A school in Georgia is bringing back paddling as a punishment for misbehaving students and it has given new life to an ongoing debate.
While harming a child is a crime, spanking is legal in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., as long as the corporal punishment is done in a “reasonable manner” according to Missouri law.
Executive director for the Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center Melissa Birdsell said it’s this undefined gray area that is problematic.
“It’s such a fine line between discipline and anger,” Birdsell said. “When you’re spanking your child when you’re angry it’s so easy for it to get out of control and to become something more than what you intended it to be. It’s not something we would recommend.”
An analysis of 75 studies on spanking published by the American Psychological Association in 2016 shows spanking is ineffective at best and damaging at worst.
“They can lose trust and they can become scared, not only of the parent but maybe any adult,” Birdsell said.
Despite decades of studies coming to the same conclusion, spanking remains a common practice in some American households. This could be due to some parents mistaking the immediate reaction of their child as correcting the behavior in the long run, counselor Tausha Taylor said.
“If you’re spanking an individual and they stop the behavior you wanted them to stop right in that moment, it reinforces to you, ‘Hey, spanking works,’” Taylor said. “It might not build a relationship down the road but it got the desired outcome and people like immediate responses.”
Other contributing factors include people’s focus on discipline, according to Taylor. Instead of interpreting discipline as punishment, Taylor likes to define it as teaching.
“What I like to focus on is using it as an educational moment to teach the child the behaviors that you desire from them and if you do this over time you can actually see a closer relationship being formed and more positive behaviors from the individual,” Taylor said.
Both Taylor and Birdsell recommend for parents to step away from a situation when they feel angry and wanting to spank their child as well as talking to them and paying attention to the root of the problem.
“What you see here is, parents get distracted by their phone or tablet and the child immediately sees that and they want their attention and that’s an annoyance to parents,” Birdsell said. “Is there a disciplinary action that needs to take place just because their child wants their attention? No.”
Taylor also said it’s important to take a look at contributing factors of a child’s behavior.
“What is going on in the environment that’s triggering the behaviors you are seeing at that time? Is there something in the environment that you can change, is there something about yourself that you can change? Because you might be the thing that’s triggering the behavior that you are seeing,” Taylor said.
While Taylor stresses there isn’t a golden rule that works for every family, she encourages parents to read books and take parenting classes if they feel like their child’s behavior is problematic.
Birdsell said parents are also welcome to call the Children’s Advocacy Center if they have any questions about parenting or behavioral issues.