The Case Against Spanking Children

January 11, 2016 | Reece Alvarez

black and white photo of a father spanking his children
Photo credit: Grandy02 via WIkimedia Commons

Despite spanking’s long history in human culture, a growing body of research indicates that the practice has a number of negative impacts on a child’s development and well-being.

Spanking may seem like an outdated and cruel way to teach a child to behave, but in fact a sizable majority of Americans believe there are scenarios when it is acceptable to use physical punishment on a child.

According to research compiled by the Brookings Institute, more than 70 percent of Americans agreed in 2012 that, “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking.”

Yet a growing body of research has found associations between varying levels of spanking and a host of negative impacts including mental health problems ranging from anxiety and depression to alcohol and drug abuse, increased incidence of aggression and slower skill development, or other behavioral problems.

In his book "The Primordial Violence" (Routledge, 2013), Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, brings together more than four decades of research to make a definitive case against spanking, including how it slows cognitive development and increases antisocial and criminal behavior.

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"Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior. But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges,” Straus said. “Moreover, the research clearly shows that the gains from spanking come at a big cost. These include weakening the tie between children and parents and increasing the probability that the child will hit other children and their parents, and as adults, hit a dating or marital partner. Spanking also slows down mental development and lowers the probability of a child doing well in school,"

According to Straus, more than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them.

“There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent," he said.

His book features a history of data from more than 7,000 U.S. families as well as results from a 32-nation study and presents the latest research on the extent to which spanking is used in different cultures and the subsequent effects of its use on children and society.

According to the University of New Hampshire, Straus is widely considered the foremost researcher in his field and has studied spanking by large and representative samples of American parents since 1969. He has received numerous honors and awards for his research, including Life Fellow of the International Society for Research in Aggression, and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"If you are looking for gift that will increase your child's chances for a happy and healthful life, including a good job and a violence-free marriage, the evidence in this book suggests it would be promising yourself to never spank.” Straus said. “Better yet, tell your kids about that promise. It is likely to increase their respect and love for you, and they will also help you stick to it. More than 20 nations now prohibit spanking by parents. There is an emerging consensus that this is a fundamental human right for children. The United Nations is asking all nations to prohibit spanking. Never spanking will not only reduce the risk of delinquency and mental health problems, it also will bring to children the right to be free of physical attacks in the name of discipline, just as wives gained that human right a century and a quarter ago."

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