A new study from Penn State shows that physical abuse leads to cognitive decline but that even non-abusive (yet harsh) physical discipline leads to social and academic withdrawal.

In fact, they both cause fear and distress.

What about mild physical discipline?

Though non-harsh physical discipline such as light spanking didn’t appear to have any negative consequences the researchers warn that this kind of discipline can possibly lead to abuse and therefore is best avoided.

Today, it’s assumed that the situation is black and white: Either a child is abused or a child isn’t exposed to any physical discipline. However, there is a style of discipline in which a parent waits until they weren’t angry, and then, when age and temperament appropriate, lightly spanks a child for an egregious and repeated behavior such as stealing, or a dangerous behavior such running across a busy street without  permission, looking, and so on.

If you ask people from the generation which primarily lived with physical discipline how it affected them, some say that it made them better people. (I know people like this, and not one of them is under 75 years old.) But the truth is that today, this wouldn’t go down well at all and there was definitely lot of actual abuse that wasn’t recognized as such then as now.

I agree with the authors that hitting a child is probably never warranted–kids are too sensitive and I don’t believe the vast majority of adults are able to truly tap a child lightly, not in anger, when age and temperament appropriate.

Are there exceptions to this? Perhaps there are (I somewhat see, theoretically, that this might be okay in specific situations.)

What do you think?