Should we spank our children?
The older generation often support spanking as a useful tool for discipline and the general rearing of children. The younger generation feel that spanking is only teaching our children that it is acceptable to hit people out of frustration therefore it is an ineffective form of punishment.
You should already know by now that I had to consult the professionals. And by consult, I mean I opened my internet browser. And by professionals, I mean Google.
When typing in the keywords “spanking children research” and “spanking children effective” unsurprisingly several articles appear. What is surprising is the number of articles against spanking. I assumed there would be an even number of articles on both sides, but it the overwhelming majority claim that spanking is ineffective and harmful to a child’s development.
Studies have shown that spanking causes a rift in the child-parent attachment leading to numerous mental health afflictions including, depression, anxiety, the increased likelihood of alcohol and drug dependency and maladjustment. One of the reasons be is that spanking causes the increased levels of cortisol — a stress hormone– which causes the negative outcomes. Studies also suggest children who are spanked have lower academic success and slower cognitive development. Interestingly, there is evidence that spanking causes a reduced volume of grey matter in the brain. (U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research, The new millennium: addressing causation and broadening focus, para.3, 2012).
On the other hand, there has been studies that show no relation to physical punishment and negative outcomes. However, there has been no studies to prove that spanking ever provides a long-term positive outcome. (U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research, The new millennium: addressing causation and broadening focus, para. 4, 2012 ).
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “Although research began to accumulate in the 1970s that showed that most physical abuse is physical punishment (in intent, form and effect), studies of child maltreatment have since clarified this finding. For example, the first cycle of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect39 (CIS 1998) showed that 75% of substantiated physical abuse of children occurred during episodes of physical punishment. This finding was replicated in the second cycle of the study (CIS 2003).40 Another large Canadian study41 found that children who were spanked by their parents were seven times more likely to be severely assaulted by their parents (e.g., punched or kicked) than children who were not spanked. In an American study,42 infants in their first year of life who had been spanked by their parents in the previous month were 2.3 times more likely to suffer an injury requiring medical attention than infants who had not been spanked. Studies of the dynamics of child physical abuse have shed light on this process, which involves parents attributing conflict to child willfulness43 and/or rejection,44 as well as coercive family dynamics9 and conditioned emotional responses.45” (U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research, The new millennium: addressing causation and broadening focus, para. 5, 2012).
Perhaps the reason for the parallel between spanking and increased violence with parents is simply due to their own inability to control their emotions. It is suggested that if you do spank your child to never do it while angry because you run the risk of escalating into abuse.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics News and Journals Gateway corporal punishment has been on a decline in recent years. Only half of parents under 36 years of age reported to use spanking as a form of discipline. (American Academy of Pediatrics News Journals Gateway, Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children, Corporal Punishment para.1 ). Many people claim that this is the reason why children are disrespectful in today’s world versus 30 or more years ago. However, according to Nation Public Radio’s article “American Academy of Pediatrics On Spanking: Do Not Do It, Ever.” it is stated
“In a new policy statement issued earlier this month, the group warns that “Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term. With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children.”” Pediatrician Dr. Shu adds in the article, “”We know that the brain does not grow and develop as well once there has been physical punishment to the point where it can cause learning problems, problems with vocabulary and memory, as well as aggressive behavior” (National Public Radio, American Academy of Pediatrics On Spanking: Do Not Do It, Ever., para. 2 & 8, 2018).
The American College of Pediatricians article Research on Disciplinary Spanking is Misleading, claims that these studies that have been conducted are not what they appear to be. They claim that there is three flaws to these studies which are
- The Correlation Fallacy
- The Extrapolation Fallacy
- The Lumping Fallacy
In the article they compare spanking to the use of chemotherapy in cancer patients. An excerpt of the extrapolation fallacy compares the two by saying, “If low-dose chemotherapy against cancer is associated with better outcomes than high-dose chemotherapy against the same cancer, is it correct to extrapolate that no chemotherapy will yield even better results for the patient than low-dose chemotherapy? Of course not! Yet, this is precisely the kind of flawed reasoning Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor use in their anti-spanking research.” (American College of Pediatricians, Research on Disciplinary Spanking is Misleading, Extrapolation Fallacy, para. 1, 2017).
The American College of Pediatricians claim that certain studies performed were flawed because during the research the “latest meta-analysis condemns all spanking without considering either appropriate ways to carry out spanking or disciplinary situations in which it might be an appropriate option. Although Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor1 commendably dropped most of the studies from Gershoff’s2 previous meta-analysis that investigated overly severe physical punishment, they still included a few studies with overly severe usage, such as “spanking the face, hitting on the head or back.”17 Of their 75 studies, only four explicitly limited spanking to their stated focus of “hitting a child on their buttocks . . . using an open hand”” Of those four studies it was found that spanking was a better alternative than other disciplinary measures taken such as time out. (American College of Pediatricians, Research on Disciplinary Spanking is Misleading, para. 4, 2017).
In conclusion of the American College of Pediatricians article they stress the importance of ensuring children that any form of discipline comes from a place of love and concern and that spanking should only be used when all other disciplinary action fails. (American College of Pediatricians, Research on Disciplinary Spanking is Misleading, Conclusion, para. 2).
The definition of spanking per the dictionary is
an act of slapping, especially on the buttocks as a punishment for children
It is important to note that once you replace your hand with an object, or choose to spank a child anywhere other than his/her buttocks, you are treading close to the “abuse” territory. The American Academy of Pediatrics vehemently opposes spanking and offers other disciplinary suggestions on their website healthychildren.org .
If you so choose to spank your child the Wikipedia page on spanking states the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that no child under two years of age should be disciplined by spanking. (Wikipedia, Spanking, In the home, para.3, 2019). However, I have been unable to successfully find a link on the AAP website to corroborate that claim.
It seems that one of the biggest factors in the opposition of spanking is the fact that most parents have difficulty separating themselves from their own frustrations before spanking their children which often leads to injury. In all the articles I cite it is mentioned at least once that parents often escalate from an open handed spank on the buttocks to something more severe.
If you are inclined to spank your children make sure you are able to regulate and control your own emotions first. Spanking should strictly come from a place of love and guidance. Spanking should never be used to release your frustrations or to punish a child for aggravating you. There must be a clear lesson as to why the child is receiving punishment not simply because they “deserve it” or because they are “bad”(it is important to inform your child that they are not bad, but their actions are).
With any form of discipline it is important to use those moments as a teaching moment. To just discipline a child without explaining why they are in trouble will only lead to confusion and frustration. The child cannot learn from his/her mistakes if you do not tell him/her what it was that resulted in their punishment
Think of it this way. How would you feel if you were written up at work but never told why? It would be frustrating. Now what if the explanation your boss gave you was a simple “you were being bad”. That would be confusing.
Adults tend to forget that children feel and think in the same capacity as we do. They just lack the acquired skills to understand how they are feeling or the appropriate ways to express their emotions. When disciplining your child think about how you would feel and act accordingly.
Listen, Teach, Learn
Bibliography (not alphabetized)