Overwhelming evidence shows that beating children harms them physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. And yet 19 US states still allow the corporal punishment, including in preschools, according to an EdWeek analysis of a huge new US database.
Schools have previously had to report on suspensions and expulsions of preschoolers. But in the 2015-2016 school year, they also had to report on corporal punishment. The practice is not reported to be widespread: Of the 1.6 million preschoolers whose data were included in the analysis, about 1,500 children were reported to have been subjected to spanking or paddling. More than 1,000 of that group were in two states: Texas and Oklahoma.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international and regional human rights treaties “require states to prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings of their lives.” According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 53 countries, including most of Europe, have banned all corporal punishment for children, including in a family’s home. Sweden was the first to ban it in 1979, followed by Finland in 1983. (The UK and the Czech Republic are the only EU countries not to have a ban.) In 2016 and 2017 alone, Mongolia, Slovenia, Paraguay, and Lithuania forbade the practice.
Perhaps more importantly, growing evidence shows how much young children need supportive, caring environments in which they feel they belong for their brains to grow, as well as for their social, emotional and cognitive development. Beating children who likely come from broken homes will not help them; it will only hurt them more.
Getting rid of corporal punishment remains a hard sell in some places. Debra Andersen, the executive director of Smart Start Oklahoma, told EdWeek, “It’s very culturally instilled for a lot of people.” While the practice is banned in childcare centers in Oklahoma, pre-kindergarten programs fall under the school system.
One argument frequently made against banning corporal punishment is that it would criminalize parents and get the police and courts overly involved in family life. But that critique doesn’t hold up, Susanna Rustin writes in the Guardian. In the three years after New Zealand banned physical punishment, the government found no spike in “unnecessary state intervention” in homes.
Meanwhile, Sweden, which banned corporal punishment long ago, has famously low rates of child abuse and homicide. “Changing laws alters behavior much more dramatically than any amount of nudging or peer pressure,” Rustin writes.