I would never discipline my kids by hitting them, but I have no problem with spanking. Have you ever heard or maybe even used that logic? Parents, caregivers, and scientists alike have always debated whether it is right or wrong to use spanking as discipline.
If Shakespeare’s Prince Hamlet could hear the news today, he would say, “To spank, or not to spank, that is the question.” Why? Because after 50 years of research, psychologists have confirmed that spanking children produces similar effects as physical abuse.
Scientists: The Spanking Debate Is Over
In what researchers claim to be “the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spank… 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.”
Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the meta-analysis included five decades of research and over 160,000 children. Most of the parents involved agreed that there was indeed a difference between spanking and other abusive behavior.
According to a global UNICEF report from 2014, up to 80 percent of parents spank their children, which researchers have defined as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities.
On the other hand:
“Physical abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking, or otherwise harming a child. The parent or caretaker may not have intended to hurt the child, rather the injury may have resulted from over-discipline or physical punishment.”
After reading those definitions, the latter definitely sounds more extreme and serious. So, how different are the two forms of discipline really?
The Truth About Spanking and Physical Abuse
Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, says:
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”
Perhaps the biggest golden nugget Gershoff and her study’s co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor mined from their researcher was 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.”
Their findings don’t just apply to childhood either. Researchers even observed the long-term effects of spanking on adults and found that they had higher chances of exhibiting:
- Anti-social behavior
- Mental health problems
- Support for physical punishment for their own children
Chantel, the founder of Earth Based Mom and a victim of child abuse, echoes this study’s findings. She beliefs spanking actually has little (or nothing) to do with the child and everything to do with the parent or caregiver.
“Spanking reflects your lack of self -control,” Chantel says. “The very thing you are trying to teach your child to have, you are inadvertently teaching them the opposite, which is also confirmed in this research.”
So, the next time you find yourself in the crossfire of a spanking debate, remember this study. It might help enlighten others and change their perspective on child-rearing.