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Is Spanking Effective? What Science Says About Using Physical Force To Punish A Child
Is Spanking Effective? I am not a fan of hitting a kid.  There are a lot of ways to discipline a child.  Parents are big, children are small.  Parents should have no problem excerpting their power without responding to physical violence. However, I know that many parents believe that hitting a kid is ok because it […]

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September 20, 2014

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Is Spanking Effective?

I am not a fan of hitting a kid.  There are a lot of ways to discipline a child.  Parents are big, children are small.  Parents should have no problem excerpting their power without responding to physical violence.

However, I know that many parents believe that hitting a kid is ok because it instills discipline.

I understand that spanking is a widely debated topic.  But, like much in our communities we never really talk to each other about important topics.  We tend to retreat to “Reflexive tribalism and reflexive partisanship.

I believe that most experts in the field advise against spanking yet many parents still report spanking as an effective discipline strategy.

The problem is that spanking tends to be a reaction to the situation than a though out policy.  Other then perhaps the belief that spanking is ok and therefore an acceptable reactions to the situation.

Learning Community Recommendation

It is our recommendation that parents think long and hard about the potential for other discipline options before they decide if it’s OK to spank their child.  

We recommend they examine the potential consequences of physical punishments before they resort to spanking

Reasons Parents Spank

I believe the reason parent spank is that we, as a group, tend to be violent and find that violence an acceptable solution to some problems. The 2nd Amendment people would perhaps fall into that group.  The point is that for some, if not many, spanking is not a problem they are overly concerned about.

Sometimes parents spank their children out of desperation. When kids frequently misbehave parents may feel they are at the end of their rope and aren’t sure what else to do.  Often they will say, “Nothing else seems to work.”

Given that a parent may believe that violence is ok, it is not a reach for them to feel like spanking is the best option.  The problem is that that these parents may rely on spanking to fix behavior problems without every trying alternative discipline options.

Another common reason parents spank is out of exasperation. A parent who thinks, “I can’t believe you just did that!” may spank a child without thinking. Instead, they react out of anger or fear. Without a clear plan in place for discipline, spanking may become the first line of defense.

The Problems with Spanking

Spanking a child can create even more problems than it cures.

Here are a few reasons you may want to rethink spanking your child:

  • Spanking doesn’t teach kids how to behave appropriately. A child who gets spanked for arguing with his brother won’t learn how to get along better in the future. Effective discipline should teach new skills.
    Spanking models aggression. Children to what parents do, more than what they say. So if you spank your child for hitting his brother, you’ll send a confusing message.
    Children who are spanked often feel shame. They may think, “I’m bad,” and may struggle with self-esteem issues. Children who experience shame aren’t motivated to improve their behavior.
  • Spanking shifts a child’s focus from their behavior to their parent’s behavior. They may spend their time focusing on how they are angry at their parent rather than on what they could do better next time. Kids then begin to make decisions based on thinking “What can I do that won’t get me a spanking” versus “What’s the best choice I can make right now.”
  • Spanking loses effectiveness over time. Sometimes kids decide the misbehavior is “worth it.” A more effective discipline strategy, such as taking away electronics for 24 hours, can be much more effective in motivating kids to behave.
  • Spanking isn’t an option as children grow older. If you have always used spanking to discipline your child, what will you do when he is 16? There are plenty of age appropriate discipline strategies that you can use as an alternative to spanking throughout your child’s life.

Alternatives to Spanking

  • The Voice – Parents are big, children are small.  Raising you voice, looking angry, getting in their face and lifting your shoulders up to make you even more imposing can be a very powerful tool.
  • Training – If your child colors on the walls, a logical consequence would be to have him wash the walls. This teaches him to have more respect for property.
  • Restitution – this helps restore relationships and helps children learn new skills as well. It can be very effective for aggressive behavior and works well for children and teens of all ages.

Goal of Discipline

The goal of discipline should be to teach your child new skills so your child can grow up with the tools necessary to be a responsible adult. So when determining which discipline strategies to use, think about what you hope your child will gain from your intervention.

What Science Says About Using Physical Force To Punish A Child
The Huffington Post | By Jessica Samakow
Posted: 09/18/2014 11:23 am EDT

Following the news that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson reportedly used a tree branch to hit his 4-year-old son (and the later accusation that he injured another 4-year-old son), the acceptability of physical punishment has been a topic of national conversations.

