To Spank Or Not To Spank?

file0001291324239Were you spanked as a child? I sure did. But come to think of it, I may actually have deserved it. After all, kids will be kids, and some are more naughty than others. Yet despite a recent court decision that ruled that it’s a ‘reasonable use of force’ for parents to spank their kids, is really right for parents to spank their children as a form of punishment? For centuries spanking has been an accepted norm and is part of our culture. But I, for one, feel there has to be change. I don’t agree with the use of spanking as a form of punishment because there are other, non-violent, ways of punishing a child.

According to the recent Harris Poll, 8 out of 10 (or more accurately, 81%) of Americans still believes that spanking their children is sometimes appropriate while 19% oppose it. However, despite the fact that 9 out of 10 parents were spanked as a child, the belief of spanking is actually down from the last Harris Poll in 1995 were 87% (almost 9 out of 10) of Americans say that it’s sometimes appropriate. The Harris Poll says that one reason for this decline might be due to the perception of the younger generation. Meaning that there is an increase in the younger generation straying away from the “old tradition” of spanking. And in a 2012 national survey by Child Trend, suggest that, since1986, women’s approval for a “good hard spanking” has declined while men approval remains stead since the early 1990.

However, recent studies lead by Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, found that there is a strong correlation between spanking and, among other things, slow cognitive development, increase aggression, and a greater potential to engage in criminal behavior. Anthony Carboni of Discovery News added that the research were done through 15 different countries and factored in parental education level, whether or not the parents were loving and positive, and the student’s age and gender. These include such countries as Hong Kong, Belgium, Russia, Spain, Israel, and the U.S.A. Carboni also iterated that, “these studies don’t mean that spanking kids turn them into violent criminals but rather spanking is not as harmless as many parents might think.”

First, spanking has a profound effect on the child’s mental development. As Carboni would put it, “the more often the child was spanked, the slower their mental development was.” Carboni continued by saying that the IQs of children, who were not spanked, between the ages of 2-4 years old were 5 points higher than those who were spanked by the time they reached 9 years old. And furthermore, children between the ages of 5-9 years old, who were spanked, wound up getting 3 points lower in their IQ score as well as having a lower vocabulary. A 2013 study also found that children who were spanked by their fathers were more likely to have language and vocabulary problems. And in a recent CNN article, in reference to Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma,” the use of corporal punishment had the most effect on children 5 to 9 years old.

In a 2011 study, by the U.S Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, on “Gray Matter” (located in the central nervous system) indicates that “the more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought-processing part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences.” However, when parents spank their children, as Sarah Kovac of CNN would put it, “That gray matter we’ve been spanking out of them? It’s the key to the brain’s ability to learn self-control.” Furthermore, in the same article, a 15-year study by Associate Professor Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas, found a strong connection between the amount of gray matter that a child has and their performance on an IQ test. And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, spanking has been linked to various mental illnesses.

Secondly, spanking a child leads to increase aggressiveness (the negative, defiant kind) and, in turn, has a “greater potential” for the child to engage in criminal behavior. In a 2010 study, lead by Catherine A. Taylor, PhD, found that spanking a 3 year old child more than twice in the previous month increases the risk of the child having a higher level of aggression by the time he or she is 5 years old. This was backed by a similar study by Grace Malonai, PhD, who also found that children were 50% more likely to be aggressive by age 5 if they have been spanked more than twice in the previous month. And yet in another study by Malonai suggest that there was a correlation between spanking and adult criminal behavior.

And in my own personal experience, as a kid growing up, I’ve noticed that classmates who I knew were never spanked (or hardly ever) we’re usually the friendliest and well spoken. Whereas, classmates who’s parents I knew would “never spare the rod,” were in the spectrum of either being too soft spoken (and have no confidence) or tend to be more aggressive and were usually the ones who fought in school or did drugs.

And going back to the Harris Poll, there is a strong correlation between the current generations perception on spanking and that of the decreasing rate of criminal behavior in kids, as recorded by the U.S. Department of Justice. The decreasing stats reflect the current generation who were 10-17 years of age between1980-2011. The stats include criminal behaviors like murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. And according to Zawn Villine of Good Therapy, the 2013 studies indicate that spanking children can lead them to behave defiantly.

There are others who would argue that being spanked had no long-lasting psychological effects on them. In fact it actually made them more respectful to authority. As in her response to Denis Hamill’s article, Joanna DelBuono of the Brooklyn Daily disagreed with Hamill stating that “as a result of that whack on the backside I grew up having a very healthy respect for authority and I stayed on the straight and narrow.” She goes on the say that “…a long time ago, a very wise mother gave me some very wise words: ‘To be a little afraid is not a bad thing’… the streets would be a little safer out there for the elderly people that walk in fear because no one taught the young thug out there to respect.” And in a New York Daily News article, a parent in Long Island, New York, Kiko Kabashi, agrees that it is necessary spank kids a little to educated them and to protect them from “growing up wrong…Some kids, if you don’t smack them a little, they won’t learn any respect.”

