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Political cartoon from 1860 depicting Stephen A. Douglas receiving a traditional "over-the-knee" spanking from Columbia as Uncle Sam looks on approvingly.

Spanking is a form of corporal punishment commonly used to discipline a child or teenager. It typically consists of an adult (usually a parent) striking the child's buttocks with either an open hand or an implement, without producing physical injury.[1] When an instrument is used, spanking may be called switching, paddling, belting, caning, whipping, or birching, depending on the type of implement. When an open hand is used, some countries refer to spanking as slapping or smacking. In much of the Western world, spanking is more likely to be given to younger children than to teens. Historically, boys have tended to be more frequently spanked than girls.[2][3][4][5][6]

Occasionally, "spanking" refers to the practice of striking an adult, not as punishment, but as a social ritual or form of entertainment.

Some countries have outlawed the spanking of children in every setting, but most allow it at least when administered by a parent or guardian. Sweden was the first country to ban spanking everywhere, and did so in 1979. While some reports have drawn attention to increases in child abuse and youth-on-youth violence since then, no causal relationship has been demonstrated.[7][8][9]



In North America, the word "spanking" has often been used as a synonym for an official paddling in school,[10] and sometimes even as a euphemism for the formal corporal punishment of adults in an institution.[11]

In British English, most dictionaries define "spanking" as being given only with the open hand.[12] In American English, dictionaries define spanking as being administered with either the open hand or an implement such as a paddle.[13] Thus, the standard form of corporal punishment in US schools (licks with a paddle) is often referred to as a spanking, whereas its pre-1997 English equivalent (strokes of the cane) would never have been so described.

In Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, the word "smacking" is generally used in preference to "spanking" when describing the striking with an open hand, rather than with an implement. Whereas a spanking is invariably administered to the buttocks, "smacking" is less specific and may refer to slapping the child's hands, arms or legs as well as its buttocks.[14]

In the home

     Countries that have explicitly abolished all forms of corporal punishment of children.

Opinions remain sharply divided on whether spanking is helpful. Many researchers and child welfare organizations oppose it. They believe it does not benefit the child, and encourages problems like anxiety, alcohol abuse, or dependence and externalizing problems.[15] A variety of other problems have also been reported.[16]

Some researchers[17] criticize these studies as scientifically unsound because they demonstrate correlation rather than causation; for example, if the people most often spanked are those who misbehave most, it may be because they were most likely to misbehave in the first place and that they would be misbehaving even more were it not for spanking. In addition, some of these studies have been criticized[18] as methodologically flawed; for example, a study may fail to distinguish between recipients of "ordinary" corporal punishment and recipients of less common forms more likely to cause injury. Still other critics[7] claim that studies critical of spanking are "result-oriented," i.e., designed simply to justify certain political or philosophic views, rather than to conduct genuine research.

Many such critics believe spanking has been shown to be a helpful disciplinary tool that increases things like the child's optimism, academic achievement, and self-esteem, and actually decreases anxiety, substance abuse, and aggression.[7]

Carrying out spanking

In its most common use as a means of domestic corporal discipline, spanking usually refers to a child lying, stomach down, across the parent's lap, with the parent bringing their open hand down upon the child's buttocks. Those who argue in favour of spanking claim that bottom is the safest place to administer the punishment since injury to this part of the body is unlikely.

Spankings may be delivered over the trousers, over the undergarments, or upon the bare buttocks, in increasing order of pain. Wearing less or no clothing for the spanking may also increase the degree of embarrassment.

In schools

Corporal punishment, usually delivered with an implement (such as a paddle or cane) rather than with the open hand, used to be a common form of school discipline in many countries, but it is now banned in much of the western world, including every country in Europe, and in Japan, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. These bans have been controversial, and in many cultures opinion remains sharply divided as to the efficacy or suitability of spanking as a punishment for misbehaviour by school students.

Formal caning, notably for teenage boys, remains a common form of discipline in schools in several Asian and African countries, especially those with a British heritage such as Malaysia, Singapore, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. However, in these cultures it is referred to as "caning" and not "spanking".

