Corporal Punishment–a term referring to spanking, slapping, kicking, biting, scratching, or pinching another person (typically from a parent to a child).
Around 95% of all children in the US have received corporal punishment at some point in their lives. Preschoolers are the most likely age group to receive corporal punishment and to receive it on a consistent basis (in fact around age 4, about 95% of those children are hit/struck at least once during the year). As children age, parents are more likely to use other discipline measures such as using rewards or consequences such as taking items away or grounding.
Naturally there are loads of research papers out there on this perennial topic (type in any of the key phrases to scholar.google.com to find them).
Three good (and differing) articles are: Ellison and Bradshaw’s (2009) article on religious beliefs, sociopolitical ideology, and attitudes towards corporal punishment, Gershoff’s (2010) more harm than good article, and Landsford’s (2010) article on cultural differences with corporal punishment.
Perhaps because corporal punishment is so prevalent within the US, or perhaps because Americans feel they have a right to choose how to discipline their child, most people in the US argue that corporal punishment should be legal, with little to no interference from the government (until abuse starts). In fact many US parents (and people in general) feel that without spanking their child, their child will grow up to be hoodlums.
Of course what the literature shows is that those who use corporal punishment are much more likely have children who grow up to hit others (as that’s what they’ve been taught to do when someone does something they do not approve of) (see Gershoff 2002 for more information on children’s aggression stemming from being spanked).
So far, the debate in the US has centered around the parents’ rights to discipline. But do children have rights? Should children have the right to not feel physical pain from the people who are supposed to love them the most and to whom they have to entrust with their lives and development?
Corporal punishment is a slippery slope between trying to achieve quick behavioral changes in your child and abusing your child; the line can be very thin and grey.
Sweden, a country in Europe, has a law prohibiting the use of corporal punishment. Durrant–a widely known parenting researcher states that amongst children under five–in the US there were 723 children killed via child abuse, while only 3 in Sweden. A typical response would be because those who use corporal punishment are more likely to abuse their child (potentially killing them) than those who don’t use corporal punishment.
According to the Kids Count Data Center, Indiana, where I live, had 2,451 child abuse cases in 2010 alone (click on the link for other states).
Despite the US having more children than Sweden, Sweden still has (and historically has had) a lower rate of child abuse (based on the per capita basis). Perhaps creating children’s rights and emphasizing that children have a right to live without feeling physical pain (much like adults get to experience–since hitting an adult is called assault and is a felony), the US may have less child abuse cases.
If you need more information on spanking, please feel free to write a comment.