Some Internet commenters and even other athletes have defended Peterson — many arguing, “I was spanked and I turned out OK!” Others admit they’re in support of spanking, but recognize Peterson’s behavior as abuse.

A poll conducted by The Huffington Post and YouGov found that 81 percent of 1,000 adults polled believe spanking with a hand should be legal, and almost half think it’s an effective form of punishment.

Indeed, whether the respondents’ own parents used corporal punishment made a big difference in their views about the legality of spanking. Eighty-eight percent of those whose parents used corporal punishment, but only 69 percent of those whose parents did not, said spanking with the hand should be legal. Peterson has justified his behavior by saying he believes he is successful because of the way his parents disciplined him.

However, there is overwhelming evidence that physical punishment is both ineffective and harmful to child development. Former HuffPost Senior Columnist Lisa Belkin has argued that the word “debate” should be left out of the spanking conversation, because the science against it is so clearly one-sided.

“There aren’t two sides. There is a preponderance of fact, and there are people who find it inconvenient to accept those facts,” Belkin wrote in a 2012 column.

Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff has spearheaded multiple studies on the topic, all of which have supported her 2002 conclusion that it has vast negative effects. At the time, Gershoff had analyzed more than 80 studies and found there was a “strong correlation” between corporal punishment and negative behaviors (including increased aggression and antisocial behavior).

Here’s a breakdown of what science has to say:

Physical punishment makes kids more aggressive.
Researchers from Tulane University found that children who are spanked frequently at age 3 are more likely to show aggressive behavior by the time they’re 5 than kids who are not.

Physical punishment doesn’t actually work (even if it appears to).
Yes, spanking may stop problematic behavior, says Sandra Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., a psychology professor and principal investigator for the Child Violence and Trauma Laboratory at the University of Michigan, but that’s because the child is afraid. In the long term, physical punishment will only make kids’ behavior worse.

Reporting on several studies on the topic for CNN, Sarah Kovac wrote, “The sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have. They learn how to be controlled by external forces (parents, teachers, bosses), but when the boss isn’t looking, then what?”

Physical punishment encourages kids to continue the cycle of abuse.
A 2011 study published in Child Abuse and Neglect confirmed that physical punishment is cyclical — children who are hit are more likely to use the action to solve problems with their peers and siblings.

Later on, they’re at a higher risk for delinquency and criminal behavior, according to a 2013 article, “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children,” also by Gershoff.

The negative effects of physical punishment are colossal, well into adulthood.
A 2012 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders.”

A review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that same year analyzed 20 years of data and came to similar conclusions regarding those risks — and also found that spanking yields no positive outcome.

Spanking actually alters kids’ brains.
A 2009 study concluded that children who were frequently spanked (defined as at least once a month for more than three years) “had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders.”

According to CNN, another study — also looking at how corporal punishment affects the brain — found that children who receive it have a decrease in cognitive ability, compared with other kids.

The bottom line:
Stacy Drury, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Tulane University, told the New Republic, “The goal of discipline, which actually comes from the Latin root meaning ‘to teach,’ is to change behavior. And physical discipline across many, many, many studies is ineffective at changing behavior and it’s ineffective for many reasons … corporal punishment actually teaches children is that aggression is an acceptable method of problem solving.”

 Here are the comments about this post.  I this is important to understand what to learn from this.

Tonja Scott-Pate · Top Commenter
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” what science has to say about discipline. I was spanked and I spanked both of my children for misbehaving. I am a well rounded, educated person and I am also balanced in my life. I know right from wrong and so do my children. Neither of them have been to prison and they are also well rounded. I know the value of a good spanking and so does my children and grandchildren. There are too many kids that were coddled and do not know that there are consequences for wrongful behavior. So, they “Just Do It”, as Nike told them to. Yes, there is a difference between child abuse and spanking. As a child, I had elders that knew the difference and disciplined with LOVE! I was never bruised or battered. But, I knew not to repeat my wrong doing! I wonder if the Menendez brothers got “time outs.” Hmmmmm?
Reply · Like · 112 · Follow Post · September 18 at 5:45pm

MJ Reynolds · Top Commenter
So you wilfully ignore scientific research? Why do some people long to hang onto the “spanking is okay” mindset? I spanked my child three times – all basically just swats to his clothed behind – and each and every time, I felt like a monster who couldn’t figure out a better way to discipline. After the third time, I resolved never to strike my child again, and worked hard to find other ways to discourage bad behavior and encourage better behavior.
Reply · Like · 151 · September 18 at 6:03pm

