Physical punishment, culture, and rights: current issues for professionals

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2008 Feb;29(1):55-66. doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e318135448a.


Once considered a legitimate parenting tool, physical punishment is increasingly being redefined as a developmental risk factor by health professionals. Three forces that have contributed to this significant social change are the evolution of pediatric psychology, increasing understanding of the dynamics of parental violence, and growing recognition of children as rights bearers. However, despite the consistency of research findings demonstrating the risks of physical punishment, some practitioners still struggle with the question of whether physical punishment is an appropriate practice among some cultural or ethnic groups. This issue is explored through an analysis of studies examining cultural differences and similarities in physical punishment's effects, as well as legal decisions made throughout the world. Despite practitioners' awareness of the prevalence and impact of parental violence, some still struggle with deciding where to "draw the line" in advising parents about spanking. This issue is addressed through an examination of the role that physical punishment plays in child maltreatment. Finally, the human rights perspective on physical punishment is offered as a new lens through which practitioners may view physical punishment to clarify the fuzzy issues of cultural relativity and the punishment-abuse dichotomy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attitude / ethnology*
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / ethnology
  • Culture*
  • Domestic Violence
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Parenting
  • Punishment*