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Association’s anti-spanking stance prompts pediatrician’s objec

HIGH POINT, N.C. (BP)–A Christian doctor plans to challenge new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that discourage parents from using spanking to discipline children.
S. DuBose Ravenel, of High Point, N.C., said the guidelines reflect a philosophical opposition to spanking that lacks any basis in scientific evidence. The AAP says spanking is used by 90 percent of American parents.
Ravenel, a member of the association’s section on developmental and behavioral pediatrics, said the AAP’s anti-spanking provision will intimidate parents and put a chill on corporal punishment.
“It’s part of a worldwide effort,” said Ravenel, a member of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church. “People are trying to get spanking outlawed like it was in Sweden and will stop at nothing.”
“Guidance for Effective Discipline” was published in early April in the monthly journal, “Pediatrics.” The article said effective discipline must include:
— A learning environment characterized by positive, supportive parent-child relationships.
— Use of positive reinforcement to teach and strengthen desired behavior.
— Applying punishment to decrease or eliminate undesired behavior.
The article said certain conditions in the parent-child relationship are important, such as maintaining a positive emotional tone and giving children attention to increase positive behavior.
Consistency in times for daily activities and responses to certain behaviors are important, according to the guidelines. They advocate flexibility, particularly with older children and adolescents, to reduce non-compliance.
“Disagreement and emotional discord occur in all families,” the AAP authors wrote. “But in families with positive parent-child relationships and clear expectations and goals for behavior, these episodes are less frequent and less disruptive.”
Concerning spanking, the AAP article said if done repeatedly it may result in aggressive behavior and altercations between parent and child.
Spanking has been associated with increased aggression among preschoolers and school children, the article added.
Spanking also makes discipline more difficult when the child is older and physical punishment is no longer an option, it said.
Finally, the AAP questioned spanking’s usefulness as a long-term strategy, saying it is no more effective than other approaches.
While Ravenel agrees with most of the five-page summary, he called the spanking section unscientific and contradicted by the evidence.
He faulted the committee for listing adverse effects on children under 18 months of age as its first point against spanking. Supporters agree spanking children under age 2 is not appropriate, he said.
“Even those of us in the media spotlight defending spanking don’t recommend that,” said the member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council. “That’s an abusive practice. The statement is irrelevant, but it’s made as if it’s a normal part of spanking.”
In addition, Ravenel said many of the AAP’s supporting points are inconclusive, fail to define terms like “repeated spanking” or reflect opinions instead of facts.
“Saying spanking models aggressive behavior is the opinion of the person who wrote it,” he said. “Scientific research does not show that. It’s true spanking is associated with increased aggression, but it’s not causally related.” It may be true children who are spanked grow up to be criminals, but that fails to identify other reasons for criminal behavior, he explained.
It is not valid to link the two, just as you can’t automatically blame permissive parenting for a child from that kind of home who becomes a criminal, he said.
Ravenel also disputed the legitimacy of the AAP’s position, noting a conference on disciplinary spanking in 1996 did not reach a consensus justifying a blanket condemnation of it.
And, he argued, the guidelines do not reflect the majority opinion of child doctors, saying 59 percent of pediatricians support spanking in certain situations.
However, Mark Wolraich, chairman of the AAP Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, said that figure comes from a 1992 study of Ohio pediatricians and family practitioners.
A national, random sampling of pediatricians last summer — the results haven’t been published — show the majority support the academy’s position, said Wolraich, professor of pediatrics and director of the division of child development at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
Multiple AAP committees and the board of directors reviewed the guidelines before publication, Wolraich said.
They do not automatically rule out spanking, he said, but simply point out there are better alternatives.
“If you’ll read our statement, it’s not a blanket condemnation of spanking,” Wolraich said. “It outlines why we think, based on the information that was presented at the (1996) conference, that pediatricians should encourage parents to find other alternatives.
“I hope the bulk of the statement doesn’t get lost in the issue of spanking. I think there is probably agreement by those who support spanking that discipline is broader than just punishment, and that it is critical for parents to have a positive relationship with their children.”
While Wolraich said the committee hopes to see the prevalence of spanking lowered, it does not advocate any changes in state law to outlaw its use.
But Ravenel plans to press his case, saying he and at least two other participants in the 1996 conference are writing letters contesting the guidelines.
Seeing it as part of a move to ban spanking, he said that could lead to the same disastrous results experienced in Sweden, where spanking was outlawed in 1979.
U.S. News and World Report recently reported that child abuse in that nation had quadrupled and teen violence increased six times after the law’s passage.
“If you ban spanking by law (here), you would find the same thing,” Ravenel said. “Parents would be deprived of an effective technique early in childhood. Then you end up with a child who has no respect and you have more abuse, not less.”

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  • Ken Walker