Is It Legal to Spank Your Kids? - NakedLaw by Avvo.com

Is It Legal to Spank Your Kids?

20 Comments
March 9, 2011 at 9:44 pm  •  Posted in Family, Rights by  •  20 Comments


Conventional wisdom says “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Through most of history corporal punishment has been the accepted method of parental discipline, and often in schools and other institutions as well. The National Association of School Nurses defines it as “the intentional infliction of physical pain as a method of changing behavior. It may include methods such as hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, pinching, shaking, use of various objects (paddles, belts, sticks, or others), or painful body postures.” That ought to deter a kid tempted to break the rules!

Many of us were likely on the receiving end of a couple of hard swats to the rear as children. But times have changed, right? We’re more enlightened, and turn to kinder, gentler methods of correction? Perhaps not as much as you might think — at least not in the United States.

The History of Spanking

Some proponents use the quote at the head of this article as Biblical evidence for corporal punishment. In fact there are several Bible verses that seem to support physical punishment, including, from Proverbs 23:13, “Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die.” In the Roman Empire, citizens were publicly punished with 40 lashes with a whip to the back or shoulders, or a switch of willow branches to the buttocks. During medieval times, the Church encouraged flagellation as a method of self-discipline; as educational institutions were often attached to religious bodies, the practice became common as a means of student punishment. With wide societal acceptance, corporal punishment was the norm at home for child discipline, and also as punishment for criminal and religious infractions for both children and adults.

Spanking in School

Even as the use of whipping and beating gradually lessened and in some places ceased altogether as a means of public punishment, spanking was still a generally accepted method of disciplining children. While corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed in Canada, Japan, most of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, it is still legal in many countries in Asia, Africa, and South America — as well as in 21 states in the U.S. One recent study found as many as 200,000 American students were subjected to some form of corporal punishment during the 2007-2008 school year. Spanking is still common in 13 states, with Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas at the top of the list. However, most states that allow corporal punishment in schools leave it up to the individual school district to set policy, so some of those districts have banned spanking altogether.

Spanking at Home: The International Perspective

During the 1990s and in early 2000 some countries began enacting laws banning any form of corporal punishment, even by parents, and it is currently illegal in countries as diverse as Austria, Costa Rica, Germany, Israel, and Greece. Sweden was the first country to outlaw it, in 1979, and the most recent bans were enacted in 2010 in Poland, Tunisia, and Kenya. In most of these countries, police and courts use discretion when enforcing the bans, which proponents see as a human rights issue, because the intention is to educate rather than criminalize parents. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child issued a call to its member nations to ban all corporal punishment of children and institute education programs on positive discipline. Those working to ban physical discipline cite studies which show spanking may impair cognitive development and encourage more aggressive behavior in the long run, results in lower self-esteem,  antisocial behavior, and increased incidence of juvenile delinquency.

Spanking in the States

Spanking your kids is perfectly legal in the United States, as well as in Canada and Great Britain. Individual states, including California, Wisconsin, and Massachusetts, have had spanking bans proposed but none passed the state legislatures. Technicalities vary by state, but in general corporal punishment that is considered necessary and reasonable is allowed: for instance, the California Welfare and Institutions Code, in defining child abuse, states that “serious physical harm does not include reasonable and age-appropriate spanking to the buttocks where there is no evidence of serious physical injury.”

Opponents of anti-spanking laws point to flaws in scientific studies and have found research that contradicts previous findings on the long-term effects of spanking. Some studies show adults who were spanked as children are more well-adjusted than their peers who were not subject to corporal punishment. Others say laws against spanking infringe upon parental rights and cultural or religious practices.  And recent studies show that despite widespread condemnation by medical and psychological professionals, spanking is still fairly common in the U.S.; a 2007 study reported that 90 percent of parents had spanked their children at least once, and 61 percent of mothers of 3 to 5-year olds had spanked their child in the previous week. And in the 2010 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, nearly one in four parents said they were “very likely” to spank their children.

The Bottom Line

You are within your parental rights to spank your child, but many scientific studies and child development experts suggest  there may be harmful repercussions. There are plenty of other disciplinary options, so you may want to consider carefully before you decide to speak softly and carry a big stick.

Jen Talley

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Jen Tally is a freelance writer, editor and librarian.

20 Comments

  1. crystal / August 7, 2014 at 9:34 am / Reply

    Kimberly, I am educated as well and have 5 children. I brought them all into this crazy messed up world we live on. If I choose to spank my children because they have been misbehaving that is my decision. There are MANY ways to raise, disciple and reward a child. No specific way has ever been proven to be the perfect way. Physical punishment has been used since the dawn of man and only recently has it become taboo and look at our society. Children and young adults think they deserve to get everything handed to them. My children do not feel that way nor will they ever. If you make a mistake or are disrespectful there is a punishment. If taking everything but the mattress out of my 11 year olds room doesn’t work when she decides she wants to be disrespectful most of the time I’m going to spank her. Its basic conditioning and frankly parenting is all about conditioning your child to be a respectful productive member of society. If you disagree and don’t do that with your own child that is your own business, that’s the beauty of our society. We can choose how to raise our children and how to live our lives. We are all making mistakes as parents on a daily basis. The goal here is to make sure the number of mistakes are less then the number of good decisions.

