Good News: Spanking Is on the Decline

A new study finds less parents are spanking children.

little girl in timeout
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We know spanking is tied to poor physical, emotional, and social outcomes in children.

Now, a new study in the December 2016 issue of Pediatrics that looked at parents' changing discipline strategies has found parents' use of physical punishment has declined in the past 20 years (from 1988 to 2011).

According to a press release, researchers considered four national studies of kindergarten-age kids that provided information about caregivers' socioeconomic status and how they discipline. While it was determined that physical discipline techniques are being less commonly used, researchers note non-physical strategies—like my personal favorite, time-out—are increasingly being used.

While a decrease in physical punishment was noted across all socioeconomic groups, almost one-third of moms with the lowest incomes still endorse physically disciplining kids around age 5. In fact, a quarter of them used physical punishment in the last week. Education is still needed to help people understand the potentially negative outcomes of spanking and other forms of corporal discipline.

Rebecca M. Ryan, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Georgetown University, further explained why, on the whole, physical punishment is on the decline: "Support for corporal punishment has been falling at least since the 1990s, in part due to social science research that suggests spanking is linked to negative outcomes for children like delinquency, antisocial behavior, psychological problems, and alcohol and drug abuse," she told, adding, "There is also little evidence that spanking or other forms of physical discipline are effective in the long term at reducing unwanted child behaviors or encouraging children to internalize—to really believe in—parents' rules. Also, the popularity of alternatives to physical discipline like time-outs and token economies—like sticker charts for showing desired behaviors—has been on the rise. The AAP and pediatricians have been a part of those popular changes."

What are we to make of the fact that lower-income moms are still spanking? "There is social science research that suggests lower-income/less educated parents value obedience in children more than higher-income parents, and that emphasis may explain differences to some extent," Dr. Ryan told us. "The socioeconomic 'parenting gap' may also stem from many factors including but not limited to the economic hardship, emotional stress, and lower access to information and services that often accompany low income."

She says the takeaway is: "In 2011, the majority of parents at every income and education level endorsed using time-outs in response to children's misbehavior while the minority of parents endorsed using physical discipline. That's a big change over the past twenty years." And it's a good one!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.

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