In the United States, the Supreme Court in 1977 held that the paddling of school students was not per se unlawful. The constitutional ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" applied only to those convicted of crime: the common-law stipulation that school corporal punishment be "reasonable and not excessive" was a sufficient safeguard against misuse.[19] However, more than half the states have banned paddling in public schools. Paddling is still common in some schools in the South, where it is often called "spanking".[20][21]


In some cultures, the spanking of women, by the male head of the family or by the husband (sometimes called domestic discipline) has been and sometimes continues to be a common and approved custom. In most western countries, this practice has come to be regarded as unlawful and socially unacceptable wife-beating, domestic violence or abuse. Routine corporal punishment of women by their husbands, however, does still exist in some parts of the third world,[22][23][24] and still occurs in isolated cases in western countries.

Spanking in social ritual

Spanking exists in spheres of life distinct from punishment. Note the issue of legal consent, which may or may not represent a defence to charges of criminal assault.

Folkloristic spanking traditions

Spanking of people who have for the first time succeeded in climbing on the top of Mount Triglav

In Latvia there is a tradition of spanking on Palm Sunday morning. The spanker sneaks into the potential spankee's bedroom and wakes him or her up. The whipping is done with pussy willow branches or (rarely) birch. This ritual spanking is often applied to the bare buttocks. Sometimes spanking is done in early morning with aspen tree birch, while people are sleeping naked or in nightgown.[25]

On the first day of the lunar Chinese new year holidays, a week-long 'Spring Festival', the most important festival for Chinese people all over the world, thousands of Chinese visit the Taoist Dong Lung Gong temple in Tungkang to go through the century-old ritual to get rid of bad luck, men by receiving spankings and women by being whipped (as in the Ancient Roman -unisex- Lupercalia); the number of strokes to being administered (always lightly) by the temple staff is decided in either case by the god Wang Ye and by burning incense and tossing two pieces of wood, after which all go home happily, believing their luck will improve.[26]

On Easter Monday, there is a Slavic tradition of hitting girls and young ladies with woven willow switches (Czech: pomlázka; Slovak: korbáč) and dousing them with water.[27][28][29]

In Slovenia, there is a jocular tradition that anyone who succeeds in climbing to the top of Mount Triglav receives a spanking or birching.[30]

Birthday spanking

In some cultures there is a custom to spank a person for fun on his or her birthday.[31]

Adult spanking

Adult spanking differs from traditional parent-child spanking in that the act is between two consenting adults. Adults engage in the activity for several different reasons. The most common is simply playful erotic spanking amongst people engaging in other intimate activities. People who require spanking to be a part of their sexual play are considered spanking fetishists.

