Missouri School District Paddling Bucks Trend Embrace

September 7, 2022 — Child development experts have expressed dismay that a Missouri school district is reinstating paddling as punishment despite overwhelming scientific evidence against it.

“So much research has been done over the years that demonstrates that corporal punishment is harmful to children,” says Allison Jackson, MD, member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Cassville Public Schools’ announcement that it would restore corporal punishment after a 21-year hiatus is tantamount to “going backwards,” she says.

According to reports, Cassville Superintendent Merlyn Johnson said a recent survey of the school system showed students, parents and teachers were concerned about discipline issues. Some parents have offered corporal punishment as a solution, but only if other methods have failed and parents or carers give their consent.

Evidence showing harm

When asked about the district’s decision, groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and American Academy of Family Physicians highlighted their long-standing opposition to corporal punishment in schools.

These organizations pointed to decades of research showing that hitting children does not improve behavior or motivate learning, and can backfire by leading to greater aggression, academic problems and physical injury.

A 2016 report by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded that physical force in American schools is disproportionately used on black, male, or disabled students. Corporal punishment is considered an international violation of human rights, the report notes.

George Holden, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says he is “discouraged, but not surprised” by the revival of corporal punishment in the district. Although corporal punishment in public schools is on the decline, 19 states have not banned it.

According to the 2016 report, 14% of school districts used corporal punishment and 163,333 public school students were subjected to this practice during the 2011-2012 school year. Corporal punishment is concentrated in the Southeast. Half of all students in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama attend a school that uses the practice.

The report notes that only two states, New Jersey and Iowa, have banned corporal punishment in private schools.

Jackson, Holden and other experts say attitudes are slowly changing, and people who grew up with parents who hit them can become defensive or dismiss criticism. Some educators and parents may believe corporal punishment works because it temporarily interrupts bad behavior, experts say.

Moving away from physical strength

Yet more and more schools are moving away from teachers’ use of corporal punishment and instead harnessing restorative practices, collaborative problem-solving and positive behavioral interventions and supports, says Holden, president of the American association at nonprofit Alliance to End the Hitting of Children.

FredericMedway, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of South Carolina, said many districts now say corporal punishment is used as a last resort, something that hasn’t been the case for decades.

But he says he doubts schools will stop using corporal punishment until families stop the practice.

Doctors can play an important role in intervening with new parents, says Jackson, who directs the Center for Child and Adolescent Protection at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. She suggests that doctors ask new caregivers how they plan to deal with difficult behaviors and offer advice.

Medway says healthy child visits should include assessments of behavior that could prompt disciplinary action, such as impulsiveness and refusal to abide by rules, which can be addressed with early mental health treatment. and parenting advice.

A publication of the Academy of Pediatrics, Effective Discipline for Raising Healthy Children, describes alternatives to corporal punishment and advises physicians to offer parents behavior management strategies and referrals to community resources such as parent groups, classes, and mental health services. The academy also offers advice for parents on its website.

Alison Culyba MD, PhD, chair of the Violence Prevention Committee for the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, says medical professionals can “use their voice” to inform local, state and national policy discussions about the effects of corporal punishment on children’s health.

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