Children need solid discipline, consistent expectations, and solid structure, but there are many better ways to accomplish these ends than corporal punishment. A new study examining 50 years of data derived from observations of 16,000 kids finds that spanking (defined as striking a child with an open hand) and abuse are not substantively different phenomena but rather cause similar problems with child behavior and well-being. According to the study…
The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking by experts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.
The study, published in this month’s Journal of Family Psychology, looks at five decades of research involving over 160,000 children. The researchers say it is the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spanking, and more specific to the effects of spanking alone than previous papers, which included other types of physical punishment in their analyses.
“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”
Gershoff and co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, found that spanking (defined as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities) was significantly linked with 13 of the 17 outcomes they examined, all in the direction of detrimental outcomes.
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” Grogan-Kaylor says.
Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor tested for some long-term effects among adults who were spanked as children. The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.
The researchers looked at a wide range of studies and noted that spanking was associated with negative outcomes consistently and across all types of studies, including those using the strongest methodologies such as longitudinal or experimental designs. As many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children, according to a 2014 UNICEF report. Gershoff notes that this persistence of spanking is in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of positive effects from spanking and ample evidence that it poses a risk of harm to children’s behavior and development.
Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.” READ THE ARTICLE IN FULL.
As I said at the top of this post, children do need consistent discipline, clear rules and expectations, appropriate consequences and structure to help guide their behavior but there are about a million better ways to accomplish these tasks than resorting to spanking–even “just with your hand”. Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids lays out a discipline system that allows parents to have even higher standards for their kids than do parents who resort to corporal punishment all while using methods that respect your dignity and the dignity of your child.
Does this research mean you’re a horrible person, a bad Catholic, or a terrible parent if you spank? No. But it does mean that you could do a lot better. Catholic social justice teaches that those in authority have a responsibility to use the least offensive means available to effect the greatest change. Parenting is tough enough without feeling obliged to resort to means that make your work even more difficult. Let me repeat that. It isn’t just that spanking isn’t good for kids and parents, it’s that spanking makes the work of parenting harder. Better information and support can help you leave the power-struggles and heavy handed approaches to discipline behind and, instead, use methods that help you create a more peaceful, orderly family life based on love, joy and mutual respect. Don’t believe me? Give it a try. Need support? Let us help. You can have terrifically behaved kids using methods that make your life easier and your home life more enjoyable. Show the world there’s a better way by being the family that treats each other with uncommon respect, and gets there using uncommonly respectful–and infinitely more effective–approaches to parenting.