See also


  1. ^ Day, R.; Peterson, G. W.; McCracken, C. (1998). "Predicting Spanking of Younger and Older Children by their Mothers and Fathers". Journal of Marriage and the Family 60 (1): 79–94. doi:10.2307/353443. Retrieved 2008-08-06.  
  2. ^ Elder, G.H.; Bowerman, C.E. (1963). "Family Structure and Child Rearing Patterns: The Effect of Family Size and Sex Composition". American Sociological Review 28 (6): 891–905. doi:10.2307/2090309.  
  3. ^ Gelles, Richard J.; Straus, Murray A.; Smith, Christine (1995). Physical violence in American families: risk factors and adaptations to violence in 8,145 families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction. ISBN 1560008288.  
  4. ^ Jacklin, Carol Nagy; Maccoby, Eleanor E. (1978). The psychology of sex differences. California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804709742.  
  5. ^ MacDonald, A.P. (August 1971). "Internal-external locus of control: parental antecedents". Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 37 (1): 141–147. doi:10.1037/h0031281. PMID 5565616.  
  6. ^ Straus, Murray A. (1971). "Some Social Antecedents of Physical Punishment: A Linkage Theory Interpretation". Journal of Marriage and the Family 33 (4): 658–663. doi:10.2307/349438.  
  7. ^ a b c See e.g. Fuller, Jason M. "The Science and Statistics Behind Spanking Suggest that Laws Allowing Corporal Punishment are in the Best Interests of the Child", Akron Law Review, Vol. 42, No. 243, 2009.
  8. ^ Brown, Andrew (25 September 2006). "A worm's eye view: Left and right are equally loth to let inconvenient facts damage their cherished myths about Sweden". The Guardian (London).  
  9. ^ "Reported assaults on children up to six years of age increased by 23 percent to slightly more than 1,900 offences in 2008. The number of reported assault offences against children aged between seven and fourteen (almost 8,550 offences) increased by six percent by comparison with the figure for the previous year. The number of reported assault offences against both children and adults has increased since 1975 and today lies at a level that is nearly four times that of the 1975 figure." Reported Offences", Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention, July 2009.
  10. ^ E.g. "Corporal punishment — spanking or paddling the student — may be used as a discipline management technique ... The instrument to be used in administering corporal punishment shall be approved by the principal or designee".Texas Association of School Boards - Standard Code of Conduct wording.
  11. ^ See e.g. Evidence of Colonel G. Headly Basher, Deputy Minister for Reform Institutions, Ontario, Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on Capital and Corporal Punishment and Lotteries, Canada, 1953-55.
  12. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: "Spank: To slap or smack (a person, esp. a child) with the open hand." Collins English Dictionary: "Spank: To slap or smack with the open hand, esp. on the buttocks."
  13. ^ American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: "Spank: To slap on the buttocks with a flat object or with the open hand, as for punishment."
  14. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: "Smack: To strike (a person, part of the body, etc.) with the open hand or with something having a flat surface; to slap. Also spec. to chastise (a child) in this manner and fig."
  15. ^ MacMillan, H.L; Boyle, M.H; Wong, M.Y; Al, et (October 1999). "Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample". CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal 161 (7): 805–9. PMID 10530296. PMC 1230651.  
  16. ^ Gershoff, Elizabeth T. "Report on Physical Punishment in the United States", Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline.
  17. ^ Larzelere, Robert E. Ph.D., Letter to the Canadian Senate, June 2005.
  18. ^ Baumrind, Diana.; Cowan, P.; Larzelere, Robert. (2002). "Ordinary Physical Punishment: Is It Harmful?", Psychological Bulletin, American Psychological Association, Vol. 128, No. 4, 580–58. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.4.580
  19. ^ Ingraham v. Wright, 97, S.Ct. 1401 (1977).
  20. ^ "Corporal Punishment and Paddling Statistics by State and Race", Center for Effective Discipline.
  21. ^ "External links to present-day school handbooks", World Corporal Punishment Research.
  22. ^ Beichman, Arnold, "Where wife-beating is up for debate", Washington Times, 2 October 2005.
  23. ^ Haj-yahia, Muhammad M. (August 2003). "Beliefs About Wife Beating Among Arab Men from Israel: The Influence of Their Patriarchal Ideology". Journal of Family Violence 18 (4): 193–206. doi:10.1023/A:1024012229984.  
  24. ^ 498A_Crusader (2007-12-12). "Most Indian women okay with wife beating". MyNation Foundation. Retrieved 2008-10-30.  
  25. ^ "Academic Library of University of Latvia". Retrieved 2008-11-12.  
  26. ^ "Ring in the new year with a spanking for luck". Independent Online (South Africa). 26 January 2004.  
  27. ^ Ember, Melvin; Ember, Carol R. (2004). Encyclopedia of sex and gender: men and women in the world's cultures. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. pp. 382. ISBN 030647770X.  
  28. ^ Montley, Patricia (2005). In Nature's Honor: Myths And Rituals Celebrating The Earth. Boston, MA: Skinner House Books. pp. 56. ISBN 155896486X.  
  29. ^ Knab, Sophie Hodorowicz (1993). Polish customs, traditions, and folklore. New York: Hippocrene. ISBN 0781800684.  
  30. ^ Walters, Joanna, "Reach for the top and a birching", The Guardian, London, 12 November 2000.
  31. ^ "Parents live with antiques", Milwaukee Sentinel,

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