The Shrink’s Links: Spanking

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Being the father of four children, I completely understand the urge to spank. My children are all adults and I still, from time to time, want to take them over my knee and give them a good one. So, there is the urge, but beyond the urge, there’s also the perceived duty to spank. You might have heard this, too. I was told I had to spank, even when I didn’t want to, for the good of my children. You know, spare the rod and spoil the child, and advice like that. So, there’s the urge and there’s the supposed duty, but then there’s science.
The Journal of Family Psychology recently published a paper by Elizabeth T. Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor. It analyzed fifty years of research on spanking.

“The evidence against spanking is one of the most consistent findings in the field of psychology,” said Gershoff.

This type of paper is a meta-analysis. It analyzes other analyses, studies other studies. Presumably, the results are more accurate. A single study could be flawed, but a summary of dozens of studies is less likely to be flawed. When a psychologist says that something is one of the most consistent findings in the history of psychology, that’s about as close to iron clad truth as anything in the behavioral sciences ever gets.

She says there are three things wrong with spanking. It doesn’t work, it’s harmful, and it violates human rights.

The strongest argument against spanking, I believe, is the first. It doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Spanking is supposed to teach children the difference between right and wrong. The paper shows it’s less effective than time out. Moreover, spanking alone does not teach children why their behavior was wrong or what they should do instead.
Hitting, by its nature, causes physical pain, and it can be confusing and frightening for children to be hit by someone they love and respect, and on whom they are dependent. Children report fear, anger, and sadness when they are spanked, feelings that interfere with their ability to internalize parents’ disciplinary messages.

Secondly, spanking probably causes more problems than it solves.

… spanking was associated with increases in mental health problems in childhood and adulthood, delinquent behavior in childhood and criminal behavior in adulthood, negative parent-child relationships, and increased risk that children will be physically abused.

Then there’s the fact that spanking is totally illegal in thirty-three countries and has been condemned by the United Nations. It may not surprise you that one of the countries in which it is illegal is Denmark. It might surprise you that another is the Democratic Republic of Congo, hardly a bastion of progressive thought. The United States is increasingly isolated in that it permits corporal punishment by parents. If you believe there is such a thing as human rights, you’ve got to say that the rights of a weaker, dependent person to be protected from violence by a stronger, not self-disinterested person, albeit a parent, is a significant one. Seldom does punishment by spanking respect due process.
If you’d like to read the article, click here.