Family, Rights

Is It Legal to Spank Your Kids?

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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.

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32 Comments

  1. 1

    I am a parent to 2 grown children and an adopted parent to Three more. The oldest adopted child is now 13 and has big issues with stealing. Two weeks ago while my husband was in the hospital our 13 yr old broke into our locked bedroom and stole some of our things. I am 4’11 he is 5’1″ I spanked him. 4 open handed swats to his butt. He had gotten in my face/personal space and was yelling at me that he didn’t do it even though I caught him with the stuff. I told him once to back away and he kept coming so I turned him around and swatted him. Now I have been reported. I am so tired of this. I took this child for the long haul. I did not beat him or use anything other than my hand…now what else can go wrong? I am about to be investigated. I am a good person, I do not deserve this.

    • 2

      Hi Carrie, It sounds like you have several legal questions that would be best answered by a lawyer in our free Q&A forum. Lawyers do not provide advice through our blog, but they do in the forum — usually within 12 hours. All questions are open to answers for seven days. You can post your questions here when you’re ready: http://www.avvo.com/ask-a-lawyer. You can also browse previously asked questions and lawyer answers, or read legal guides that may answer your questions, here: http://www.avvo.com/free-legal-advice. I hope this is helpful! Kindly, Danielle

  2. 3

    Every parent I know wishes they could avoid spanking their children. The problem is that sometimes a good parent can’t avoid doing it. I hope the law always recognizes that and I think the idea of making spanking illegal is just wrong. All kids are different. After my divorce, my middle son gave me a terrible time. He got into trouble at school. He stole. He lied. You name it. I tried to approach it with counseling and by getting my ex, his father, more involved in his life. One day, he and some friends vandalized a building near our home. They broke windows and you name it. I had simply had enough. That day he got a whipping from mom and I don’t think he’ll ever forget it. Its politically incorrect to say it, but I made him drop his pants and spanked in his underwear with a wooden spoon. That spanking did more to straighten him out than all kinds of “positive discipline” that I had tried. A parent that does what I did risks being reported to CPS and possibly having their child removed, but I was willing to do just about anything at that point. The bottom line for me is that sometimes spanking has its place in child raising.

  3. 4

    Sorry my phone was acting dumb I ment to say I do not believe in beating a child I do however belive some children need a good spanking once in awhile for stupid things like I mentioned …I would give my life for my children yes, but I will also tanthat hide if it means saveing them from their self or saving someone elses child ..kids this days think they can do or say what ever because most of us parents are so darn afraid of looseing them to cps that we completely forgot to protect them from socity and themselves smh that WAS me till my son snaped one day and started pounding on myself and his brother ..not only am I his mother I am a woman = huge Red flag for me what happens when he becomes a teenager or man and his girlfriend upsets him …No I won’t have it and that was the first time I had ever spanked him actually spanked him you know hard enough for him to feel it and get his attention and I exsplained why before I did and then also exsplianed to him that no son of mine will be a woman beater , and yes he was mad at me but he also knows that if anyone of his girl friends / girlfriends comes crying to me that he put his hands on her the way he had me I will tan that hyde again or as my m used to ask me when I was bluntly cocky do you want me to paint your back porch red witch just ment did I want a spanking if not I had better stop or not do whatever it was I was doing

  4. 5

    Okay 1. Yes you should try other forms of discipline but what happens when they don’t work? Do you have any idea how much it hurts to have you 10 yearold child look you the eyes and say I wil kill you you f…ing b..ch ..the same chid who snuggled you ,fell asleep in your arms while you would sing to them, same child who changed your every out look on life ? Or how about what do you do when they purposely put their life in danger by climbing a tree and jumping from a. Branch to a.restaurant roof? What then huh if that equals a time out then what is their life really worth?considering the way these kids run the streets, parents ,ridiculous …to each thwir own I don’t believe in beating but I do believe in a firm spanking I would by far rater spank my child then barrie them or have them bc the reason for another parent burying theirs because I sis not atop it or atemptwmt to stop him from going down the wrong path in life

  5. 6

    Speaking with a school counselor, I informed her that I spanked my children occasionally… To this she made a smirk and began the enlightened diatribe of alternative choices. A few days later, my oldest son was in the office, and overheard a heated confrontation between a student and a teacher . The student was cursing the teacher and office personnel and calling them dirty names and was very loud and reckless, the principle came out and told the student that if he didn’t calm down the police would take him away in handcuffs… So this is the new enlightened tactic… Let the cops do your dirty work…. People who adopt this type of discipline need a spanking themselves!

