Would the return of corporal punishment in schools improve behaviour and discipline, leading to a reduction in crime?

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27 January
16:29
10 February
11:40

This is an important question, and one that often gets raised when a national or local government contemplates banning, or reinstating, school corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is currently legal in schools in 69 countries and banned in 128 countries

My colleagues and I addressed this question directly in the United States, where some states ban school corporal punishment and others allow it. We looked to see if there were changes in youth crime over a 20-year period during which several state-level bans on school corporal punishment were passed. We found that states with school corporal punishment did not have lower rates of youth (or adult) crime than states with bans. We also found that when bans on school corporal punishment were passed, states did not see an uptick in youth crime.

There has been surprisingly little research on the potential effects school corporal punishment may have on children’s behaviour and academic achievement. One important exception is a recent analysis of data from UNICEF’s Young Lives study of children in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam. That study found that the more children were subject to school corporal punishment at age 8, the worse their mental health and school performance at age 12. In none of the countries did school corporal punishment predict improvements in school performance or mental health.

"The more children are smacked, spanked, or hit by their parents in the name of discipline, the worse their behaviour becomes"

These findings are consistent with research on corporal punishment by parents, including smacking, which has found that it is linked with decreases in children’s long-term compliance and increases in their behaviour problems over time. The more children are smacked, spanked, or hit by their parents in the name of discipline, the worse their behavior becomes over time and the higher the risk that they will be physically injured by their parents. Research in countries around the world has confirmed that hitting children is not linked with better behaviour and is only linked with increased risk for physical and mental harm.

"Explaining and teaching help children improve their behaviour, not hitting them"

Corporal punishment does not instill discipline in children; it does not teach them what behaviours are appropriate and how we want them to behave. It instead teaches them to avoid getting caught if they want to avoid being hit. Explaining and teaching help children improve their behaviour, not hitting them.

Schools around the world have discovered that using positive discipline methods, (which explain what behaviour is expected, encourage internalised reasons for behaving well, and provide positive reinforcement of desired behaviours) is more effective at reducing behaviour problems and improving academic achievement than punitive approaches to school discipline. It can take administrators and teachers, as well as parents, some time to adjust to such a new orientation to school discipline, but there is considerable evidence that doing so is beneficial in the long run.

So, no, returning corporal punishment to schools will not improve children’s behaviour and instead would make their behaviour worse, not better.

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