To spank or not to spank

Should you spank your child? It's a decision every parent has to make. In the United States, more than 90 percent of parents say they have spanked their children, at least on occasion.

But most experts say there are better choices when it comes to discipline. Just recently doctors in Canada began pushing for a national law to ban spanking. At the same time, in Delaware, a bill was signed into law that would punish parents for spanking their own children. It appears that an anti-spanking movement is growing. So what does that mean for you and your family?

Spanking used to be a normal part of American family life. It was not even unusual to see it on popular television shows. But in the past 20 years, more studies have highlighted the negative effects corporal punishment can have on kids, though most people still support it.

"My father spanked me until I was 10," Natalie Kreps recalled. "He did it as a form of discipline like a timeout to show us how bad our punishment actually was. I think it's good for a child because without it, I don't think timeout really gets the point across.

Dennis Voss doesn't think spanking is very effective. "It's not a good idea and there's other means of punishment which worked very well for us," he said. "One of those is timeout and that worked very well."

Bob minks said, "I think sparing the rod is not a good deal. That's kind of the way I was raised. I don't believe a child should be beaten, but I think a swat on the rear-end to tell them to sit there for five minutes and then a timeout is a very good thing."

"I'm kind of old school with it," Charles Jermany said. "The Bible says spare the rod, spoil the child. So you can talk to your kids and find out what the problems are. Or if there's a problem that warrants a spanking, yeah, that's what the backside is for back there."

For many, the decision to spank is rooted in religion. Dr. Matthew Pate, a criminologist, says that is why it is still legal in many southern states to administer corporal punishment in school. Pate, who grew up in White Hall, just published a book called "Corporal Punishment around the World." For two years, he researched the history, the use and the effects of corporal punishments in different cultures. So what is his advice for parents?

"I'm not a parent," Dr. Pate began. "So this might come off as 'arm-chair quarterbacking,' but strictly - strictly as someone who studied the history of corporal punishment across the globe, I would be very hesitant."

Arkansas is one of those states that allow corporal punishment in schools. Guidelines differ from district to district but parents are all given the opportunity to opt out of allowing their children to be spanked at school. Cabot Superintendent, Dr. Tony Thurman oversees more than 10,000 students in 15 different schools. So far this year, administrators in his district have used corporal punishment 15 times. He says it is never done without parental consideration.

"It's a last resort," Thurman said. "It's not a first option and it's after we've looked at other means of changing the behavior and typically it's with a parent saying, 'Look, we've tried everything else.' That discussion is happening between the administrator, the teacher, and the parent.

For most kids, Thurman says just the threat of being paddled at school is a deterrent. But does the same threat work at home? Dr. Nicholas Long, director of pediatric psychology at Arkansas Children's Hospital cautions parents against spanking. He says parents who hit their children open their families up to several risks.

"What happens over time is that you have to spank harder and more frequently to have the same effect." Long said. "Most parents don't set out to abuse their kids, they just take the corporal punishment they're using and it escalates and they lose their temper. And it gets out of hand."

When used correctly, Long says options like timeout, taking away privileges and severe grounding are more effective than spanking and less damaging.

No matter how you decide to discipline your children, Dr. Long suggests making it a point to praise them when they're doing well. But when they're not, he says you should try to discipline them when you're calm - not when you're frustrated or angry.