  2. brenda / August 5, 2014 at 4:51 pm / Reply

    To Alice, good for you I probably would have done the same thing. I have t admit I have softly spanked my kids as they were growing up, but I agree you should try other things first but that is why we have so many children who die at the hands of their caregivers because nobody wants to get involved. And to the psychologist, you just sound like an idiot. And yes Leah Griffin. I HAVE Children ages 2-34 years old a d they turned out fine. I think more people should stick up for our kids. It I am sure you won’t be one of them

  3. Mike / July 29, 2014 at 9:55 pm / Reply

    BIG difference between spanking and abusing your child. As a child I dealt with abuse before my father was removed from my life. The abuse did nothing for me it only created resent fear and hate. However after I was spanked occasioally by my mother and grandparents and this did not hurt terribly I was over it in a minute but it got my attention so when they talked I actually listened rather than running around mocking what they were saying and sitting there giggling in timeout. I have 3 kids. 1,3 and 5 years. And after age 3 I believe it is perfectly harmless to give a pop on the butt to get their attention to listen and take you seriously. When it crosses that line then it becomes a problem. Criticize it all you want but I’ve noticed kids who are spanked PROPERLY are much more respectful as opposed to the kid who’s running around the doctors office waiting room destroying everything and hitting everyone and laughing at his parents pleas to behave.

  4. Garrett Shields / July 1, 2014 at 5:04 pm / Reply

    Recent studies show that if kids are not spanked through their childhood they are smarter and are better able to comprehend situations easier than kids that are spanked. I absolutely don’t care how my kids act because I won’t spank them and no i don’t have kids and have never raised them. So just to put that out their I’m a pacifist and is against all violent and physical actions against any certain person or animal to me violence is undignified and unintelligent and here’s just a little bit of violence for all you redundant people who think should be put into word. Go live on the streets homeless for a few days on the bad side of town in any city and you’ll get your undignified violence and i’ll be surprised if a everyone who is for violence can read this.

  5. Leah Griffin / December 20, 2013 at 7:38 am / Reply

    This is for the “educated” RN. Wow. I’m also educated. My degrees are in psychology and biology. I’m also raising FIVE children. How many are you raising? I feel sorry for ignorant people like yourself who think ALL parenting can be solved by talking, taking away privileges, and rewarding for good behavior. That is garbage. Sometimes children rebel for no purpose at all other than to rebel. Sometimes spanking sends the proper message to the child, but it must be done with warnings first and only in serious offenses. You have no clue what you’re talking about and I feel sorry for you. I’ve met a few adults who never received a spanking in their life. They are completely self absorbed. Good luck raising a decent human being

  6. Ace81 / November 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm / Reply

    There you have it, she has a toddler. She hasn’t dealt with the “I know better than you” attitude of school aged children or the “I’m more grown than you think” pre-teen/teenager syndrome. Lol, Mrs. Family Therapist, you are clueless. Every child is different, kids in the same household have different disciplinary needs and different personalities, it’s not lazy parenting, or parents who have a lack of education. Your self-righteous behavior will come back to bite you in the a$$, since you have this parenting thing down to a science maybe you should have a few more. Let’s see how well you fair when your husband can’t tolerate you anymore, and judging by your post, I’d say by the time your toddler is a spoiled and bratty 8 year old your husband will be running for the hills.

    As an RN you are a mandatory reporter. Do you realize that you report to an agency where children in their care are 8 to 10 times more likely to be abused? Seriously, get off your high horse, because no matter what you’v e been brainwashed to believe, I promise you I can find evidence to disprove it. Like those studies that say how harmful physical discipline is, you know there are studies that show that kids who were spanked are better adjusted? At the end of the day, it’s a parenting choice that nobody should be infringing on unless it crosses the line into abuse at which point law enforcement and the DA should engage.

  7. AlaskanFerret / November 9, 2013 at 3:05 pm / Reply

    Alice, if I saw what you saw, I would have done at least the same thing. I would have yelled for him to stop and we would have had it out right there. What a crazy police officer. Domestic violence situations are always the most dangerous for the officers. I’m thinking they were more scared for you than about you standing up for the child.
    At least that child saw one adult that was willing to stand up for his human rights!

  8. Teehee / November 1, 2013 at 8:49 am / Reply

    I spank my kids. I was spanked too when I was a kid. And @ Alice – you need to mind your fkin business. The way man spanks his child is not your job to comment. Getting few sawts on a butt with a belt is appropriate in extreme cases when the child was misbehaving so bad he had it coming. Not all kids are the same. Some are born quiet and rarely get in trouble. Others can be real daredevils who want to see how far they can go.

