corporal punishment

“I was spanked, and I turned out alright…”

The above headline is not true. The first part is, I guess. However, science demonstrates again and again that spanking, or corporal punishment, or swatting, has lasting detrimental impact on our psyches.

I love science. Especially five decades of science.

Why do parents spank? In my own anecdotal experience, many have said they spank for immediate compliance, when a time-out or a conversation about negative behaviors will not suffice. The lead researcher on the study, Elizabeth Gershoff, stated:

 “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor said:

“[S]panking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

In short, spanking has no proven short-term effect.

What about long-term effects? What about we adults who were spanked as children?

The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.

We didn’t turn out “alright.” We only think we did, and are thus more likely to continue supporting the use of spanking.

The line that hit me hardest, and I will continue to shout from the rooftops every time someone tries to differentiate between spanking and “real abuse” came toward the end of the press release:

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.

The difference between spanking and physical abuse is slight, and only by degrees. Spanking is abuse.

I’ve written about this before, regarding the use of corporal punishment in schools. Physical punishment damages children. It damages the adults who perform it. It damages the bond between the spanker and the spankee. It violates trust, bodily autonomy. A child’s brain cannot discern the difference between a “spank” and a “strike” meant for abuse. A hit is a hit, especially when we’re teaching our children not to hit.

In a country where the Cult of Compliance is the modus operandi from schools through law enforcement, it is not surprising we still cling to outdated modes of discipline in our homes. It doesn’t work. It never worked. Buying into the Cult of Compliance fuels such beliefs as “If he’d just listened the first time…” and “The officer had no choice…” Resorting to violence with our children warps our thinking.


I originally shared the Mic article on my personal Facebook, but the press release from the University of Texas at Austin is necessary reading.

“Swatting is acceptable in certain situations”

I’ve written this blog post four times. I’ve written it angry, discouraged, royally pissed off, and totally deflated. I’m not sure what mood I am experiencing at the moment. It’s a mix of tired and something.

The other day, a friend posted an article about using restorative practices rather than zero-tolerance policies to address behavioral infractions, thus cutting off the flow to the school-to-prison pipeline. I was very interested in this article, as I have been following the writings of David Perry as he develops and shares his essays and posts on the Cult of Compliance, which he explains thusly:

Here’s some of the thinking behind the “cult” language. I could have said a culture of compliance, or a culture that doesn’t accept non-compliance, or any number of other ways of framing the problem. Cult, though, implies an unthinking adherence to an idea, principle, group, prophet or deity that you must venerate at all costs. To me, in our police culture but also our American culture more broadly, we venerate compliance.  It’s not just the police to blame, but all of us who accept the “he/she didn’t comply” rationale in any given case. (emphasis in original) (source)

I should have known not to get involved in a comment discussion; I end up frustrated and jaded and I smash my face on the keyboard. The first three comments made it clear that Jerkface McPoopyhead (not the original poster) had either not read the article or did not comprehend the article he’d read. He first asked the original poster what the alternative should be (even though the entire article was about the alternative: restorative policies. He must have only read the headline). He issued quite a missive about how sending kids to the principal doesn’t work and suspension is the only way to punish both the kids and their parents. He peppered his comments with references to his experiences in law enforcement, which made the leap from Cult of Compliance (as related to police) to the Cult of Compliance in schools an easy one to make.

I can’t break his arguments down into component parts; it was my first big reminder that just as spheres of oppression intersect, so do spheres of prejudice. Very rarely is someone just racist or just sexist. Mr. McPoopyhead said the school-to-prison pipeline doesn’t exist because rules are not actually enforced unfairly. Blacks are disproportionately represented in the discipline statistics because they disproportionately break the rules. The reason is they all come from broken families, because the black family unit is deteriorating, because black welfare mothers kick the men out so they can collect more benefits. And everyone knows that fathers (men) are the only people who can provide any kind of structure for children and teens, and, by extension, for society. See? Gender essentialism and racism all wrapped up in one little package. I can’t extract one from the other. It’s ampersandwiched bigotry, coming to you live on Facebook.

I wanted to let it go. But I couldn’t. As an ally, I cannot remain silent if I see racism in action. Moreover, he said that things were better back when we could swat kids on the backside. He held himself up as an example of a kid who knew how to behave because of corporal punishment. I put on my typing gloves.

The conversation was like playing Calvinball, except with an adult with a who is going to become a teacher some day.

I started small: “Swatting and spanking children is not an option. Please stop holding it up as the reason you turned into a well-adjusted adult.” We should not need to have that conversation, but I will continue having it, even as every person who uses such an argument loses all credibility with me.

Physical discipline damages children. It does. There is mounds of evidence to support that assertion. If we are going to be discussing the problems with school culture, or with school discipline, or with the preschool-to-prison pipeline (which is a real thing, people), I feel like we need to at least have this recognition in common. We need to at least be on the same page and agree that physical punishment does not belong in our schools.

And yet, I found myself staring his reply in the face: “Swatting is acceptable in certain situations.” On the same day I read a new report that “minority children, and disabled children, make up the largest majority of children paddled by their teachers.”

No.

Take note of the recent heavy press given to police brutality, aggression, excessive force. Call it what you will, but we have a problem. There is an underlying belief that some people will only respond to force. That some people just have it coming. That a physical response is necessary for failing to comply with verbal directives given by a school resource officer, or a police officer, or off-duty deputies. Because this is where it starts.

The more I see it, the more I cannot ignore it. So when someone asserts that black children and teens are more inherently deviant, and that swatting is acceptable, I will engage. Because minority children and children with disabilities are disproportionately represented on the receiving end of corporal punishment and zero-tolerance policies, and we should be seeking restorative practices for all our students. Because the #CultofCompliance depends upon early adoption, early indoctrination. The #CultofCompliance depends upon the silence of bystanders to maintain its foothold in our schools and in our police stations.

And I will not be silent.