Some questions mention the use of physical violence against children. Some answers recommend the use of physical violence.

Physical violence is an abuse of the rights of the child. See article 19 here: http://www.unicef.org/crc/files/Protection_list.pdf

There are only two nations that have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the US and Somalia.

Multiple UN organisations are opposed to physical violence against children. UNICEF and UNESCO are two.


Physical violence is illegal in 22 European countries, and has limited legality in the other EU nations. EG it is not legal to use anything but a hand in England.

Canada allows limited violence against children - never the head, parents only, child must be over 2 and under 12.

Physical violence is not even legal across all of the US. Delaware sees corporal punishment as child abuse.

Given all this is it acceptable for people to recommend something which is harmful, overwhelmingly rejected by child protection organisations and child development experts, illegal or of unclear legality in many areas, and perhaps most importantly ineffective?

  • Technically it's still common assault in England, there's nothing that says both parties need to be adults to my knowledge... Jan 21, 2014 at 18:06

4 Answers 4


This has come up before, to an extent.

General consensus so far has been that questions that ask about corporal punishment shouldn't be automatically closed. Questions should be closed because they are off-topic (or unclear, or not an appropriate format for the platform, etc.), and not because people disagree with the premise.

I think that should apply to answers, as well.

I don't believe answers that advocate corporal punishment should be deleted or censored. However, I frequently make a point of downvoting them, and explaining why. It really depends on how they are worded, and the overall quality of it. An answer saying "spanking was good enough for my parents to use on me, and I turned out okay, therefore it's a great method" without any further references or explanation is usually an example of what I feel is low quality, and I'll likely downvote as a result.

On the other hand, an answer that advocates spanking, but includes some clarification as to how it might be applied, how not to use it, and includes some practical advice such as "never use corporal punishment while angry" is not what I consider low quality, even if I personally disagree with the premise. I likely won't upvote answers like that, but I probably won't downvote them, either.

In point of fact, the overwhelming rejection of corporal punishment isn't strictly based on the idea that it doesn't work. Indeed, the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1998 Policy Statement on Corporal Punishment, which is widely cited as one of the primary justifications for not using corporal punishment, acknowledges that it can be effective, in some limited circumstances. However, it qualifies that by pointing out that correct use is difficult to the point of being impractical, and is not any more effective than other means.

There are a significant portion of people out there who see our movement away from corporal punishment as the reason for a host of problems. I have yet to see one single compelling piece of evidence supporting that opinion, but people maintain it nonetheless.

I don't believe it is appropriate for us to delete or censor content simply because we believe they are wrong.

I also don't believe it is necessarily appropriate to censor or delete content because we find it personally offensive. That is entirely too subjective when it is the position they are taking that offends us, rather than the tone or phrasing.

Consider, for example, religion. Answers that advocate specific stances on religious upbringings may be offensive to people of specific religions, atheists, or both (and note that atheism faces strict legal persecution in many countries, so the argument that many countries ban corporal punishment does not distinguish it from discussions on religious answers). Should a question that asks about teaching a child to pray be closed because some people think children shouldn't pray? How about answers that say "you should make your son pray" vs. answers that say "wait until he's old enough"? Some people could be offended by either side, yet I'd argue that both are valid responses for our platform.

The merits of such responses are determined by how people vote.

If you think corporal punishment is bad (and personally, I agree!), find answers that suggest that people use it, and downvote them if you think they offer harmful advice!.

