Approved by Council, June 1988
Updated September 2014
Corporal punishment is a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child's unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language. The immediate aims of such punishment are usually to halt the offense, prevent its recurrence and set an example for others. The purported long-term goal is to change the child's behavior and to make it more consistent with the adult's expectations. In corporal punishment, the adult usually hits various parts of the child's body with a hand, or with canes, paddles, yardsticks, belts, or other objects expected to cause pain and fear.
In the United States, corporal punishment is legal in 19 states (Alabama, Arizona Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming). In 2011, New Mexico became the most recent state to ban corporal punishment in public schools. Corporal Punishment has been found to occur more frequently with students who are male, poor, and ethnic minority (OCR report). The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry opposes the use of corporal punishment and supports legislation outlawing its use.
Research on corporal punishment has shown that it may be harmful. Many other methods of discipline are effective in promoting self-control, eliminating undesirable behaviors and promoting desired behaviors in children. The AACAP recommends non-violent methods of addressing inappropriate behavior in schools, such as behavior management and school-wide positive behavior supports.
Corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain. Such children may in turn resort to such behavior themselves. They may also fail to develop trusting, secure relationships with adults and fail to evolve the necessary skills to settle disputes or wield authority in less violent ways. Supervising adults who will-fully humiliate children and punish by force and pain are often causing more harm than they prevent. 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. The Academy joins 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.
See also the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement, Corporal Punishment in Schools (RE9754).