By John E. B. Myers, The Costco Connection, May 2007, Vol. 22, No. 5
An increasing body of research indicates that corporal punishment is not benign and that it has harmful long-range consequences for some children. "Normal" corporal punishment during childhood is a risk factor for negative outcomes in adulthood, including substance abuse, depression, suicidal thoughts and poverty. ("Normal," or, as the law would call it, "reasonable" corporal punishment would be spanking on the bottom with an open hand. Slapping the face, hitting with a closed fist or using an implement such as a belt is "unreasonable.")
While most parents who spank do not inflict serious physical injury, the sad fact is that every year in the United States thousands of childen - usually babies and toddlers are seriously injured or killed by adults whose corporal punishment got out of hand because the adult was furious and "just lost it." The danger that corporal punishment will go too far and hurt or kill a child is highest when parents are furious. The result is tragedy. Approximately 1,200 children - almost all of them babies and very young toddlers - die every year from abuse and neglect. Many of these deaths result from parents inflicting corporal punishment.
If corporal punishment were banned, the idea that "hitting is OK" would be replaced with the idea that "hitting is never OK." When children raised without corporal punishment become parents, and when they become furious - as they will - they are not likely to injure or kill their child.
In 1998, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that the negative consequences of corporal punishment outweigh any benefits, and that parents should not spank. A growing number of countries, including Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and Norway, have outlawed corporal punishment. These countries report no adverse consequences to the move, and the consensus is that the ban is a good idea.
In the United States, banning corporal punishment would save thousands of children ever year from injury or death.
John E. B. Myers is a professor of law at the University of Pacific, Sacramento. He has authored several books and articles on the subject of child abuse, which have been cited by more than 150 courts, including the US. Supreme Court.