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    I'm fairly new here, so I don't have a great understanding of the community; but I'd be a bit careful even of downvoting answers too much. The community benefits from a wide variety of viewpoints, and if we scare off all of the people who believe in corporal punishment, we are losing a valuable portion of our community and a valuable point of view both on punishment and on other subjects. Upvoting better answers will cause those to rise to the top anyway, after all.
    – Joe
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:22
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    @Joe That's a fair point, and I do believe there have been one or two answers that suggest corporal punishment that I didn't downvote. It depends largely on how they are phrased, but in all honesty, most of them appear to be purely anecdotal claims that a lack of spanking is the cause for almost every conceivable behavioral problem. Answers like that I consider to be very low quality, regardless of my personal position on them. Additionally, considering the significant volume of professional advice against it, I'd expect some significant references to support any claims of its benefits.
    – user420
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:30
  • But this is not about what people feel is acceptable, but anout what is legal. Physical violence against children is illegal in some countries, and has limited legality in other countries.
    – DanBeale
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:31
  • @Beofett Agreed, if it's an otherwise bad answer, downvoting seems reasonable. I was just addressing downvoting solely based on CP.
    – Joe
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:32
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    @DanBeale There is some assumption that a reader will have an understanding of what is legal in their country and work from that premise. StackExchange is legally in the US (I think?) and as such freedom of speech protects our discussions, whether they are legal or not; I suppose if you're in a country where it's illegal to discuss CP, stay out of those discussions?
    – Joe
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:33
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    @DanBeale And it is completely legal in some countries. We're an international community.
    – user420
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:33
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    @DanBeale For example, by your own post, it is legal to spank using a hand in England. How do we determine which sets of laws should dictate what is and is not allowable for discussion here? It's not really practical.
    – user420
    Jan 17, 2014 at 19:36
  • @beofett it might be legal. It might not. But that's the point - this is something that is of dubious legality in most of the world, that is mentioned in internationally ratified human rights charters, that has widespread agreement amongst child protection and child development professionals. It seems weird that we would tolerate advice that is harmful. Other stack exchanges have rules - eg saying "just pirate it" is not allowed on Arqade even though the legally pirating is much less serious.
    – DanBeale
    Jan 18, 2014 at 20:17
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    @DanBeale Pirating software is covered by international laws. CP is not. And it isn't that it might be legal... corporal punishment, of differing types, is legal in many places. Again, I'll got with my religious analogy: atheism, or even specific theisms, also "might be legal/might not be legal", depending on where you are in the world. Yet answers that advocate for this viewpoint should not be censored. Note also that "harmful" is not something that is universally agreed for CP, even among professionals; as the AAP policy I cited mentions, in some (specific/rare) cases it can work.
    – user420
    Jan 18, 2014 at 20:28

Yes, it's acceptable. I don't have to like it, but free speech is free speech.
Excellent question, and a difficult one! This is a prime example of how our site is much more subjective than other SE sites.

I don't think we can decide that people are not allowed to post certain content, even if we disagree with that content. Censorship is a slippery slope that will lead to many ugly arguments, and it will have a negative impact on our site. We had a similar discussion about the topic of firearms. It's not legal everywhere, but it has fierce proponents and opponents. It's hard to remain cool and objective, but we have to try.

I feel that we must allow people to say that corporal punishment worked for them. We can ask them to explain why they think it's necessary, and we can comment that the practice may not be legal for the asker.

When voting, I personally take the "hover description" of the arrows as literally as possible: "This answer is useful. / This answer is not useful." I try to judge based on internal merit and not based on personal (dis)agreement. If I disagree, I abstain from voting. This is where it gets subjective. Is an answer that encourages corporal punishment "useful"? I generally don't think so, but I could imagine that a user would write something very thoughtful about it that would make that specific contribution useful.


I agree with everything Beofett says in his answer up until the statement, "Down-vote them if you think they offer harmful advice." In general, I have understood the policy on voting to be that it is up to the user how to apply down-votes etc, but that generally reserving down-votes for questions and answers that are poorly formed or unsubstantiated is what is encouraged. I have encountered quite a few topics and answers I disagree with here - some I even feel, based on my knowledge and experience, that offer up ideas and solutions that may be harmful in the long term. The problem with simply down-voting, is that while it does not encourage new awareness.

I down-vote when an user is specifically negative about "the other camp" on a particular issue or if the answer is of a really poor quality.

I do absolutely make a note of commenting briefly everytime I see a user recommend physical discipline. The comment is usually about physical discipline generally not being seen as the best form anymore. Now with this question and the links within it and Beofett's answer, it will be easy to even link articles into these comments and still keep them brief (and not "soap-boxy." I feel this "informs" those that want to be informed about the practice and discourages it. I tend to up-vote competing answers that I do agree with and so do many others meaning those answers advocating physical violence tend to stay at the bottom of the pile even without a bunch of down-votes.

