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Corporal Punishment: Legal and Common

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The indictment of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for allegedly using a wooden "switch" to punish his 4-year-old son has put a spotlight on corporal punishment. Though on the downswing in the United States, physical discipline is still common in homes and schools and spanking, in particular, is widely supported. Here's a snapshot of the situation:

AT HOME: Corporal punishment is technically legal in all 50 states. Statutes vary from state to state but generally say that the physical punishment must be reasonable or not excessive, although Delaware passed a law in 2012 that said it couldn't cause any injury or pain. Proposed legislative bans in several states have failed to pass, and courts have generally upheld parents' right to spank. This summer, New York's second highest court ruled that it was "reasonable use of force" for a father to use his open hand to hit an 8-year-old boy who had cursed.

AT SCHOOL: Nineteen states allow corporal punishment in public and private schools. Federal data collected for 2009, the most recent available, estimates 184,527 students without disabilities were physically disciplined in schools across the country that year. The numbers reveal boys are more likely than girls to receive corporal punishment, and it was disproportionately applied to blacks.

PUBLIC OPINION: A Harris poll last year found that 81 percent of Americans say parents spanking their children is sometimes appropriate, while 19 percent say it is never appropriate. Two-thirds of parents said they had spanked their children while a third said they had not.

RESEARCH: Dozens of studies have examined the effect of corporal punishment or child abuse on behavior and mental health, with mixed results. A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics found harsh physical punishment such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting in non-abusive households increased the odds a child would develop mood, anxiety or personality disorders and alcohol or drug addiction.

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IN-DEPTH

—Tracy Connor