Michelle Frazer-Jones · Follow · Top Commenter · Not Ho Nor Boat at Prestige Worldwide
Actually there are several witness accounts of the Menendez brothers being hit, spanked and humiliated by their parents, not that that excuses murder, but it certainly helps explain why a person might think that violence is an acceptable tool.
Tonja, you just proved the article in your post. You were hit and then you continued the cycle, hitting your child, who now hits her own children. Is there really no other way to teach right from wrong? I am raising children, they are polite, respectful, self confident, aware and empathetic and we don’t hit them. I simply find what is important them and when their behaviour needs correcting, their currency is removed. I won’t hit them because I don’t believe a small child should be made to behave because they are frightened. I can’t fathom using my superior size to intimidate a smaller human being, if we did that in other areas of society, it would be deemed immoral and abhorrent.
Reply · Like · 133 · September 18 at 6:08pm

Robert Katz · Top Commenter
The beatings will continue until morale improves.
Reply · Like · 60 · September 18 at 6:12pm
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Posting as Ira Gorelick (Change)
Margaret Cadogan · UC Berkeley
To those who hit, pinch, slap or whip their children, I’d like to know if you think that behavior is acceptable in ANY other setting.”Keep your hands to yourself (unless you are a loving parent)”. What sort of civilized adult hits anyone, EVER, except in self defense? How do you command respect from people you are not allowed to hit if you cannot command respect from your own child without reverting to caveman behavior? No wonder our society is obsessed with violence, physical force solutions and the idiotic notion that fear equals respect. If YOU can’t find a better way to model self respect and power in a relationship, why expect your child to?
Reply · Like · 100 · Follow Post · September 18 at 7:06pm

Cynthia Frolo · Follow · Monessen High School
I agree you are correct.
Reply · Like · 8 · Yesterday at 12:17am

Ayngel Boshemia Addams · Top Commenter
Thank you!!!! Agreed!
Reply · Like · 7 · Yesterday at 12:23am

Sara Albertson
Well said! 🙂
Reply · Like · 4 · Yesterday at 5:03am
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Stephen Stafford · Top Commenter · Interdenominational Theological Center
It is not enough to holler science in the title, and then forget to apply science when considering the things being reported.

One very basic bit of science this article irresponsibly ignored is the basic statistical truth that CORRELATION DOES NOT MEAN CAUSATION. Thus, there is no real basis for declaring that physical discipline is responsible for half of what the article alleges. Such data just is not present.

When you live by science, you get refuted by science.

There is another scientific factor that has not been considered here. It is this thing called “face validity”. It means that people are not going to accept, sometimes will not hear things that do not make sense on their face.

Many of the people who have experienced physical discipline feel they have turned out well and are no worse for the wear. However, the studies cited suggest they must be jacked up from the floor up. This discrepancy undermines all of these studies as well.

If you have been spanked or whatever, and have turned out differently than the messed up folks these studies say you ought to be, you have to question these studies, science and its lack of wise application all together.
Reply · Like · 73 · Follow Post · September 18 at 5:43pm

Andrew Brinkworth · Top Commenter · Owner at Andrian Marketing
Very few scientists in very few fields use the term causation. What they do use is a scale to discuss how strong the level of correlation is.
Reply · Like · 25 · September 18 at 5:56pm

Gary Woller · University of Rochester
I always find it amusing (though with troubling implications) when lay people, who clearly do not understand science, criticize science and warp it to fit their preconceived notions arrive at by very, very unscientific means. First, the authors of the quotes studies no doubt understand that correlation doesn’t mean causation–this is something they’d have learned in beginning stats class. Second, you’re criticizing the reporting of the findings, not the findings themselves, which I’m betting are far more nuanced than presented here. Popular reporting of science items often badly misrepresents the science it’s reporting on. Third (and this goes for Tonja Scott-Pate also), all such social science findings apply generally to populations, which means that there are necessarily numerous exceptions to any general trend. That you … See More
Reply · Like · 50 · September 18 at 6:24pm

