American Family Radio talk show host Bryan Fischer brought up the topic of spanking on his show, Focal Point, this week. It's a national hot topic at the moment, in the wake of the suspensionof NFL player Adrian Peterson, who's facing charges of child abuse after allegedly spanking his 4-year-old with a tree branch.
Fischer says listeners had a lot to say on the issue.
"Some of them talked about being spanked with a switch that they would have to go out and cut themselves," he says. "They would have to go out and find the switch, the branch off the tree, and cut it down and bring it in for their mom or grandmother to use. So a lot of them could identify with having been spanked as children.
"A number were parents, who said, 'Look, I'm exercising discipline with my kids because I love them. I know there is a productive place for this, but I'm careful not to go too far,'" he added.
Fischer, who is director of issue analysis for the Tupelo-based American Family Association, believes spanking, when used responsibly, can be an effective disciplinary tool. Many Americans agree; some surveys show around 70 percent believe spanking is acceptable.
"I think the long-term effects of appropriate discipline, that is, where you don't break the skin, you don't bruise, you don't injure the child, where it's appropriate, measured and controlled, done for the right reasons, done as an expression of love - I think, yeah, it has lasting effects - and they're good," he says. "It produces character, it produces responsiblity, it turns children into responsible adults."
But others argue spanking is both ineffective and potentially harmful. Cynthia Chauvin is director of CASA of Hancock County, which trains volunteers who serve as court-appointed advocates for children who have been abused or neglected.
"The other thing that I think is important to note is that aggression is often formed in those moments when someone loses their cool when they're being spanked," she says. "We see that with our kids in their early childhood years who end up going into the school system and are more aggressive than other children."
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which says it strongly opposes physical punishment, says spanking has been linked to a range of mental health problems and can make children more aggressive later. A 2009 study found a link between corporal punishment in 3-year-olds and more aggressive behavior later among those children, while a 2010 study found that harsh corporal punishment may have a negative effect on brain development.