  6. 7

    The street was very dangerous… I spoke to the children… They did not listen. I found them playing in the street again and I spanked them swift and firmly… The next week, their friend was hit by a truck… But only received broken bones and some internal injuries which healed over a period of months… If a child needs a spanking to keep his bones in tact, spank him… Or bring him to me , I’ll do it. What we really need in this world is some mothers to perform drive by spankings for parents that have no sense of responsibility….thanks

  7. 8

    I was in Target a few year ago, right before school started and a family came into the store; the boy started mouthing off to his mom; sayin’ he didn’t want to get any clothes from Target, etc. She was really nice to him, at first. Well all throughout the store you could hear this kid, (he looked about 12); arguing with his mom about stuff, etc. Finally she went toward the doors and was about to leave the store, when he actually had the NERVE; to holler “Your a horrible, crappy mom”. I guess she had all she could so she grabbed him up by she shirt and told him to shut up. This couple who was standing their began to berate the mom; The sales people at the store finally went over towards them and the customers began telling the one couple to be quiet, (we had basically all heard this kids whining, etc.). She didn’t spank her child, but she sure should have and I think we would’ve all applauded. Some people would say she should’ve left the store immediately, she probably was hoping the kid would stop. Frankly I would have taken my kid to the bathroom. Yes, the ladies room and laid it on him. Taking everything away doesn’t work on my son, tried it; All summer; finally he gets the spanking. (Punishment was for repeatly mouthing off to adults and lying. School starts- First report card all A’s, second report card all A’s. etc.. now he is respectful to adults, no lying etc. I’m not sayin’ that he’s an angel now, but I know those 2 swats gave him some attention. By the way, I was spanked about 3x as a kid; but my Mom always continually yelled in my face. I wish I had received a spanking instead.

  8. 9
    Jessica Finkley

    And if he went to the socket 30 times smh what?????

  9. 10
    Jessica Finkley

    Kimberely just wait until your child gets a little older, and how do you have a well behaved child if he sticks his tongue out at his mother?????

  10. 11

    I’m sorry this may be off topic but my ex ( kids dad) spanks our kids while they go to his house for the weekend. Well they came home today and my daughter told me that daddy and his new girl friend spanks her and her little brother ( also my son) with a wooden paddle. She has a bruise on her butt now. And i asked him if its true and he admitted to them both doing it, and of cource i got mad and told him that he cant do that and he said he cant its not illegal. My question is what should I do?? Please if anyone has any info on what I should do please let me know
    I 4 kids and I don’t spank any of them they get time outs. But is he right is it legal for him to spank them like that?? Our daughter is 6 and our son is 2. I don’t want my kids hit by anyone, yes I know there is a difference between spanking and abuse but I don’t care what what a kids does they shouldn’t be spanked with a wooden paddle. I’m sorry I’m rambling but I’m just so confused and mad what makes me even more mad is not only is their dad doing but he is letting his girl friend do it to. Someone please give me some advice. I tried to look it up but I can’t find anything helps.

    • 12

      Hi Tasha, I’m so sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds like you have several legal questions that would be best answered by an attorney in our free Q&A forum. Attorneys do not provide advice through our blog, but they do in the forum, usually within the first day or two of posting. All questions are open to answers for seven days. You can post your questions here when you’re ready: http://www.avvo.com/ask-a-lawyer. Avvo also offers a wealth of legal information in our Knowledge Base here: http://www.avvo.com/free-legal-advice. You may also want to find an attorney using Avvo’s Legal Directory. You can search by practice area as well as location to find one close to you. Avvo profiles contain an attorney’s experience as well as client and peer reviews. Many offer free consultations, so be sure to ask if you decide to contact them on your own or through Avvo. Here’s the link to get started on your search: http://www.avvo.com/find-a-lawyer I hope this information is helpful! Kindly, Danielle

  11. 13

    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.

  12. 14

    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

  13. 15

    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.

  14. 16

    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.

  15. 17

    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

  16. 18

    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.

  17. 19

    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!

  18. 20

    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.

  19. 21

    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.

  20. 22

    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.

  21. 23

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

  22. 24

    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!

    • 25

      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.

    • 26

      mind your f ing business

  23. 27

    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.

    • 28

       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!

      • 29

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

    • 30

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

      • 31

        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?

    • 32

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

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