Carol Rydel · Top Commenter · Millersville University of Pennsylvania
Let me guess, you got “spanked or whatever” as a child and you are convinced you turned out ok.
Some observations: every post I have ever read by you has an angry, self righteous, rigid thinking tone. When I read your posts, I hear a man who feels he is always right and is not to be questioned.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions and is free to express them even if they are wrong or based on nothing.
My opinion of your style I see through your words and tone, is that you learned through physical punishment that the world is black and white with no grey. Authority figures (which you believe you are) are right and should not be questioned. Your beliefs are the right ones and those who do not share your beliefs are dead wrong.
It seems you are not open to another point of view when challenged or questioned, but dig in and forcefully express your view which is unaffected by any facts you don’t lready believe in.
I don’t know you. I only know what words you have written and the gut feeling I get when I read them.
As horrible as I feel about children who are beaten or the victims of domestic abuse, I’m very glad this topic is being discussed. I hope someday people will be as repulsed by physical violence as many of us already are.
Reply · Like · 85 · September 18 at 6:29pm
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Stephen Jansen · Top Commenter · University of Wisconsin Milwaukee
Agreed. There are different levels of discipline. Just because a parent doesn’t beat their child doesn’t mean they are not disciplining them. Not only that, but I think it needs to be studied whether beating your child is the actual cause of the anger, violence, and rebellion that occurs among many later in life. Beating a child doesn’t teach them anything other than anger and resentment. It certainly doesn’t do much to garnish respect for parents other than a feeling of being powerless.
Reply · Like · 54 · Follow Post · September 18 at 5:28pm

Dakema Harris · Top Commenter
And…..if you beat your children to discipline them, they are more likely to beat their children and it goes on for generations, the same with sexual abuse. It happened in my family, my siblings and I made a decision to not do what was done to us…we broke the cycle
Reply · Like · 49 · September 18 at 6:15pm

Fenrir Lokison
Dakema Harris: That is what good discipline should do. Be passed down through the ages.
Reply · Like · 1 · September 18 at 10:34pm

Dakema Harris · Top Commenter
Fenrir Lokison : corporal punishment is not “good discipline”
Reply · Like · 23 · September 18 at 11:10pm
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Arash Tirgari · Top Commenter · Redondo Beach, California
People should stop justifying corporal punishment. It is simply wrong and not good for the child, regardless of the degree of punishment. Really, it is not a complex concept: hitting a child (including spanking) is harmfull folks. I can’t believe that this is still a matter of debate. There are other ways to discipline without resorting to violent acts.
Reply · Like · 47 · Follow Post · September 18 at 5:57pm

Fenrir Lokison
It is not wrong. I am not the murderous, hate filled man I could have been thanks to the physical punishment my mother gave me.
Reply · Like · 4 · September 18 at 7:58pm

Jarath Hemphill · Top Commenter · Works at Central Library, Onondaga County Public Library System
Fenrir Lokison From your comments I think you should reconsider your glee.
Reply · Like · 21 · September 18 at 8:56pm

Kenny Braden · Top Commenter
Fenrir Lokison Let me get this straight. You’re saying had your mother not spanked you, you would have become a murderous, hate filled man? Hard to argue with that logic.
Reply · Like · 15 · September 18 at 10:33pm
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Darla Cook · Follow · Top Commenter
And it used to be acceptable to beat your wife. As a society we grow and change. Time to stop beating children. Better show children that violence is not the answer.
Reply · Like · 37 · Follow Post · Edited · September 18 at 7:11pm

Jamie Lynn · Works at University of Minnesota Health
it used to be acceptable for any white person to whip any black person for any reason. Just because something USED TO BE acceptable, doesn’t make it acceptable today!
Reply · Like · 2 · 8 hours ago

Gardner Umbarger · Top Commenter · Rockbridge High School, Fairfield, Va
After a while, the beatings don’t really do much good. I know from experience. About all it did was make me more inclined to be argumentative. After all, it is the first one that hurts. The rest are for the beater.
Reply · Like · 37 · Follow Post · September 18 at 5:46pm

Rose Richards · Works at Stellenbosch University
Fully agree. I learned that at about nine. My father did not.
Reply · Like · 7 · September 18 at 7:04pm

Royal Oaks Barbershop · Top Commenter
If a parent feels they need to spank a child after the child is older than six or seven there is a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. When you spank a child under the age of six or seven you don’t need to apply much pressure for it to be effecitve. Often knowing they will get spanked is more effective than actually spanking them. Yes, that is disciplining out of fear, but with love and attention that fear becomes respect, not only for the parent but for the child and for others.
Reply · Like · 15 · September 18 at 8:07pm

