New research looks at the negative effects, both short-term and long-term, of spanking children.

By Melissa Willets and Nicole Harris
Shutterstock

Spanking once may have been acceptable, but a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that laying a hand on your child as a form of discipline is not only completely counterproductive, it may be potentially damaging.

The statement – "Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children,” which was published in the December 2018 issue of Pediatrics – found that spanking fails to improve negative behavior in young children. Instead, it leads to increased aggression in the long run. Corporal punishment may also affect normal brain development by elevating stress hormones.

"The good news is, fewer parents support the use of spanking than they did in the past," Robert D. Sege, MD, PhD, an author of the policy statement, said in a press release from the AAP. "Yet corporal punishment remains legal in many states, despite evidence that it harms kids – not only physically and mentally, but in how they perform at school and how they interact with other children."

In fact, the AAP cited a study that said toddlers regularly spanked at age three experienced increased levels of aggression at age 5. The same children had “higher levels of externalizing behavior and lower receptive vocabulary scores” when evaluated four years later.

The AAP also warns against verbal punishment like humiliation, threats, and shaming, since these can spur aggression and negative behavior as well. Instead, parents should focus on healthy, age-appropriate forms of discipline; they can learn about these through their pediatrician and online resources, such as  HealthyChildren.org 

The new AAP policy statement correlates with 2016 research from the University of Texas, which was published in the Journal of Family Psychology. After compiling 50 years of data on over 160,000 kids, researchers found the more children are spanked, the more likely it is they will defy their parents—and experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties that last into adulthood. In other words, if spanking your child to get him or her to obey your rules is your desired outcome, this punishment will have no such result, and actually will produce the opposite effect in all likelihood.

The research also found that, despite the negative effects on adults who were spanked as kids, they were more likely to spank their own children."We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree," said Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.

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Comments (16)