These are good and valid basis for parents wanting to spank their kids. However, although the premise of “not growing up wrong” and “learning to respect others” are noble, I feel that using violence and intimidation to teach kids not to be violent or defiant doesn’t seem logical and contradicts the parent’s idea of a “means to an end,” which is to modify the behavior of the child by teaching them what is right and wrong.

And many, if not all, of us know what it feels like to be spanked by our parents. It really hurts doesn’t it? According to Anthony Carboni of Discovery News, psychologists say, “spanking is just a euphemism for hitting.” Yet, despite our own experiences, we are still willing to put our kids in the same struggles we went through?

Cody Fenwick, a special needs educator, says that the problem is “human beings can rationalize anything, not the least of which is their own suffering.” Fenwick goes on to say that parents who spank their child are only telling them that violence is an “appropriate solution to daily challenges.” To reiterated Fenwick, it is good that we are trying to teach our children life’s lessons like “being nice to each other” and “respect one another”, but it’s ironic that we are doing so by using physical force. And Grace Maloni of Good Therapy added by saying that “Many parents spank when they are angry, which essentially teaches children that it’s okay for them to hit if they are large enough and angry enough,” And as Sarah Kovac of CNN wittingly said, “The sad irony is that the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have.” Now try to rationalize all that!

And think back when you were spanked as a child, you only stopped your mischievous deed because you did not want to get spanked again, and not because you learned your lesson. And when your parents weren’t looking, did you attempt to do it again? Professor Gershoff argue that “most of us will stop what we’re doing if somebody hits us, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned why somebody hit us, or what we should be doing instead, which is the real motive behind discipline.” And a study by George Holden, Professor of Psychology at the Southern Methodist University, asked 33 mothers in Dallas to wear tiny digital-audio recorders for about a week, and found that 73% of the time, the kids acted up again within 10 minutes of their spanking, which indicated that the spanking was not an effective form of discipline. In addition to the ineffectiveness of spanking, Malonai goes on to say that it can also damage the relationship between parent and child. Also, spanking them will only teaching them to be afraid and reducing trust and a sense of safety that can influence the attachment style the child develop towards, not only his or her parents, but with other relationships as well.

Lastly, to echo Gershoff’s words, discipline is used so that the kids realize their mistakes and to learn what they are suppose to do, not to fear what might happen to them if they do something wrong. As a parent, do you want to be feared or do you want to be respected, because those two are complete opposites of each other? And having both seems a little tyrannical don’t you think?

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One Comment to “To Spank Or Not To Spank?”

  1. Very interesting article; thank you for bringing it back into the public’s eye. I’ve always been iffy about corporal punishment — how can this actually do no harm? But I think that the reality of disciplining children, that children are difficult and 3-year-olds can’t be reasoned with, gives way to using spanking. Diana Baumrind (1996) identified four different parenting styles and found that within the context of an authoritarian parent-child relationship, where behavioral compliance and psychological autonomy are viewed not as mutually exclusive but as interdependent objectives, parental spanking, which inflicts minor, temporary pain (if any), does not have any lasting effects. I think the problem with spanking arises when parents use it as a “last resort”, especially since spanking is often coupled with other forms of discipline such as yelling and visual displays of being out of control on the parents’ end. Later, in 2002, Baumrind found that children are most effectively socialized under authoritative parents who have a clear sense of purpose, enforce their directives, and convey messages firmly, simply, and consistently. Reason, when paired with a display of power, later becomes a discriminative stimulus that noncompliance will be punished, and will later suffice to get a child to stop behaving in ways that are harmful, impolite, etc.

    I actually don’t think that spanking is harmful — as long as restrictions are put forth. The punishment can’t be excessively cruel and the parents must be warm and loving. The problem with a lot of studies supporting the idea that spanking is bad is that the studies don’t narrow down what type of spanking they are looking at. Severe punishment (like using objects such as belts, which is what Maloni studied) hurts a child’s wellbeing, but experts already acknowledge that. Parental spanking is different — it inflicts a mild temporary pain, if any at all. Gershoff only excluded corporal punishment that would knowingly cause severe injury to the child, even though corporal punishment constitutes as abuse in 22 states when it is “excessive,” “cruel,” “extreme,” or “severe,” not merely when it is intended to inflict physical harm (Baumrind, Larzelere, & Cowan, 2002). Definitions of corporal punishment included punishment that was too severe and acknowledged by all experts to be detrimental to children’s wellbeing. Almost two thirds of the aggression composite studies done by Gershoff used overly severe forms of corporal punishment.

    Child abuse is highly correlated with aggression later in life, not so much parental spanking.

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