Spanking Is Not Effective, the American Academy of Pediatrics Advises

New research 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 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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