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This Should End the Debate About Spanking Kids Forever

A new, large study looks at the negative effects, both short-term and long-term, of spanking children.

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Spanking once may have been acceptable, but new research out of the University of Texas, and published in the Journal of Family Psychology, offers proof that laying a hand on your child as a form of discipline is not only completely counterproductive, it may be potentially damaging.

In the most complete study of the effects of spanking to date, researchers looked at 50 years of data on over 160,000 kids and 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.

Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, explains, "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."

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.

What I found interesting about this study was that despite the negative effects on adults who were spanked as kids, they were more likely to spank their own children. And frighteningly, Gershoff says, "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."

Given this statement, I can think of no reason to spank a child. But I came to this conclusion long ago, when my first daughter was a toddler. I was trying to teach her that hitting others was not acceptable, and I realized how insanely counterintuitive it would be to spank her to get this point across. I certainly didn't want to reinforce it was okay for her to solve her problems with physical aggression.

Besides, it's my contention that spanking is more about a parent venting frustration, than about punishing a child. Either way, there seems to be no benefit to spanking.

The study authors hope their research, which is consistent with the CDC's recent report recommending against spanking as a means to reduce child abuse, will help to educate parents about the effectiveness of positive forms of child discipline.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.