Past research has shown that spanking ups the chances for anti-social behavior, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties in a child as he grows up. A recent study adds behavioral problems to this list.
Children who have been spanked at age 5 had an increase in behavioral problems and difficulty with self-discipline at age 6 and 8, compared to kids who have never been spanked, according to research published in the journal Psychological Science.
“Our findings suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and actually makes children's behavior worse, not better,” says lead author and psychological scientist Elizabeth T. Gershoff from the University of Texas, in a press release.
The study involved analyzing existing data from over 12,000 children who participated in a nationally representative research program in the United States. At 5 years old, the parents reported the number of times their children had been spanked. Then, at 5, 6, and 8 years old, teachers reported “the frequency with which the children argued, fought, got angry, acted impulsively, and disturbed ongoing activities,” said the press release.
Researchers took into account other factors that could also influence a child’s behavior such as socioeconomic status, overall health, and parent’s marital status. They did this by grouping children with similar backgrounds together. They then compared the behavior of those whose main difference was whether they were spanked or not.
Results showed that children who had been spanked at age 5 showed greater increases in behavior problems by age 6 and 8 compared with children who had never been spanked.
Though the study does not prove for certain that spanking did cause the behavioral problems, Gershoff’s method may hint to a stronger link between the two. “Although dozens of studies have linked early spanking with later child behavior problems, this is the first to do so with a statistical method that approximates an experiment,” she said.
The adverse effects of spanking is difficult to study, let alone pinpoint with any certainty. “Like a lot of issues, it’s a lot more complicated than what you hear,” Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University, told Ozy. He adds that he “doesn’t believe the facts are clear about whether mild spanking is harmful for children in the long run.”
Looking at the issue both ways, there’s also no research that shows spanking leads to better behavior in the long term, according to Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, a researcher at the University of Michigan. In the short term, however, “spanking is associated with increased child anxiety and child aggression,” he also told Ozy.
The mounting body of research against physical discipline has led to spanking being prohibited in several countries. As of January this year, 52 countries have made it illegal to spank children. In the Philippines, we don't have a law yet that specifically bans corporal punishment. We do have Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Act, where cruelty is seen as a form of child abuse. Our Department of Justice Child Protection Program defines child abuse as “any act which inflicts physical or psychological injury, cruelty, or the neglect, sexual abuse of, or which exploits, a child,” and cruelty as “any word or action which debases, degrades or demeans the dignity of a child as a human being.”
Views on spanking differ from household to household with parents often pointing out how they were also spanked as a child. “Many parents have this fear that ‘If I don’t do this, they’ll never learn or they’ll be spoiled.’ But there are other ways of making sure a child isn’t spoiled,” says Ann Lagges, Ph.D., a psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
Reinforcing good behavior works for small children, she explains. When your child pulls the family dog's tail, for example, a parent can say no then show how to pet the dog gently. When the child mimics the petting, the parent can then comment on the good behavior.
Find more alternative discipline techniques recommended by parenting experts here.