  9. Jenna / October 21, 2013 at 10:01 am / Reply

    The first time I spanked my highly-intelligent (IQ of 120), breastfed, cloth-diapered, co-sleeping, adored son was when he was about 18 months old. I cried more than he did. He kept running over and poking at the light socket in the laundry room (a room I wasn’t allowed to baby-proof, as we lived in a condo) and I kept removing him. After removing him, telling him “no, that’s danger”, trying to distract him, etc., about 30 times, he ran over to it, smiled at me, and stuck his tongue in the socket. I gave him one spank. He cried for about a minute, then was playing happily by the time we got upstairs. I regretted it then, but I don’t now.

    He’s nearly 11 years old, has been spanked less than five times in his entire life, and is one of the most caring, empathetic, funny, delightful, intelligent people I know. He’s heard the stories of his spankings, and laughs at them.

    Whipping kids, paddling them, screaming in their faces while you hit them – none of that is okay. I’m talking about one or two spanks on the bum to a child who KNOWS they are disobeying and when it’s a serious issue. Parents do everything for their children, and so yes, they should have the right to spank them once in a while, to make mistakes and even to lose their temper and yell once in a while. We’re humans raising humans.

  10. Ace81 / September 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm / Reply

    Kimberly Walker, you’re speaking about a toddler, try a rough pre-teen/teen and then respond on this thread. You have a long ways to go. Especially in the internet age where you can’t really control much of anything your child hears, says, does. Good Luck with all that self righteousness in 10/15 years.

  11. daisy / December 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm / Reply

    Is it legal or okay to spank a 15 year old?

  12. Alice / August 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm / Reply

    i’m upset right now because i just witnessed a man hit his child five times hard with a belt in the grocery store (Washington DC). no one said anything even though everyone in the area kind of froze in place and watched it. the man was yelling and cussing at his kid too. when i was leaving the store the police were talking to the man in the entry way. i went over and said i had witnessed what happened and would be willing to give a statement. the man got angry towards me and said it was none of my business. the cop told me to stand aside and he would talk to me in a minute. when he came over with another cop to talk to me, he chastised me for coming up to him while he was talking to the man, and for saying anything in front of the man. i said what the man did was wrong. the other cop said it’s legal to discipline your kid. i pointed out that if that man is doing that in public, what is he doing in his home? i said who was going to stick up for the child. the cop said the man hadn’t done anything wrong. he pointed out that i was creating a scene to tell the man my opinion to his face, that it’s between adults and i shouldn’t get involved. i think that is what upset me the most. so it’s okay for a man to hit his child aggressively with a belt (in public, no less) but it’s not okay for me to tell him i don’t think it was right? what is wrong with our society! maybe it’s legal to hit your kid with a belt, but it’s also legal for me to tell you i don’t think you should do it, especially if you’re doing it in public!

    • Alexandra S / August 11, 2013 at 7:08 pm / Reply

      Did you see, or hear what the child did wrong? Maybe the kid had been bad all day, and was just looking for trouble. I say that because I was one of those kids. I’d antagonize my parents all day, then pout in the store hoping an onlooker would get mad at my parents. It was a sure fire way to get what I wanted. And sadly I never appreciated the adults who came to my defense. I saw them, only as enemies of my family.

    • Jerome Truitt / August 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm / Reply

      mind your f ing business

  13. Bob / November 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm / Reply

    If you ever have to result to physically harming a child because he/she has not done as you wished then there’s a bigger problem with YOU than with the kid.

    • Brandyrh24 / June 7, 2012 at 11:54 am / Reply

       really?? I had spankings growing up! Thank gosh my son rarely needs them. He has had his share though. Once a year once every 6 months. These parents who swear by not using this form of punishment just have kids who think that they are adults and that they run things.. are you serious??? I don’t think so. Of course you will all say how wonderful your children are and that they aren’t entitled brats blah blah blah! I know this because I have seen it with my own eyes. My son is very well behaved. My step kids never get spankings until they do something wrong when they are here at their dads!! BRATS BRATS!! If you get on to these kids in any way shape or form then you are a mean person!!! You people are raising a generation of unemployed wimps! Just because psychologist say it effects childrens cognitive development. Whatever!! Darwin thought rape was a normal part of society. So keep listening to those psychologist! Mean while I’m raising a self reliant child with reality of what the real world is like! Its all about survival! I just hope your over sheltered brats can hack it in the real world!

      • SHORTY / October 7, 2012 at 4:45 pm / Reply

        i agree but you have some kids it dont phase at all and that is why socoiety has them running amuck in the streets

    • Leeleeh73 / June 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm / Reply

      You are either a person with no children, or a person whom is more interested in being your childs friend than their parent

      • Kimberly Walker / April 30, 2013 at 7:30 pm / Reply

        I actually am a responsible, EDUCATED parent. So Leeleeh, and Yulieana I have to disagree. I am also an RN, and a Marriage Family Therapist. Unfortunately, many people who choose to inflict physical pain on their child, are what I call LP’s (lazy parents). What a sad world, when we as humans, have the gift of voice and words, yet we need to use our hands to “teach” our children.
        My child is extremely well behaved. It’s not always easy to have patience with a toddler, but it is about being a responsible parent.
        So I am to assume, you are both uneducated, correct?

    • YulieAna / September 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm / Reply

      You sound like somebody who doesn’t have kids and/or knows nothing about parenting.

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