Spanking your children: Appropriate punishment or child abuse?

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - It's a discussion that has been around for ages, but has gotten a lot of attention lately with the case of Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson and the accusations that he abused his child.

The news has prompted many to speak out both in defense of corporal punishment for children, and those who are strongly opposed.

WBTV decided to take an objective look at the issue, talking to viewers, experts, and searching out research that has been done recently on the subject.

First of all there's the question of just how common corporal punishment, or spanking, really is.

A TIME magazine study from 2011 suggested that as many as 90% of parents had physically disciplined their children, while a 2007 study in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law found that 80% of children had been spanked by the time they reached the fifth grade.

Who is more likely to practice spanking as discipline?

Parents in the South and the West are more likely to spank that those in the Northeast and Midwest, according to a poll taken by the C. S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A study in Family Relations from 2007 contended that African-American parents are 9% more likely to use corporal punishment, though one African-American mother  in Salisbury said she did not agree.

"No, I feel in this time and age, time out works very well," Sandra Arrington told WBTV.  "Or take things from the child."It's never right to physically hit a child. Talk to them, tell them what they did wrong, and give them time out, I think that's best."

Studies have been done by universities, child welfare organizations, and others for years to try and find a consensus on the issue, but that has proven elusive.

In recent years one study by Pediatrics and Tulane University found that 3 year olds who are spanked more than twice a month are 50% more likely to exhibit hostile tendencies by age 5.

The Canadian Medical Association Journal concluded in 2012 that there is evidence that spanking lowers a child's IQ, and the American Academy of Pediatrics said that there is "no reason to get physical...other discipline tactics are more effective."

On the other hand, the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review of 2006 concluded that spanking "works just as well at reforming behavior as alternative disciplines."

The Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review of 2006 found that spanking "modifies attitudes and behavior, strengthens bond between parent and child."

That article was written by Chip Ingram in "Effective Parenting in a Defective World," quoted in Focus On The Family.

Focus On the Family is a faith based organization that, like many parents in the United States, hold that physical discipline is condoned and encouraged by the Bible.

"The Bible says spare not the rod or you will spoil the child," Billy Sides told WBTV.  "I spanked mine when they were little."

The topic has been trending on social media sites since the Peterson issue came to light.

A WBTV reporter's professional Facebook page was inundated with more than 100 comments after he asked folks their thoughts on the matter.

"I was spanked (and that's putting it lightly) and all it did was make me hate the one who struck me," wrote Melody.  "I have a 19, 17 and 10 year old and I can count on one hand how many times my two oldest were popped on the rear. I've never spanked my youngest...why? Because he's never needed one because I believe there are more effective ways to discipline a child without hitting."

"There is a big difference in spanking/correction and abuse," Tiena wrote. "We spanked our son when he was young and we did not have to do it but a few times and he learned real meant no. We didn't spank for everything...we were very selective on what we spanked for."

"It sure did get attention. I also had time to think about it on the way to get the switch. The belt also got my attention," Todd wrote.  "But never was there a time I didn't know what was coming when I did wrong. Never was a time that I didn't deserve it. I know my parents loved me. God Bless my Parents. I was Blessed to have them."

"I think that it wrong to apply force to try to discipline a child because now days people go to far," wrote Allison.  "Parents should stand their kids in the corner or take something away."

As far as the law is concerned, there are limits to how much spanking is allowed.

"Everybody does have the right to discipline their child however they see fit, but we don't want to harm children," said Beth Moore, Director of prevent Child Abuse Rowan. "The Department of Social Services will say marks and bruises that last longer than 24 hours are to be investigated and that's a lot of the cases we see, the physical abuse where it just goes too far."

"If they're having trouble with their kids and if they're kind of going home at night and feeling like if one more thing happens I'm going to lose it, where they feel like they are at the breaking point that this child might be in harm's way, because I think a lot of people know that they have a tendency to lose their tempers but they don't know exactly how to deal with it and how to keep it from happening," Moore added.   "So to reach out to resources in the community that can really help you and guide you to learn how to cope and get through that moment where you really feel like you're going to lose your temper I think is key, and to know that you do have the right to discipline your child, it just has to be in a safe fashion where the child is not having lasting marks and bruises."

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