New Major Study of 160,000 Children Finds Spanking Causes Similar Harm As Abuse.


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.

Trust Me (?)




Trust is in the news a lot these days as candidates from both parties present their ideas and ask us to trust them to lead nation.  But the campaign raises an interesting question.  How do we ever know whom we can really trust?  It can be especially difficult to know whether to trust someone on a personal level–particularly  if they have hurt you in the past.

Some people respond to this dilemma by trusting people too much and too quickly,  backing off only after they’ve been wounded.   Others do the opposite, withholding trust until someone has jumped through enough hoops to prove themselves.    Obviously, neither approach works well.  Christians, in particular, have to balance our moral right to defend our dignity and integrity with the moral obligation to reach out to others and create loving communion with the people in our lives. Having a healthy perspective on trust allows us to find the response that serves both important needs.

The most important thing to remember is that trust is not an all or nothing proposition.  It is possible to trust a person in some areas or with some responsibilities but not in other areas.  But how do you know what those areas are and to what degree you can trust a person in any context?  It comes down to four factors.


4 Trust Factors:  Ability, Integrity, Benevolence.

Psychologists believe that trustworthy people exhibit four qualities; ability, integrity, benevolence and consistency.

Ability–refers to a person’s capacity for doing what they say they are going to do.  To what degree does a person only promise what they are actually capable of doing?  Does that person actually follow through on promises or do they say all the right things in the moment only to fail to show up later?   The answer to questions like these demonstrates how much a person has the ability to be trusted.  By contrast, untrustworthy people can be charming and well-meaning, but they are unreliable  in that they overpromise or lack follow-though.


Integrity–means that a person has a sufficiently well-developed value system that they tend not to give offense in the first place, tend to self-correct when they do others, or are at least willing to generously hear and respond proactively when they are told they have been offensive.  A person with impaired integrity doesn’t tend to care that he has given offense and becomes automatically defensive if told he has been hurtful in some way.  Such a person  gives apologies grudgingly and rarely displays the humility necessary to learn from missteps.  People who behave this way can’t be trusted because they don’t have a well-developed moral sense.  They tend to do what they think can get away with or manage to explain away and only repent under pressure–and then, only half-heartedly.  People with integrity, on the other hand, see the offenses they commit against others as a mark against their own character, and because they are committed to living out a particular set of values, they work hard to faithful to those principles no matter what.


Benevolence–refers to the degree to which the person you want to trust has shown you that he or she is willing to work for your good, especially when it has required some sacrifice or inconvenience on his or her part.   A person who is willing to put themselves out for your sake is more worth of your trust than someone who isn’t.  People who lack benevolence could be friendly and charming on the outside, but when you need something, their selfish tendencies come out along with their catalog of excuses.


Consistency–even the most irresponsible person manages to follow through occasionally.  Even the abusive person manages to say, “sorry” or do something nice once in a while.  It is our ability to count on a person to demonstrate ability, integrity and benevolence consistently that makes them truly trustworthy.  Inconsistently demonstrating the qualities of a trustworthy person is the same as not demonstrating them at all.



Evaluating a person’s ability, integrity,  benevolence and consistency vs. their unreliability, defensiveness, selfishness and inconsistency enables you to have a clearer sense of how much you can trust someone, in what contexts, and to what degree.  It can also give you a guide for dealing with those you have a hard time trusting by helping you highlight why and what might be done to resolve those obstacles to trust.


To learn more about whom to trust and how to heal broken trust, check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!  Making Peace with Difficult People (Crossroads).


Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of many books and the host of More2Life Radio.  To learn more about Catholic counseling and other resources, visit