Having said all that, there is nothing wrong with down-voting if that is what someone wants to do and I have done so myself when the tone or answer seems particularly harsh or one-solution-only in general.


There are times when force is necessary and appropriate. Those times must be very carefully weighed before the application of force. This is true of children and adults.

While I was literally beat as a child and am wholly opposed to violence, I did use force in the form of spanking with my child; however, I reserved that for when she posed a danger to herself or others (e.g. wildly breaking things or hitting others), when she was not responding to attempts at reasoning her or commands to take a timeout, and I never applied it in anger or excess -- she was told how many swats she would get, they were done slowly, counted, and they were applied only to shock her from her out of control behavior. (These, I might add, were very rare occurrences.)

When she was 4 years old, she asked me why I spanked her. I told her I would be excited to never spank her again, but if she was out of control and a danger to herself or others, it was my job as her father to use force to stop her if reason didn't work. I never imagined that that would be the end of it, but it actually was the end of it!

The demeanor of each person varies and can vary substantially. That force was used cannot be considered without why the individual felt the use of force was the only available and appropriate means to resolve the immediate issue.

All that said, I very carefully chose the word "force" as opposed to "physical violence" -- they are most definitely not the same. But such distinctions are not always known to others, so a poor question or poor reasoning can find a great home on SE for answers which help those who may be unbalanced to find a better balance... how great would it be, then, to have helped a person be a better parent and played a small part in helping the child(ren)? Even if it's a casual reader of the question & answers or the asker themself.

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    Downvoting. Not so much because I disagree with the premise of spanking as because I don't feel like this adds anything to the discussion. Most of the information here is a story about you and your daughter, followed by a distinction between "force" and "physical violence", which I'm afraid I failed to follow. Finally, this meta-question isn't about "poor questions", but rather "controversial answers", so the final paragraph seems like it's about a different topic.
    – deworde
    Jan 21, 2014 at 14:49
  • Thanks for your explanation. I completely disagree. It seems as if the desire here was not for conversation, but validation of certain opinions. I downvote deworde and DanBeale in spirit. Jan 21, 2014 at 15:07
  • By the way, that "story" is anecdotal evidence backing the assertion in the final paragraph. Jan 21, 2014 at 15:13
  • I appreciate your clarification of your stance. Equivocation of discipline and violence, though, isn't sound. Clearly that is not understood by the people in this thread which is wholly fine -- we all choose our values. My child is well behaved, feels loved (and expresses that), and is a productive part of society. Those who raise their children without setting proper boundaries abound. I don't mind being the sole voice for a balanced approach which prefers reason, but takes necessary actions when appropriate. Jan 21, 2014 at 19:32
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    You're right in the distinction between force and spanking. Physically restraining your kid to keep her from running into traffic is not the same as spanking. But you seem to endorse spanking as well, and that's what gets you the downvotes. Note that here in meta, a downvote does NOT mean "bad post" but merely "I disagree." Jan 24, 2014 at 8:43
  • @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun Thank you for the well-reasoned response. I guess to some degree I am the product of my upbringing (though on a significantly more peaceful level). As you suggest here, there were alternatives available to me which I did not see... that, in fact, is the whole point of my post -- which of us is beyond learning from others? Is that not the point of the Parenting SE? Jan 24, 2014 at 15:07
  • @JeremyMiller please ask questions in the Parenting Chat room. Comments aren't meant for discussion. Jan 24, 2014 at 17:14
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    "But such distinctions are not always known to others, so a poor question or poor reasoning can find a great home on SE for answers which help those who may be unbalanced to find a better balance" This is a fantastic argument. There are people who believe spanking is a valid option, and will use it regardless of any opposing viewpoints. For those cases, answers that acknowledge the practice, yet provide suggestions for guidelines to minimize any potential harm, are absolutely beneficial, regardless of one's personal views on the topic. If people are going to use it, they should use it safely.
    – user420
    Jan 31, 2014 at 16:00

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