In the post-Benjamin Spock era, fewer parents than ever seem to be favoring spanking as a method of discipline. One website cites a drop from 59% of American parents in 1962 to 19% in 1993 who use spanking as their main disciplinary method. Though the same source reports that in 1994, "70% of America adults agreed that it is 'sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking,'" it notes that in also in that year, the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse found that "only 49% of American adults had hit or spanked their child in the previous year."

Spanking is nonetheless still, if not the primary disciplinary method of choice, at least a backup option for many American parents—especially among the conservative Christians. But if trends across the ocean make their way to the U.S., parents who spank their children may soon face legal consequences. In a Europe in which many countries have already made spanking (termed "smacking" in England) against the law, the U.K. is now engaged in a heated controversy over whether to follow suit.

The recent lobbying (scroll to "U.K. spanking ban:") in England to institute an anti-spanking law raises two important issues.

One is that in fact the innocent do need protection. Arguing that child abuse is linked to corporal punishment, British Labour MP David Hinchliffe and others say out-dated nineteenth-century laws allowing parents to exercise "reasonable chastisement," including a degree of force, afford kids insufficient protection from outright abuse. At least one British child a week dies at the hands of parents or caregivers, says Hinchliffe, and child protection agencies seeking to reverse this violent trend are hampered rather than helped by the law.

Not everyone, ...

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To Spank or Not to Spank?
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June 2004

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