Whether or not to spank children is still a hotly debated topic in the Western world. The majority of people over 30 likely grew up getting a swat now and then (I did, though only for extreme transgressions), but as parents, some of us are wondering whether to spank our kids. Why?
Well, because a lot of people are turning to science for answers, and it turns out that spanking could actually hurt – and more than in the physical sense. In many cases, being spanked made kids more rebellious, instead of encouraging them to fall in line.
Experts at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan recently concluded a study, which was published in the Journal of Family Psychology and analyzed five decades of spanking research conducted on around 160,000 children. It concludes that children who are spanked often are “more likely to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties.
Researcher Elizabeth Gershoff stated that the study defined spanking as “an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities,” and not what most people would consider potentially abusive behavior.
And the results were not great.
What it all boils down to is that the more often adults were spanked as children, the higher the likelihood that they would develop a host of negative outcomes, including mental health issues, later in life. Gershoff added:
“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.”
And the cycle goes on, because we also know that adults who were spanked are more likely to support the same kind of punishment when rearing their own children.
And it gets worse.
The authors of the study compared the negative effects of spanking with those of true physical abuse in childhood, and the two were associated with the same harmful outcomes, to a slightly lesser degree.
Yet, people still believe it helps.
A 2002 survey on corporal punishment conducted at the University of North Carolina shows that nearly 80% of preschoolers experienced spanking as a form of discipline, and nearly 50% of 8 and 9-year-olds had been hit with objects like paddles or switches.
NBC News did a poll in 2013 that found that 81% of Americans believe spanking is “sometimes appropriate.”
For the record, corporal punishment is “technically legal” in all 50 states.
“Statutes vary from state to state but generally say that the physical punishment must be reasonable or not excessive, although Delaware passed a law in 2012 that said it couldn’t cause any injury or pain. Proposed legislative bans in several states have failed to pass, and courts have generally upheld parents’ right to spank.”
Researchers like Gershoff are hoping that, as their studies become more widely read, people will think twice about spanking their kids.
“We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”
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