Study: Disciplinary spanking increases childhood defiance, mental health issues
Researchers at the Universities of Texas and Michigan have found that spanking as a form of punishment only makes children more likely to be defiant and aggressive.
The results of extensive analysis were published in the April edition of the Journal of Family Psychology. It was based on five decades worth of research involving more than 160,000 individual children.
Researchers say it is the most extensive of scientific investigations into the spanking issue, along with being one of the few to look specifically at spanking rather than tying it to other forms of physical punishment.
“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” lead author Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, said in a statement Monday. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”
Gershoff and co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor say they found that the more frequently a child is spanked, the higher the risk that those kids will start to defy their parents, become aggressive, experience mental health problems, exhibit anti-social behaviors and potentially develop cognitive difficulties.
They also found the negative outcomes of spanking to be comparable to child abuse. During meta-analysis, the authors looked at the connection between spanking (defined within the study as an open-handed smack of a child’s bottom or extremities) and 17 possibly detrimental outcomes. A significant link between the form of punishment and 13 of those 17 outcomes was made, suggesting that spanking ends up doing more harm than good in the long run.
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children,” said Grogan-Kaylor. “Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”
The study also found that children who were spanked were also more prone to using physical punishment with their own children, demonstrating that the discipline approach tends to be passed from one generation to the next. The researchers also noted that spanking is associated with the same adverse outcomes in children that come with physical abuse. They found both were close in terms of outcome strength.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree,” explained Gershoff. “We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”