Angela Rios · Top Commenter · North Stafford High School
Royal Oaks Barbershop Agreed.
Reply · Like · 2 · September 18 at 8:14pm
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Chris Mathis · Top Commenter
If you spend time with your children and show them loving affection, they will turn out to be responsible loving adults. Spanking is the result of parents too lazy to discipline their children other ways. Ie I can;t take away television or video games because that means I will have to spend time with them etc.
Reply · Like · 31 · Follow Post · September 18 at 6:46pm

Jamie Lynn · Works at University of Minnesota Health
well said. If you take time to explain things to your child, they can understand how to be a good person rather than simply fearing the beatings
Reply · Like · 8 hours ago

Amrit Ananda · Top Commenter
Having taken logic and scored 105%, as well as having looked at some of these studies that were cited, I can say that this article makes alot of generic claims but falls far short of being scientific. An example of a correlation that contradicts this article would be that even though spankings have decreased due to less cultural acceptance, there has been a dramatic increase in rates of depression per capita. With a correlation like that, one might assume that lack of discipline may cause depression later in life. Being a hot button issue, both sides have important points to make. Much to the chagrin of either extreme, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. On the left end of the extreme, the premise is that children start out as a blank slate and that they’re created by their environment. On the right side, tha… See More
Reply · Like · 22 · Follow Post · September 18 at 6:13pm

John Tucker · Top Commenter
The article itself isn’t the science. It is merely reporting on the science. For some who allegedly scored 105% in logic, you sure like to draw conclusions and false assumptions based on anecdotal evidence (your false observations about depression rates). Try actually reading the studies.
Reply · Like · 19 · September 18 at 7:15pm

Angela Rios · Top Commenter · North Stafford High School
The most logical post I’ve seen on this subject today. Bravo!
Reply · Like · September 18 at 7:49pm

Darren McGovern · Top Commenter · Works at Punch From The Hip Records
“With a correlation like that, one might assume that lack of discipline may cause depression later in life.” just dumb.
“…need to be disciplined for inappropriate behavior otherwise they will never learn what inappropriate behavior is.” Also very dumb. I do not need to be punished to know rape is wrong? Do you?
And why would you inject political comments? “leftist agenda?”
You clearly are far less scientific then the study.
There are many more studies which conclude the same thing about violence. You should ask yourself why you feel compelled to defend physical violence as a training tool and ask your self why humans are so lacking in patience and creativity to solve a fairly simple matter. Usually the problem is that the kid has already been raised with bad examples, then the parent wants to suddenly change the behavior. So they are at a loss and reflexively resort to violence.
Reply · Like · 6 · September 18 at 7:55pm
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Sherri Seigler Vargas · Top Commenter · Works at Copart
and time outs are just so effective…. how many more angry disrespectful children do we have in the world today?
Reply · Like · 18 · Follow Post · September 18 at 5:43pm

Carla Akins · Follow · Top Commenter · Kansas City, Missouri
Time outs are not the only tool a parent can use to discipline their children, they are also only as effective as the parent. In the beginning it’s very hard work to to repeatedly return your toddler to that spot and follow through with the consequences but it becomes effective pretty quickly when the child realizes they can’t frustrate you to void the consequence.
Reply · Like · 25 · Edited · September 18 at 6:01pm

MJ Reynolds · Top Commenter
One might also say the reason we might have more angry children today (if that is indeed the case and not pure anecdote), could be from those parents who still use corporal punishment. Maybe if parents who use corporal punishment were to stop, we might see quite a change in the next generation.
Reply · Like · 25 · September 18 at 6:04pm

Michelle Frazer-Jones · Follow · Top Commenter · Not Ho Nor Boat at Prestige Worldwide
You do realize that “time outs” aren’t the only method of non violent discipline, don’t you? Granted, time outs never worked for my children but you know what did? Taking away their favourite stuff. If you know your kids, you should be able to determine a form of discipline that is effective without hitting them.
As for “angry disrespectful children” , for time immemorial people of the older generation say the exact same thing about people of the younger generation. This is a matter of perception rather than reality.
“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
― Socrates
“We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self control.”
— attributed to an inscription in an Ancient Egyptian tomb