A study spanning 50 years and including over 160,000 children has determined that spanking children has quite the opposite effect to the one parents might expect.
The study’s researchers found that being spanked, defined in the study as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities, had a number of negative effects similar to that of more serious physical abuse. These included increases in aggression and anti-social behaviour, as well as an increase in mental health issues and cognitive difficulties later in life.
One effect the study didn’t find was increased obedience, which is the outcome parents using this form of punishment might intend. In fact, there is almost no evidence that spanking has any beneficial effect on children’s behaviour.
Dr Elizabeth Gershoff, the study’s first author, said:
“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors.
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.”
Many child development professionals now advise parents to ignore bad behaviour and reward the good (positive reinforcement). Studies on this form of discipline indicate that it is far more effective at modifying children’s behaviour than is punishment. This is due in part because children want to gain their parents’ approval. As compared to spanking and other forms of punishment, positive reinforcement also serves to build healthy self-esteem in children.
Another unfortunate outcome of spanking is that adults who were spanked as children are more likely to use similar corporal punishment on their own children, further perpetuating the outdated method of discipline. In spite of mounting evidence that it is psychologically damaging and yields no benefits, nearly 80% of all children around the world are still being spanked.
Dr Gershoff went on to say:
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviours. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.
We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”
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