Many Parents Still Spank – But the Science Doesn’t Support It

Dec 19, 2017

Research shows spanking and other forms of physical punishment can lead to increased behavior problems, including aggression. (Getty Images)

The debate over whether parents should spank their children has continued for decades despite what science says about its harmful effects on kids. Many adults who were spanked as a children still consider it OK to do so. However, many of us also disagree with spanking and prefer other methods of discipline.

A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics reported that “the use of corporal punishment during childhood is associated with physical dating violence among young adults.” Although the research has some limitations that should caution our interpretation of the findings, the study adds to the substantial amount of research on the problems associated with using spanking as a discipline strategy.

According to the American Psychological Association, spanking and other forms of physical punishment can lead to increased behavior problems, aggression, physical injury and mental health issues. Despite the decades of science on spanking, many parents still support using it as a discipline strategy. In a report published by Child Trends, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of children, between 1986 and 2014, the percentage of adults who believe “spanking is sometimes necessary” declined but remain fairly high. More than 65 percent of parents support spanking. Differences in opinions on spanking also differ across ethnic groups and educational backgrounds.

[Read: Why You Shouldn’t Spank Your Child – and What to Do Instead.]

As a psychologist, I find this to be a frequent topic of conversation and debate with parents. My preference is to encourage positive behavioral management and decrease the use of punishment. Punishment like spanking doesn’t improve a child’s behavior over the long-term. Furthermore, spanking models aggressive behaviors, such as hitting or yelling, which we aim to decrease in children.

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