Paddling...Does it Still Happen?

This is actually a post that I wrote a few years ago and was originally posted here:

I recently heard a story on the radio about paddling children in Florida schools.  I was shocked that this type of thing still happens. The story started me on a path to stop this form of discipline.  I started doing some research.  

What I found was truly upsetting.  Only 31 states (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico) have actually abolished corporal punishment in public schools.  Sadly, it is still used in the other 19 states.  And it remains a fairly common practice in Alabama (4.5%), Arkansas (4.7%) and Mississippi (7.5%).

At first I thought that surely this was simply an old law that remains on the books.  Nope.  The US Supreme Court decided in 1977 that spanking or paddling by schools is lawful where it has not been explicitly outlawed by local authorities.

In those states where corporal punishment is allowed, state statute requires all public school boards, as part of the district's written discipline policy, to include a statement on the use of corporal punishment within the district.  If the district uses corporal punishment as a form of discipline, the local board of education must adopt a policy regarding the use and administration of corporal punishment.  This may (but doesn’t have to) address the question of whether a parent will be notified prior to the punishment or whether the parent may elect an alternative form of student discipline (usually in-school suspension).  The parents who may elect an alternative form of disciple often have to “opt-out” via a written letter to the school.

In Missouri, the statute reads:

Spanking, when administered by certificated personnel and in the presence of a witness who is an employee of the school district, or the use of reasonable force to protect persons or property, when administered by personnel of a school district in a reasonable manner in accordance with the local board of education's written policy of discipline, is not abuse within the meaning of chapter 210. The provisions of sections 210.110 to 210.165 notwithstanding, the children's division shall not have jurisdiction over or investigate any report of alleged child abuse arising out of or related to the use of reasonable force to protect persons or property when administered by personnel of a school district or any spanking administered in a reasonable manner by any certificated school personnel in the presence of a witness who is an employee of the school district pursuant to a written policy of discipline established by the board of education of the school district, as long as no allegation of sexual misconduct arises from the spanking or use of force.

Bans on this form of punishment have been proposed, but have failed in Wyoming (‘07), North Carolina (’07), Louisiana (‘09), Texas (‘11) and Missouri (multiple occasions).  

Why don’t these measures pass?

Do advocates for school corporal punishment not understand the risk? Is there a limited amount of data? Again, the answer is no! Many studies have shown that physical punishment can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behaviors, physical injury and mental health problems for children. Studies show that even a few instances of physical punishment as a child can be associated with more depressive symptoms as adults.  One large study showed that the more parents’ spanked children for antisocial behavior, the more the antisocial behavior increased.  Another study found that the more children are hit, the more likely they are to hit others including peers and siblings and, as adults, the more likely they are to hit their spouses. From a psychological standpoint, hitting your child teaches them that this is an acceptable way to handle anger.

A meta-analysis looking at 88 studies examined corporal punishment and its associations.  It found associations with increased antisocial behaviors, child and spousal abuse, child and adult aggression and a decrease in child and adult overall mental health.

Do doctors agree?

In 1988 the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry joined with the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, the American Medical Association, the National Education Association, the American Bar Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other groups calling for an end to this form of punishment.  Their statement reads: “The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools and takes issue with laws in some states legalizing such corporal punishment and protecting adults who use it from prosecution for child abuse.”  

Yet states have amended and even repealed laws that have tried to stop this. Why? What do advocates for school corporal punishment say?

  • "If we still had paddling, kids wouldn’t be shooting one another in schools."
  • "Since paddling was taken out of schools, kids have gotten more violent and aggressive toward teachers."
  • "Since paddling was taken out of schools, kids have gotten lazy and are falling behind in academics."
  • "If kids were paddled more they wouldn’t end up in jail as adults."

Let’s examine those claims. A study published in 2002 found that there were significantly more fatal school shootings in states that permit corporal punishment rather than in states that don’t.  Another study found a correlation between a decline of paddling in U.S. public schools with a decline in violence against teachers.  Graduation rates and ACT scores are higher in non-paddling states.

What about other countries?

Glad you asked.  In Sweden in 1979, the country banned all forms of corporal punishment. In follow up studies, these kids did not become more unruly, under socialized or self-destructive. Instead most measures showed an overall improvement in well-being.  

Norway, Denmark, Austria, Finland and other countries have also banned corporal punishment. And again, these kids reportedly have lower rates of interpersonal violence compared to our kids here in the US.  

Although this seems like a slam dunk, I recognize that change can be hard to achieve.  The good news is that the rates are declining.  In 1976 more than 1.5 million public school students were paddled.  More recently in 2005-2006, only 223,190 school children were subjected to this punishment.

What do I want from you?

Well, I’m asking you to help keep this trend going in the right direction. Find out how your school district operates and let your local representative know how you feel. We must fight for our kids and the next generation.  All kids deserve safe access to education!



Durrant, Joan E. (2000). “Trends in Youth Crime and Well-Being Since the Abolition of Corporal Punishment in Sweden”, Youth and Society. Youth and Society, Volume 31, 437-455.

Gershoff, Elizabeth (2002) “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review”, Psychological Bulletin 2002. Vol. 128, No. 4 539-579. American Psychological Association.

Greven, Philip. (1992). Spare the Rod: The religious roots of punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse. Vintage Books.

Miller, Alice. (1990) For your own good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and roots of violence. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, LLC.

Straus, M.A., Sugarman, D.B., & Giles-Sims (1997). “Corporal punishment by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior in children”. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 155, 761-767.

Straus, M.A., & Gelles, R.J. (Eds.). (1990) “Physical violence in American families: Risk factors and adaptions to violence in 8,145 families”. New Brunswick, NJ: Transactions.

Straus, M.A. (1994). Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families. San Francisco, CA: New Lexington Press.

Arcus, Doreen (2002). School Shooting Fatalities and School Corporal Punishment: A look at the states. Aggressive Behavior, 28, pp. 173-183.
National School Safety Center. (2007). School Associated Violent Deaths. Westlake Village, CA: Dr. Ronald D. Stephens.

Center for Effective Discipline:
Columbus, OH 05-2008 For questions about these studies, contact Nadine Block, Executive Director of the Center for Effective Discipline.