of heresy but I've had interactions with Mormons and they know how to raise their kids to be secure adults with good self-esteem, inner reliance and the ability to have healthy fun.I do not want to be a Mormon and disagree with much they believe but I have notice these people know how to raise healthy, happy children. Just look how well Elizabeth Smart has been able to handle a trauma that would have permanently destroyed so many people.

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@KidsRpeople2 I went through school without being paddled.  The one time I was I felt invaded and to this day hold a resentment against the coach who paddled me.  There are ways to teach children how to behave but this can be undercut by children not respecting people who are unwilling to hit them.

nichole blankinship
nichole blankinship

Are you seriously comparing humans hitting children to lionesses swatting their cubs? We may have evolved in the past to adapt to situations, but the definition of evolution calls for change-- Violence begets violence- period. I think it's deplorable for people to use violence to discipline their children. What year are we living in? If you can't get your kids to behave by using normal (non corporeal) punishments, then maybe you have a problem with parenting in general. I, for one, have never struck my child and she is well behaved and kind. I myself was never hit and have perpetuated the non violence cycle(and have never been in a physical confrontation in my life). I understand learned behavior is difficult to change, but those who have been beaten are much more likely to beat their kids. (and others) I'd rather spend the extra time to teach my child about right and wrong than to put them over my knee and beat the crap out of them. You sound like you're talking about training a wayward dog. (which I don't condone violence against either) Smh 

Neon Jeff
Neon Jeff

I am 55 and was spanked in 1st grade for looking out a window at a bird in a tree.  This was in Texas. From then on, I realized that teachers did not have my interests at heart, but her own.  I would deliberately fail at every thing from then on - guess what - they passed me anyway - and I graduated without having cared about anything the teachers from then on taught. So, I guess it traumatized me.  Even today, thinking of school makes me sick, and I always wish that that teacher had been beaten to death.  I do try to avoid fights, because I fear that I would lose it - and kill someone.  Ask the people on death row in Texas, if physical abuse as a child was not involved in putting them in prison.  You will find that neglect, abuse, and trauma in childhood, perhaps a parent with mental illness - all contributed to these people, mostly men, when grown up committing horrible acts of violence - and murder.  Disciplining children in school will close a child's mind down to education.  Especially - boys.  They have a fight or flight mechanism - if they are trapped in a humiliating relationship with a teacher - they become stressed out - and eventually mentally unstable.  So, I would disagree with your analysis.  Talking - and asking questions - would allow an educated teacher - to understand the needs of the student, which is why they are hired to begin with.  They are not supposed to be hired to physically discipline your children.

loren30
loren30

You have no idea what you are talking about! Do you have a child with a psychological disorder ? Do you think spanking is going to fix that? Have you been a victim of violence in the home ? Do you think being the kind of parent your parents were to you is your way to get back at them? All you are doing is continuing the cycle of ineffective parenting. There are people like you who think its all harmless lessons but for some of us its much more than that. Do you want your kids to respect you or to fear you? How can you tell a child it is not ok to be violent when you are showing them violence by example.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@Kellygopal So you name the Mormons as having the best children but dont suggest any methods... it sounds like you are advocating Mormonism while as stated not being a Mormon

basically you made a really crappy argument about parenting with a rather weird Red Herring thrown in for flavor...

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@Kellygopal 

Here we go again with the Mormons ... I'm pretty sure their faith is unusually nutty (and faith and religion of all kinds are nutty) but it sure seems like they must have done something right.

weird.

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@Neon Jeff A perfect example of the dangers of lazy discipline.  Overcrowded schools help lead to this.  It may cost but nothing, in my mind, is more important than good, effective education to our nation.

Chuck Conover
Chuck Conover

I don't doubt the statistics, but I think most parents that spank do it out  of anger and there is no clear lesson.  I have spanked both my children, but it is years in between spankings and only after repeated violations.  I also make them tell me what they did wrong and promise to never do it again.  However, my children have had a steady home their whole lives, they have consistent rules, and spanking is never the first punishment.  I would never trust a teacher to show the same restraint.

Reythia
Reythia

Odd.  I was a kid who didn't have a psychological disorder, wasn't a victim of violence, was in fact a very good student and usually a good kid who, in the end, turned out quite well. 

So you're implying that since my parents occasionally spanked me -- and only when I KNEW I deserved it since I'd INTENTIONALLY misbehaved in a severe way -- that was "ineffective parenting"?  Sorry, but that's not my take on it.  I know my parents were good parents, and they surely didn't teach me that it was okay to be violent.

A lot of these studies combine rare spanking for reasons known to an older kid together with parents who slap their kid every day.  But those aren't the same thing at all.  Swatting a 5-year-old on the butt when you tell her to stop, she hears and understands you, but she intentionally runs into the road as a car's coming her way is NOT abuse.  It's a way of making her realize that an action which could have KILLED her was a bad choice.  And when spanking is used correctly and rarely, I've never seen a kid repeat the dangerous action which prompted the spank-and-lecture discipline.  Mere lectures by themselves don't usually have the same effect.

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@Chuck Conover Excellent.  One of the necessities of raising a child is love.  Love overcomes so much adversity.  But that love must be demonstrated by respect for the child's boundaries.  So many children are raised without a sense of boundaries.  i was and it's taken me decades to learn where I leave off and the other person begins.

haeleyd
haeleyd

Neerja_Singh- They are running around headless?  Are they part chicken?  Seriously I think most kids are fine, I think we judge them without knowing them too often. 

Neerja_Singh
Neerja_Singh

 I agree Chuck. Very much in line with Fancylad above, I believe restrained, well-explained (and understood) spanking after repeated warnings serves children well. If we understand that physical discomfort seeks to teach / secure a child from danger / show him the right way to behave in society and only if we use it with greatest love and self-awareness, it helps our kids grow into balanced, well-adjusted, disciplined citizens.

The fact that so many people act horrified at the thought of raising a hand without understanding the deeper intent speaks of thoughtless parenting - and no wonder our youth is running headless, angry, sad and parents wonder what happened to society!

Kellygopal
Kellygopal

@Reythia One measure of effective discipline is does the child remember what he was punished for.  My parents habitually hit me and out of all the times I was hit I only remember once the reason why but by then I lost so much respect for my parents it didn't have the desired effect.  There are other ways to teach and I see it every day in the way my grand daughter is being raised.  She is happy, obedient, and able to think for herself.  She has not once been hit.  I take great pride in being part of the reason my daughter doesn't see corporal punishment as a necessity.  I learned what not to do.