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

By Melissa Willets and Nicole Harris
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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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Comments (9)

Anonymous
August 17, 2019
I spank my kid I was spanked as a kid I turned out just fine I have a high paying job granted I didnt get the greatest grades in school but that wasnt do to getting spanked it was because the classes were to easy and when I discovered I could do zero homework and just ace the tests to get grades good enough to compete in sports that's what I did my child is 3 now and her pediatrician says she is 1 of the smartest little girls she has ever seen and that she has the vocabulary of a child that is 4 years older than mine so I personally think that spanking children the right way is how the world should be and if anyone says I cant discipline my child that way then yall need to line up because I'll swat them as well because their parents probably just set them in time out "because that works so well 🙄" look at crime they say guns are bad but look where the majority of crime is. It's where they are gun free zones my child is 3 looks like shes 5 has the vocabulary of a 7 year old and knows firearm safety that is how we make a better and more prosperous life for parents and their children by teaching them not by pawning them off to teachers the teachers are there to help them learn not to teach them how to grow to be a social justice warrior. Sorry not sorry rant over.
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?
Anonymous
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 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 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.
Anonymous
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.
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.