10 thoughts on “Spanking is harmful, 5 decades of research shows

  1. Do parents want non-defiant children? Or do they want children who interact with parental authority and other kinds of authority with a certain kind of gravity, understanding that it has consequences?

  2. I have to confess that, although I oppose spanking, I find it hard to believe that it really has such bad effects and I worry that there is a bias built into such claims towards certain kinds of middle-class, so-called ‘liberal’ approaches to parenting.

  3. Given the fact that the buttocks is itself an erogenous zone and proximate to the genitals, I have always been surprised that spanking is not classified as a form of violent sexual abuse of children. As I hope I need not explain to folks here, parental intention and arguments from tradition are entirely beside the point.

  4. About defiance and compliance: the article I linked to is short and very clear. Let me recommend that people look at it. Here’s one quote:

    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

  5. Alison, I am so glad you raised these points. I was immediately reminded of a video from the recent Baltimore riots. A lot of people were claiming that the mother was being abusive. I did not agree. I think her actions amounted to a fairly successful way of getting him away from potentially a lethal situation.

    Apparently 80% of parents world-wide spank. I’m reluctant myself to stand in judgment of all these people. On the other hand, the authors remark that there is not much difference between spanking children and physically abusing them. So I think we need to think about this carefully if we are in any way involved.

    Recently I read a stunning novel, Mare, In which an inner city mother abused her daughter to get her tough enough to survive. I don’t know what the researchers would say of a case where one has only bad options.

  6. Mea culpa. Let me just admit explicitly that in writing this post, I was thinking principally of my own cultural type. Perhps the researchers address the problems sketched in earlier comments somewhere, but I don’t see anything in the article that is sensitive to the vast range of contexts in which parenting occurs.

  7. This is a metaanalysis of five decades of research including 160,000 children. The evidence against spanking is at this point very strong.

    I was spanked as a child, and I find it pretty easy to believe that it has such bad effects. Hitting young children (and threatening to hit them, because that’s *always* part of spanking) introduces fear into the parent/child relationship at a very young age, and fear changes relationships! Children don’t learn why what they did was wrong when they’re afraid and hurt, they just learn to try to avoid parental punishments.

  8. I just saw the additional posts—I think it’s really, really important to distinguish between saying spanking is harmful to children and judging the parents that use it. Spanking is a completely normal practice that needs to be reconsidered, and I don’t think that the fact that someone uses spanking itself says much about them.

    I think the point about there not being much of a difference between spanking children and physically abusing them is really important. Unless we think the harms of physical abuse are entirely due to causing injury, not just pain, or not being culturally accepted, we should expect the difference between spanking and physical abuse to be a matter of scale. When I got too old to spank my parents would slap me in the face. I think many people consider that very different, but I experienced as basically the same.

    I can’t find the full study anywhere I can access it, but Elizabeth Gershoff has done other research looking at spanking within different cultural contexts (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22304526).

  9. Given the debates over what a virtuous person looks like, I doubt I trust nonrepesentative psychologists to agree with me about what a proper outcome of childhood disciplne is. What is the effect of a PHD in psychology on mental health?

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