Spanking has been the topic of debate for decades, and now, we may have the answers that can put that debate to rest.
As a kid, I was a bit of a trouble-maker. I remember one instance in grade 3 when I was sent to the principal’s office for doing or saying something offensive. (Truth be told, I can’t remember what it was exactly.) The principal rang my mother to ask for permission to use corporal punishment- aka, spank me with a wooden paddle. Permission was granted, and 3 swift *SMACK* sounds later, my sentence had been served.
I’m not sure I really learned much from that experience, but I did develop some strong emotions that didn’t serve me very well in life.
Our parents believed that spanking was a useful disciplinary tool. However, experts have found that it actually might have made our behaviors and attitudes worse.
According to a 50-year study conducted by experts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan,
“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.”
Approximately 160,000 different children were observed during the course of the study, which was published in the journal Family Psychology. Author and researcher Elizabeth Gershoff made it clear that the definition of “spanking” in this experiment is “an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities.”
Alongside Gershoff was co-author of the study, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, who discovered something interesting: An adult who was spanked during their childhood was more likely to develop various types of health problem later in life- several which are classed as “detrimental,” like mental illness for example.
“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,” said Gershoff. The study also found that adults who were spanked as children usually end up spanking their kids as well- creating an unhealthy, and unending, cycle.
The study found something else quite fascinating involving a comparison between spanking and physical abuse. Gershoff and her team discovered that the negative effects of spanking were nearly identical to the negative effects of physical abuse.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” said Gershoff. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”
A 2002 survey on corporal punishment from the University of North Carolina discovered that approximately 80% of preschoolers were spanked as a disciplinary measure, and almost 50% of 8 and 9-year-old children had been “hit with an object, like a paddle or switch.”
Study author Adam Zolotor said, “This shows that the U.S., unlike most other high income countries, has had little change in the use of corporal punishment as commonplace. Given the weight of evidence that spanking does more harm than good, it is important that parents understand the full range of options for helping to teach their children.”
The United States is the only country in the UN to deny corporal punishment is harmful.
In 2013, a Harris poll revealed that 81% of Americans believe that “spanking their children is sometimes appropriate.” While, yes, it is still legal to use corporal punishment in the U.S., some believe it should be a thing of the past.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a human rights treaty “which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, and defines a child as any human being under the age of 18.”
Countries that have signed the Convention are required to report to, and appear before, the UN so their progress and the status of child rights in their country can be examined. The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention and opened it for signature in 1989, and it was enacted one year later. There are currently 196 countries that have joined the Convention, including every member of the United Nations except the United States.
Several studies have examined the effects of corporal punishment on children’s behavior and mental health, with interesting results. One such study from 2012 was published in the journal Pediatrics and found harsh physical punishment such as “pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting in non-abusive households increased the odds a child would develop mood, anxiety or personality disorders and alcohol or drug addiction.”
There has to be a better way.
Alternatives to spanking are out there, and it just takes a little bit of motivation to learn about them. In the long run, you will be doing your children a world of good, and also, your grandchildren.
Where can you find these alternatives? A list of resources and ideas can be found here, here, and here.
By Raven Fon