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To Spank or Not to Spank?

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WebMD Health News

May 4, 2001 -- Do children need to be spanked? And when does spanking become child abuse? Parents and caregivers of children have been pondering these questions for years. But the debate over the pros and cons of spanking is once again center stage with the recent events surrounding the Atlanta-based House of Prayer church.

Forty-one children from the east-Atlanta church have been placed in foster care by state officials due to allegations that church members systematically beat some of them on church property at the urging of their pastor. Church members say they only whipped their children as punishment for wrongdoings, and have refused a state offer to return the children in exchange for agreeing to stop the practice.

"For a while it was about all we talked about in the break room," Atlanta engineer Scott Williams tells WebMD. "Nobody admits to spanking their own kids, but I'm sure a lot of people do. And it isn't really clear that this was child abuse."

Statistics bear out Williams' assumption that the majority of parents still spank. But most of the country's best-known children's experts reside firmly in the antispanking camp.

If you have an opinion on this subject, give it voice in WebMD's Parenting: Open Discussion board.

T. Berry Brazelton, MD, has written 30 books on child rearing and has been a familiar face on television for more than a decade. He is the founder of the Child Development Unit at the Boston Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"When you spank, you are not respectful of the child," Brazelton tells WebMD. "If we want our children to have self esteem and self respect, then that surely is not the way to give it to them. A second point is that we are living in a violent society, and to pass on the message that violence is the way you settle things is not something parents should be doing today."

Brazelton says parents almost always resort to spanking when they have lost control of the situation. Many parents who do spank feel bad about it, he says.

"Everywhere I go, people ask me about it," he says. "There has definitely been a change in attitudes. I don't think most people want to spank, but I think it is hard for them to control themselves."

In 1998 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) weighed in on parental spanking with a policy statement, designed to assist pediatricians in advising parents on the issue. The statement stops short of saying that parents shouldn't spank, but it concludes spanking is no more effective than other behavior modification activities like time-out or removal of privileges.

"Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects," the statement reads. "The AAP recommends that parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior."

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