The Corporal Punishment Conference

Corporal Punishment Conference

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cosponsored a symposium of experts on child development to examine the research data on the use of corporal punishment with children.[i]  The group’s goal was to develop “consensus statements regarding the scientific evidence on the long and short term effects of corporal punishment on children.”  The panel clarified the following definitions:

Corporal Punishment:  “bodily punishment of any kind.”

Spanking:  “physically non-injurious, intended to modify behavior, and administered with the open hand to the extremities or buttocks.”

Using these definitions, the committee could not reach any strong conclusions favoring or opposing a parent’s use of disciplinary spanking.  An exhaustive systematic review of the then current medical and psychological literature on nonabusive corporal punishment was presented by Larzelere. [ii] In this review, he found stronger evidence of beneficial than detrimental effects of disciplinary spanking by parents with preschool children, ages 2 to 6 years.  Baumrind began her response to that review, “As Dr. Larzelere’s review of quality studies documents, a blanket injunction against disciplinary spanking by parents is not scientifically supportable.”  In particular, not one of the 35 best studies in the review identified a single alternative discipline response that had superior child outcomes to that of nonabusive physical punishment of children under the age of 13 years.

Among the findings of the conference:

  • The strongest studies do not support a definitive link between spanking and later violent behavior.
  • The strongest studies do not indicate spanking to be detrimental to a child.
  • Spanking should not be the primary or only response used by a parent.
  • Limited data suggest short-term effectiveness of spanking in a controlled setting.
  • More research is needed on the use of spanking with children.

The co-chairpersons, Stanford Friedman, MD and Kenneth Schonberg, MD, concluded “whether spanking is harmful or beneficial to a child must be viewed within the total context of a child’s life and environment…. Given a relatively ‘healthy’ family life in a supportive environment, spanking in and of itself is not detrimental to a child or predictive of later problems… [T]here is a lack of research related to the use of corporal punishment.”[iii]

In spite of the findings of this conference, but with the support of papers rejected in the conference literature review, two years later the AAP later issued a policy statement condemning the use of any physical punishment in childrearing.[iv]

[i]  Friedman, Stanford B & Schonberg, S. Kenneth (eds.). “The Short and Long Term Consequences of Corporal Punishment.” supplement to Pediatrics, 1996; 98 (4):803-860.

[ii]  Larzelere, Robert E. “A Review of the Outcomes of Parental Use of Nonabusive or Customary Physical Punishment.”  in Friedman, Stanford B., MD & Schonberg, S. Kenneth, MD (eds). “The Short and Long Term Consequences of Corporal Punishment.” supplement to Pediatrics, 1996; 98 (4):824-828.

[iii]   Friedman, Stanford B & Schonberg, S. Kenneth (eds). Personal Statement in “The Short and Long Term Consequences of Corporal Punishment.” supplement to Pediatrics, 1996; 98 (4):857-858.

[iv]  American Academy of Pediatrics. Guidance for effective discipline. Pediatrics. 1998.101;4:723-728.

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