Posts Tagged ‘ spanking ’

Spanking Doesn’t Work

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

There are two things we know for sure about spanking: a lot of parents in the US still practice it, and it does have an effect in the moment. But research continues to show that, over the long-term, spanking doesn’t work – because it leads to worse, rather than better, outcomes.

Yet another paper was published showing that spanking has negative effects on child development. Here’s why this study is important:

  • A large (over 1,900 families) sample was used – providing confidence in the findings
  • A longitudinal design was used – kids were studied from age 3 through age 9
  • A number of statistical controls were applied to focus on the specific impact of spanking on later development

Perhaps the most important finding was that while a majority of parents engaged in spanking (e.g., 57% of mothers at age 3), not every child experienced spanking – which allowed for enough variation in the sample to have a good look at the effects of spanking over time. Put another way, the researchers could compare developmental benchmarks in kids who were spanked, and those who weren’t. So what were those results?

  • Spanking was associated with more behavior problems at age 9
  • Spanking was associated with lower vocabulary (receptive) scores at age 9

Let’s keep in mind here the argument for spanking – it’s purported to improve children’s behavior. Studies continue to demonstrate that it does not do this, and in fact often predicts worse behavior. So despite the personal stories and folklore about how a good spanking can change a kid, each empirical study that comes out suggests that it changes a kid for the worse, not better. If these stories ring true, why don’t we see huge positive effects of spanking when we study kids over time?

Parents who feel that there is no other way to shape their child’s behavior would do well to speak to their pediatrician to try to get training in behavioral techniques that actually work. Everyone will be happier and, in the long run, kids will show improvements, rather than declines, in their behavior over time.

What’s your parenting style? Find out! And watch this video on how to discipline without spanking:



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Has The Economic Recession Led To Harsher Parenting?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

A new report from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFS) suggests it has – at least for some moms.

This paper deserves consideration because it uses an informative base – a longitudinal study of nearly 5,000 families who have a child born between 1998 and 2000. By following these families from 2000 through the present, the researchers were able to examine how the economic recession led to overall changes in parenting – particularly harsh parenting. Here “harsh parenting” incorporates a range of behaviors like excessive yelling, hostility, and corporal punishment (which includes spanking and hitting).

The basic finding was that levels of harsh parenting by moms (dads were not included in this report) increased in relation to the decline in “macroeconomic conditions” – meaning the large scale economic factors that operated at a community level (and not just an individual level) were the trigger. The idea here is that pervasive economic stress causes parental stress, which in turn becomes family-wide stress. Prior elegant studies documented this during the Iowa Farm Crisis in the 1980s – such work included detailed observational studies that tested (and confirmed) such a family stress model that derives from economic decline. Essentially, when a parent is feeling the effects of uncontrollable stress, their patience with their kids goes down. Things that may not have typically bothered them now seem annoying or noxious. Harsh parenting is often associated with feeling frustration and lack of control. So here the point is that economic stress can end up having this kind of negative impact on moms, and ultimately their kids.

One of the interesting findings in the new paper from the FFS is that not every mom reacted with harsher parenting practices – rather it was moms who had a specific genetic predisposition to stress. What can we learn from this? Simply this – moms know themselves well. They don’t need a DNA test to know if they get stressed easily or tend to roll with things (even big things). So those moms who are highly reactive to stressors may especially want to consider that our economic climate might be influencing their parenting to a degree (even if there isn’t an immediate economic stressor per se). Talking to a primary care provider about stress management and perhaps screening for depression would be options to consider. Such intervention could offer a way to ward off the long chain of events by which economic recession impacts a child’s daily life. And, of course, let’s hope that insurance coverage permits such intervention – or else it becomes yet another trigger of economic stress rather than a way to ward off the effects of recession.

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The New “Spanking” Study Is Not Really About Spanking – It’s About Harsh Physical Punishment

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

The internet is lit up again with comments and reactions to a new study that has been described as showing that spanking leads to mental disorders in adulthood. The problem, however, is that the researchers did not examine spanking – rather they studied harsh physical punishment. 

So let’s focus on what the study did and what the results were. The authors analyzed data from a very large, well-respected survey study of over 34,000 adults. The participants responded to a number of questions in a face-to-face interview, including questions about their childhood experiences and past and current mental health. Now here’s the important point. The researchers included one question on harsh physical punishment (not spanking). You can read the entire article online if you like, but I am quoting from the methods section of the paper so you can read the description of the question that was asked right here:

Physical punishment was assessed with the question, “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?” Respondents who reported an answer of “sometimes” or greater to this event were considered as having experienced harsh physical punishment. The term harsh physical punishment was used for this study because the measure includes acts of physical force beyond slapping, which some may consider more severe than “customary” physical punishment (ie, spanking).

The researchers also excluded from the analyses subjects who reported more severe maltreatment or abuse. What they were trying to get at was something harsher than spanking but not extreme abuse. They report that about 6% of the sample reported experiencing harsh physical punishment (a much lower rate than is found for spanking). And they found these individuals had an increased risk for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders as adults.

While the study itself is very sound, it should be noted that it was a retrospective study as the adults who were interviewed were asked to recall their childhood. This is a limitation but not a fatal flaw – retrospective studies can yield meaningful data, they are just not believed to be as powerful as longitudinal studies. So all in all, the study makes an important contribution by suggesting that harsh physical punishment may lead to a heightened risk for later mental health problems. It sends a strong message that pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting kids should not be considered acceptable.

That said, from a scientific perspective, this study does not suggest anything – pro or con – about spanking.

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Is Spanking Effective?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Spanking is in the news again (see the recent blog post in Parents News Now). If you a parent sorting through the debate, you will typically see two viewpoints – some say that spanking is unacceptable or “wrong” and others argue that it is necessary and “right.” I suggest the debate centers around a different question: is spanking effective? And this is where research can, at a minimum, provide some information that parents can consider. 

The most important conclusion that researchers are coming to these days is that spanking is associated with behavior problems over time. Many studies have shown this and continue to come up with this result. For example, a paper just published online in the journal Child Development reported the results of a study of over 11,000 families, chosen to reflect a nationally representative sample of US families. Parents and their kids participated when the kids were in kindergarten, and again when they were in 3rd grade. Parents were asked – at both times – if they ever spanked their child, if they spanked their child in the past week, and if so, how frequently they spanked in the last week. Teachers provided an independent report of the kids’ behavior problems (things like acting out, arguing, fighting) during kindergarten and 3rd grade. The results? Spanking was associated with behavior problems in kindergarten and 3rd grade – and behavior problems were associated with spanking.

These results suggest spanking is not effective because it predicts later problems and also becomes part of a cycle of negative parent-child interaction (as kids problems get worse, parents spank in reaction). What I would like to highlight is that the lens for evaluating effectiveness here is not in the moment, but rather over time. And this is where the difference of opinion can emerge. In the moment, spanking may produce a desired result – the behavior in question goes away. But over time, it may not produce the desired result – it does not lead to better behavior, and in fact may lead to worse behavior.

All of this is said with full knowledge that the vast majority of US parents (80% or more) report that they have spanked their kids at some point in time. Many will say that they see that it works. Many will say that spanking was part of their childhood and it taught them right from wrong. Research doesn’t speak to any one individual’s story. What I suggest, from the perspective of a researcher, is that parents revisit their motivations for spanking. If it’s reactive and emotional, we know that there is no lesson learned there for a child – and it could spiral out of control. If it’s purposeful and used as a form of discipline, I would at least say that you consider other methods that can be used that don’t involve physical contact, simply because, unlike spanking, they have all been shown in research studies to be effective in producing positive changes in children’s behavior over time.

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