Dear Mr. Dad: My 9-year-old son has been complaining a lot recently about how much he hates school. We had a long talk about it, and he completely stunned me when he told me that the principal of his school has paddled his behind several times. I know my son can be challenging sometimes, but I thought corporal punishment in schools had been outlawed long ago. How is this even possible?
A. And just when I’d thought I’d put all those unpleasant grade-school memories to rest. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of American parents approve of spanking children – and half admit that they actually do it (that’s the average – the percentages are higher in the South and lower in the rest of the country). However, more than 70 percent of parents (65 percent in the South) – and 80 percent of parents of grade-schoolers – say it shouldn’t be happening in schools at all. But it is.
The good news is that spanking in schools has been steadily declining for decades: Today, 31 states ban it completely. The bad news is that it’s still allowed in 19 states, and more than 200,000 children are spanked or hit at school every year. (The range is pretty big, from zero in Wyoming to more than 40,000 in Texas.) That makes us the only country in the western world where it’s still OK to hit kids in school.
I’ve written about spanking quite a few times over the years, and my philosophy hasn’t changed: Our children aren’t circus animals and we shouldn’t treat them as if they were (actually, I don’t think we should be hitting animals either, but that’s a whole other column). And every time, I get a few angry emails from readers telling me that they were spanked as kids and turned out OK, or that they spanked their kids, who became doctors and lawyers.
No question, there are plenty of cases where abused children turn out just fine. And the jury’s still out about whether corporal punishment increases compliance in the short term (although the principal of my grade school would no doubt have told you that paddling my butt on a regular basis didn’t do much to control my behavior). However, in the long term, the scientific research is quite clear: Instead of decreasing bad behavior, physical punishment actually increases it. In fact, the more parents and school personnel hit, the more defiant, disobedient, aggressive and antisocial the kids become.
On the most basic level, the more children are physically punished in childhood, the more likely they are to become violent adults – especially toward members of their own family. And that makes perfect sense: If the adults in your life demonstrate that violence is the way to solve problems and that it’s OK for big or powerful people to hit little ones, you’ll want to do the same when it’s your turn to be big and powerful.
So what can you do? The first thing is to write a letter to the school administrators and the school district telling them that they do not have your permission to hit your son under any circumstances. Next, since you live in a state that still allows physical punishment, write to your state and national legislators and urge them to ban this practice.
There are also many organizations that are working to end corporal punishment. One of the oldest is Project No Spank (www.nospank.net/). And End All Corporal Punishment of Children (www.endcorporal punishment.org) has a comprehensive list of resources aimed at teachers, educators and parents.