No More Spanking? What, Then?

by on December 28th, 2010
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Is it time for American parents to open their hearts to new child-rearing techniques? That’s what two recent reports seem to suggest. The first, coming out of Canada, debunks the myth that spanking has any valid place in child-rearing. The second offers parents an alternate means of exerting authority.

Why Spanking Fails

A study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal examined 20 years of research on corporal punishment. The researchers found no long term positive outcomes from spanking. Not only are the positives lacking, the negatives stack up. Spanking is associated with increases in aggression, depression, and substance abuse, the researchers said. Less certain, but equally of concern, corporal punishment may be associated with a decrease in intelligence.

Spanking Trends

Thirty-two countries ban all corporal punishment of children, according to End Corporal Punishment. They are: Austria, Bulgaria, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cypress, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Portugal, Norway, Moldova, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Togo, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, South Sudan, and Tunisia.

New Look at Child Discipline

The Canadian researchers aren’t advocating more public debate about spanking. They say it should be banned on medical grounds. So what discipline could replace it? The Wall Street Journal last week took a look at the new book by Pamela Druckerman, Bringing Up Bébé, that might provide an answer. While living in France, Druckerman noted that French children don’t exhibit many of the behavioral challenges American children do. She took a lesson from the French and turned it into a book.

The gist of successful parenting, according to Druckerman, is understanding a few key concepts like structure and limits on what’s possible. She says French parents use a framework that is flexible only within rigid boundaries. But the real trick in getting kids to comply is creating the aura that certain behavior is simply not an option. “Pas possible,” as the French say. That involves using an authoritative but calm tone of voice to communicate, never yelling or letting the voice communicate doubt.

All About Attitude

NPR interviewed a Swedish sociologist, Eva Svedling, in 2009 to discuss practicalities of spanking bans. Sweden was the first country to ban corporal punishment of children back in 1979. Svedling said the law’s purpose is prevention, not punishment of parents who spank. As far as enforcement goes, that’s handled much as it was before the law, with criminal court action reserved for cases where children are mistreated or subjected to heavy violence.

Will America Stop Spanking?

Is a spanking ban in the United States feasible? According to a November ABC News poll, 65 percent of Americans approve of spanking at home. (72 percent disapprove corporal punishment at school.) In the past decade, spanking practices have remained constant, with about half of parents saying they sometimes spank their children. That’s why techniques like those documented in Bringing Up Bébé could be important in persuading parents to retire spanking.

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