Sept. 7, 2022 – Child development experts have expressed dismay that a Missouri school district is reintroducing paddling as a punishment, despite overwhelming scientific evidence.
“So much research has been done over the years that shows physical punishment harms children,” said Allison Jackson, MD, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.
Cassville Public Schools’ announcement that it will reintroduce corporal punishment after 21 years is a “step backwards,” she says.
According to news reports, Cassville Superintendent Merlyn Johnson said a recent survey of the school system showed that students, parents and teachers are concerned about discipline issues. Some parents have suggested corporal punishment as a solution, but only when other methods have failed and parent or caregiver consent.
Evidence showing damage
When asked about the district’s decision, groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the American Academy of Family Physicians emphasized their boredom -constant resistance to corporal punishment in schools.
These organizations pointed to decades of research showing that hitting children does not improve behavior or motivate learning and can backfire by leading to greater aggression, academic difficulties and physical injuries.
A 2016 report by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded that physical violence in US schools is disproportionately used on black, male, or disabled students. Corporal punishment is considered an international violation of human rights, the report said.
George Holden, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says he is “disheartened but not surprised” by the revival of corporal punishment in the district. Although corporal punishment in public schools is on the decline, 19 states have not banned it.
According to the 2016 report, 14% of school districts used corporal punishment and 163,333 public school students were exposed to the practice in the 2011-12 school year. Corporal punishment focuses on the Southeast. Half of all students in Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama attend a school that uses this method.
The report found that only two states, New Jersey and Iowa, have banned corporal punishment in private schools.
Jackson, Holden, and other experts say mindsets are slow to change, and people who grew up with parents who hit them may dismiss or dismiss criticism. Some educators and parents may believe physical punishment works because it temporarily disrupts bad behavior, the experts say.
Departure from physical power
Still, more and more schools are assuming teachers are using corporal punishment and are instead using restorative practices, collaborative problem-solving, and positive behavior interventions and supports, says Holden, who is president of the nonprofit U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children.
FrederickMedway, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of South Carolina, said many counties now say corporal punishment is used as a last resort, which has not been the case for decades.
But he doubts schools will stop using corporal punishment until families do.
Doctors can play an important role in intervening with new parents, says Jackson, who directs the Child and Adolescent Protection Center at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. She suggests doctors ask new caregivers how they plan to deal with challenging behaviors and offer advice.
Medway says visits to healthy children should include assessments of behaviors that could provoke disciplinary action, such as
A publication of the Academy of Pediatrics, Effective discipline to raise healthy children, describes alternatives to corporal punishment and advises physicians to offer parents behavior management strategies and referrals to community resources such as parent groups, classes, and mental health services. The Academy also offers tips for parents on its website.
Alison Culyba MD, PhD, chair of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine’s Violence Prevention Committee, says health professionals can “use their voice” to inform local, state and national policy discussions about the health effects of corporal punishment on children.