Pediatricians urge schools, families to use alternative nonviolent forms of discipline, such as rewarding positive behavior
ITASCA, IL—Corporal punishment is ineffective as a disciplinary tool, often leads to worse behavior and causes harm to children. Yet in many U.S. states, corporal punishment in the schools remains legal, and research shows that those most likely to be hit as a form of discipline are children with disabilities and children who are Black, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The AAP calls for corporal punishment to be abolished in all states by law and replaced with alternative forms of student behavior management within an updated policy statement, “Corporal Punishment in Schools,” published in the September 2023 Pediatrics (published online August 21). Corporal punishment, defined as the infliction of pain upon a person’s body as punishment, is not an effective or ethical method for management of behavior concerns, the policy states.
“Children cannot learn when they do not feel safe,” said Mandy A. Allison, MD, MSPH, MEd, FAAP, a lead author of the statement, written by the Council on School Health. “There are many alternatives to corporal punishment at our disposal that are effective and nonviolent. While a child or teen might become fearful and obedient in the short term after being struck, we know that over the long term, corporal punishment does not improve behavior and in fact leads to a number of negative effects.”
Policy statements created by AAP are written by medical experts, reflect the latest evidence in the field, and go through several rounds of peer review before being approved by the AAP Board of Directors and published in Pediatrics.
Most studies have reviewed the outcome of corporal punishment used by a parent or caregiver in the home, according to the statement. They show a higher incidence of behavior and mental health problems, impaired cognitive development, poor educational outcomes, impaired social emotional development, an increased aggression and perpetration of violence, among other effects.
In 2022, corporal punishment remained legal in public schools in 18 states and legal in 47 private schools in all states except Iowa and New Jersey. The rates translate to almost 70 000 students being struck at least once by school personnel during the school year, according to research.
National data show that Black boys are nearly twice as likely to be struck as white boys (14% vs 7.5%), and Black girls are more than three times as likely to be struck as white girls (5.2% vs 1.7%). Students with disabilities also are overrepresented among students who are physically punished at school.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
The policy aligns with AAP recommendations within the policy statements, “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children,” and “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health.”
“It’s important to create a trusting and safe environment for children to learn, and we as adults help set that tone,” said Nathaniel Beers, MD, MPA, FAAP, coauthor of the policy statement. “Some healthy forms of discipline as alternatives to corporal punishment may include the use of positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, redirecting, and setting future expectations. For anyone with questions or concerns, the pediatrician is here to help.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.