Anonymous
June 21, 2019
As a spanking parent I would agree with you and also say the headline is misleading. Smacking a kid across the face, hitting a kid in anger,  shaking a child is not spanking so showing affection afterwards definitely would be confusing. And definitely those behaviors by a parent would increase anxiety in a child. Responsible parents that spank would not do those things nor would we show immediate affection after spanking. That would be confusing. Spanking is supposed to have a small amount of pain and separation from affection to have the desired affect. The love and affection comes later when the reiteration conversation happens.
Anonymous
June 18, 2019
I think the WAY you spank can be harmful to a child, but not spanking entirely. It shouldn’t be used as the first form of punishment, shouldn’t be used without the child fully understanding why they are being spanked and should never be hard enough to hurt your own hand. My daughter went through a phase of hitting. She would hit me and her younger brother constantly. Finally, I lost my patience and smacked her (not hard) in the face. She looked stunned and I simply said that it hurts when you hit people and you need to stop. It’s not nice. Guess what happened? She stopped! And not only that, she actually became very sympathetic toward other kids when she saw they were being pushed or hit when we went to playgrounds. I’m not saying smacking or spanking is always the right answer but I fully believe it helped my daughter and in no way scarred her for life. Definitely shouldn’t be against the law.
Anonymous
June 18, 2019
I am going to chime in on this, not as a parent, but as an educator of more than 30 years. As a preschool teacher, classroom aide, and now classroom teacher, I have never been allowed to lay a hand on any child. Yet, I control an entire classroom of children -- and I've worked with a wide age range of students during my career. I have had my moments, but over time I have learned how to control my frustration, and to remember that I don't need to scream, yell, or hit to assert my status as the grownup in the room. My students simply learn what the boundaries and routines are, and that misbehavior has consequences. Every. Time. If spanking is so effective, why is it I am able to keep my class in line without it? And if I can do that with a group of kids, isn't it possible that parents can control their children by using something other than spanking?
Cheesecake55
June 17, 2019
Love does not hurt. How confusing for a child to learn that a person that loves them also strikes them? No, we do not spank our children. Especially as a parent of two daughters, they will grow up with a full understanding that if someone hits them, that is not love.
Anonymous
June 21, 2019
Love absolutely can hurt. When you discipline a child in a non physical way it hurts. It hurts emotionally and mentally that us how discipline works. It causes pain which triggers them to remember not to do that again. Spanking when used correctly is done with and out of love. I love my child enough to pop their hand when they reach for a hot stove so that the hurt they feel is a lot less than if they touch the hot stove and burn themself.
Anonymous
June 17, 2019
My two cents, because there are a lot of people on both sides of the fence. I chose to not spank my child and here's why: I think it is hypocritical to teach him that it is not okay to hit others and then turn around and spank him. I also don't want to teach him that is is okay for adults to hit him or that violence is an appropriate way to solve problems. Because it's not, if I wasn't clear enough there. Regardless of the conversations about "why I had to spank him", how little or much he may truly understand of my reasoning as an adult. He is still a child, with a child's understanding of the world. There are better ways to teach your children to respect you than resorting to violence.
Anonymous
June 18, 2019
Yes!!!
Anonymous
June 17, 2019
Physical/ verbal punishment is not an appropriate form of discipline. It's nonsense to believe otherwise. "You've been bad, so I'm gonna cause you pain. " Ridiculous.
kingriz
June 17, 2019
It's a simple way to look at all of this. Would you say that kids today are more or less likely to be able to succeed in the world as say kids of the 50s,60s,70,80s? If the answer is no then you need to reevaluate things. Spanking is an appropriate deterrent and the kids when kids were spanked we didn't have kids shooting up schools, demanding trophies for showing up, and the idea of someone talking to their parents the way the lefty raised kids talk to theirs was unheard of. These [filtered] policies have brought us the "[filtered] you Mom/Dad" generation.
judyannwest1
June 18, 2019
Kingriz. My first reply was one I gave to angelwriter. Now let’s address your concerns. I agree to your assumptions that parents today are Too lax, children talk back back too much, and assume they are entitled, and they don’t know how to work and become responsible adults. THIS IS THE FAULT OF THEIR parents who have abdicated their role as parents: to teach and guide, be a good example to their children, and actually BE THERE for their children to GUIDE them. It’s a time of the ME generation, what is good for me alone. If teaching your children is not convenient -ABORT them before you have the responsibility or let them do what they want because you’re too busy. Then there are parents who honestly don’t have a clue on how you can be firm and teach and guide your children into adulthood. I would LOVE it if folks would educate themselves. SPANKING is not necessary. I can tell you I KNOW this from EXPERIENCE. My 5 children have grown into responsible adults, Doctor, nurse, electrical engineer, microbiologist, mortgage officer. They’re happy and loving, respect each other and are raising my 12 grandchildren earnestly sacrificing their time to teach and guide and love and play with and enjoy their children.
judyannwest1
June 18, 2019
I’m sorry but you are terribly wrong. I was spanked by my parents, and so I began to spank mine. Please educate yourself. It is a dysfunctional way of TEACHING and GUIDING your children that we pass along from one generation to the next. Saying “My parent’s did it and I turned out fine! That’s nonsense. Do you teach your friends by spanking them if they make you mad? Of course not! That would be abuse and you could go to jail. I hated how it made me feel to hit my beautiful little children. I stopped spanking early on with my first children. I am not some liberal fanatic who will let the children do as they please. I have 5 grown children and 12 grandchildren. Spanking them and disciplining (guiding) are two different things. My children love me and each other. We like getting together. They’re all different, but they never fight or bicker. As for the BIBLE you quote, that is old nonsense. We don’t kill animals any more, right? Jesus Christ gave us a higher law to live. Our sacrifice is “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Can you even imagine Jesus Christ spanking one of the little children - because “they needed it?” “Let the little children come into me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” .Or “If anyone harms one of these (children) it would be better that a millstone was hung about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Anonymous
June 17, 2019
I beg to differ! My parents spanked all four of us growing up and it did not cause any of what the article says. No one I knew that was spanked as a child turned violent. It did make us respect our parents and know whenever we did wrong or broke the rules we would get punished which made us much better behaved. I spanked my son as a child as well & he did not turn violent either. The Bible says "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Its true. We have all these violent people in the world because their parents DIDN'T spank them or correct them. Dr. Spock's rules ruined kids. It did not make them better. Spanking needs to be brought back.
Anonymous
June 22, 2019
Angelwriter98 I agree with you it is a tool but for you and judyannwest don’t try and make this religious and quote bible versus and such. God didn’t write the Bible us idiot humans did and the ones that decided what was in it are the same ones that priests of today are descended from and those guys are child abusers not parents who have spanking in their tool belts. On a bit of a tangent, the marines and navy seals are great people right? They have pressure applied to them until all you have left are great soldiers or diamonds as I would say. I have come up with a saying that I’m not raising my kids to be my friend, I’m raising them to be diamonds in this world.
carla_jamison2000
June 18, 2019
I agree with you 100%
judyannwest1
June 18, 2019
I’m sorry but you are terribly wrong. I was spanked by my parents, and so I began to spank mine. Please educate yourself. It is a dysfunctional way of TEACHING and GUIDING your children that we pass along from one generation to the next. Saying “My parent’s did it and I turned out fine! That’s nonsense. Do you teach your friends by spanking them if they make you mad? Of course not! That would be abuse and you could go to jail. I hated how it made me feel to hit my beautiful little children. I stopped spanking early on with my first children. I am not some liberal fanatic who will let the children do as they please. I have 5 grown children and 12 grandchildren. Spanking them and disciplining (guiding) are two different things. My children love me and each other. We like getting together. They’re all different, but they never fight or bicker. As for the BIBLE you quote, that is old nonsense. We don’t kill animals any more, right? Jesus Christ gave us a higher law to live. Our sacrifice is “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” Can you even imagine Jesus Christ spanking one of the little children - because “they needed it?” “Let the little children come into me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” .Or “If anyone harms one of these (children) it would be better that a millstone was hung about his neck and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
tracymunso9997040
June 17, 2019
Agree!