Nearly a month after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that parents have the right to use corporal punishment to discipline their children, a new survey finds that most leading child welfare advocates think it is harmful for children and leads to more aggressive behavior.
Tulane University public health researcher Dr. Catherine Taylor surveyed more than 500 social workers, physicians and other members of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), a national organization for professionals who serve children and families affected by child abuse, this summer to gauge their opinions on corporal punishment, including spanking, and whether they felt comfortable advising parents about physical punishment.
Almost 75 percent of respondents said spanking is harmful for children and a majority believe it is a bad disciplinary technique; leads to the child being more, not less, aggressive; seldom or never leads to better self-control and sometimes leads to the child being physically abused.
Surprisingly, most professionals are not aware of the emerging consensus against spanking. An overwhelming majority of members believe that spanking is harmful, yet most don’t think their colleagues share their feelings as strongly. For example, although 46 percent said they strongly agree that spanking is harmful, only 25 percent think that their colleagues felt this way. Also 60 percent strongly feel spanking is a bad disciplinary technique, yet only 30 percent felt their colleagues agreed.
“As child health professionals and advocates, we need to do a better job of getting the word out to change our social norms about the use of spanking and other forms of corporal punishment,” said Dr. Taylor, survey co-author and associate professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
Dr. Taylor and Dr. Shawna Lee, associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, presented the full survey findings last week at the twenty-third Annual APSAC Colloquium in Boston.
Professionals are not shy about speaking up against corporal punishment. Roughly 66 percent are highly motivated to challenge parents’ or colleagues’ viewpoints supporting spanking and 70 percent are highly motivated to talk to parents about disciplinary techniques that do not involve spanking. Most cited “cultural sensitivities” as the biggest barrier to preventing corporal punishment.
“Many corporal punishment supporters argue that ‘I was spanked and I turned out just fine’ or ‘I was not harmed,’” Dr. Taylor said. “In the past few decades, we’ve learned that not only is it not necessary to hit children for discipline, but that even so-called ‘reasonable’ corporal punishment can be harmful. We have learned that children who experience corporal punishment actually have poorer mental, physical, and cognitive health outcomes than children who are not spanked.”