Hitting Children: Should it be Outlawed?
Two letters to the editor re: "A Trip to These Principals May Mean a Paddling," (news article, www.nospank.net/n-u20.htm, March 30)
New York Times, April 7, 2011

To the Editor:

It may put things in perspective to consider the ever-shrinking context in which corporal punishment of children is socially acceptable and some of the reasons for the shrinkage.

Currently 29 nations outlaw all corporal punishment of children, and more than another 100 do so in the schools. The United States is basically on the same trajectory, though at a much slower pace.

All 50 states still make it legal for parents to use "reasonable" corporal punishment on their children, but only 20 states still permit paddling in the schools. Within many of these holdout states, major metropolitan school districts have banned the practice. The 30 states that forbid school corporal punishment represent a significant change - an increase from the mere three states that banned paddling in 1977.

These developments are a growing victory for the rule of law, since international human rights law absolutely prohibits corporal punishment of children. In this instance, the rule of law is consistent with most social science research showing that the punishment has no real positive educational or moral effects on children. The studies instead show that physical chastisement is correlated with multiple adverse effects on children, some of which are serious and may persist into adulthood.

East Lansing, Mich., March 31, 2011

The writer is a professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law and the author of a book and scholarly articles about corporal punishment of children.

To the Editor:

As a child analyst, I see the carnage of physical punishment every day in the office. Physical punishment is a major public health problem in this country.

Elizabeth Gershoff ("Report on Physical Punishment in the United States") and Susan Bitensky ("Corporal Punishment of Children") have recently summarized the data: physical punishment does not work; it makes things worse at every developmental level (it is associated with delinquency, antisocial behavior, abuse of one's own children later on and so forth); and there are effective alternatives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychoanalytic Association are among those calling for a ban on physical punishment and the use of effective alternatives. Crucial to decreasing physical punishment are education (about infant and child development), legislation (to help parents who are at risk and to protect the children) and additional research.

The prevalence of smoking has been cut in half in the past 40 years. Surely we can do the same with physical punishment.

Effective alternatives can be summed up as "words instead of actions." If we truly want a less violent society, not hitting our children is a good place to start.

Chicago, March 30, 2011

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