The more children are spanked, the more aggressive and anti-social they are.
What is termed ‘spanking’ has similar effects on children as physical abuse.
The conclusions come from studies conducted over 50 years which included more than 160,000 children.
The researchers also found that being spanked was linked to more mental health problems and cognitive difficulties later on.
Dr Elizabeth Gershoff, the study’s first author, said:
“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors.
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.”
The study defined spanking as an open-handed hit on the extremities or behind.
What was termed ‘spanking’, though, had similar negative effects to physical abuse.
Dr Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, a study co-author, said:
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children.
Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”
Adults who were spanked as children were also more likely to support physical punishment of their own children.
This suggests one key way that spanking is perpetuated.
Around the world, around 80% of children are spanked.
This is despite the fact that there is plenty of evidence it is psychologically damaging and almost no evidence that it has any beneficial effect.
Dr Gershoff said:
“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.
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.”
The study was published in the Journal of Family Psychology (Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Lotus Carroll