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But how can we be sure that spanking is harmful, and what can parents do instead when their children misbehave? If they spank, they do it because they believe spanking is the most effective disciplinary tactic available. And among some groups — like hunter-gatherers — corporal punishment was rare, or altogether absent Ember and Ember In many countries today, people are questioning their traditional acceptance of spanking, and making big changes. Since , 54 nations have outlawed corporal punishment Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment of Children The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently issued recommendations that parents avoid all forms of physical punishment, including spanking Sege et al Yet some parents still favor corporal punishment, especially those who endorse authoritarian principles of child-rearing Coley et al ; Friedson ; Gunroe What does research reveal about the effects?
Social scientists are still putting together all the pieces. But there is agreement on many points. Some parents resort to spanking because their kids are particularly aggressive or defiant, which means the causation is bidirectional: Child aggression can trigger spanking, and spanking can make kids more aggressive Barnes et al Kids experience greater harm in societies where corporal punishment is less commonplace. Corporal punishment has been linked with all sorts of behavior problems, including aggression, paranoia, school failure, poor emotional regulation, and low empathy Larzelere and Kuhn ; Johnson et al ; Alyahri and Goodman ; Chang et al ; Gershoff How do we explain these links?
One possibility is that corporal punishment contributes to the development of problems. Many studies lump together spanking and harsher forms of discipline, like hitting children with objects. We need to rule out alternative explanations for the link between spanking and behavior problems. Some kids are more defiant, difficult, or slow to obey. Ordinarily, the best way to get answers is to run controlled, randomized experiments.
But that would be unethical. So researchers have tried another approach: the prospective study. Prospective studies follow the same individuals over the long term. They measure behavior at several points in time, allowing them to track how people change. This allows researchers to control for individual differences in child aggression, intelligence, and other traits.
Spanking children at a young age le to increased aggression, and may also set the stage for slower cognitive development. A study of low-income European-American, African-American, and Mexican-American toddlers found that kids who were spanked at 12 months were more likely to have aggressive behavior problems at age 3.
They also scored lower on the Bayley test of mental development Berlin et al Spanking children because they were more aggressive or slow? The team tested kids when they were two, and looked to see if aggressive behavior problems or low Bayley scores predicted spanking a year later.
Studies of preschoolers have reported similar , even after controlling for common risk factors, like child neglect, abuse, or having a mother with mental health problems e. And while some research has failed to find a link between spanking and cognitive outcomes Maguire-Jack et al , the other part of the story — the link between spanking and behavior problems — is on solid ground.
For example, when Jennifer Lansford and her colleagues tracked a group of children for more than a decade, they found that kids were more likely to develop antisocial tendencies if they were spanked during early childhood. Moreover, there was a dosage effect: Kids who continued to receive spankings during the school years tended to develop the most severe problems. They also had the least positive relationships with their parents Lansford et al Subsequent studies — conducted in Japan and the United States — have reported similar .
When kids experience spankings at an earlier age, they are more likely to develop behavior problems later on Coley et al ; MacKenzie et al ; MacKenzie et al ; Okuzono et al ; Taylor et al And once again, these links persist even after researchers control for other child risk factors, like maternal mental health, child temperament, and socioeconomic status Coley et al ; MacKenzie et al ; MacKenzie et al ; Okuzono et al ; Taylor et al Robert Larzelere and his colleagues have wondered about this point.
Their reasoning goes like this:. Suppose that the observed link between spanking and antisocial behavior is driven by the kids themselves. Some kids are more unruly, so they provoke more censure. If true, we should find links between antisocial behavior and disciplinary actions in general — not just physical punishments. Their ? In addition to a link between antisocial behavior and spanking, the researchers also found links between.
Individual differences explain part of the correlation between anti-social behavior and spanking. Some parents have to cope with more difficult kids. When Robert Larzelere conducted a meta analysis of 26 published studies on corporal punishment, he and his colleague Brett Kuhn concluded that even mild physical punishment — if used as the primary method of discipline — was linked with poorer child outcomes Larzelere and Kuhn When it came to solving behavior problems, the most effective approach was combination of reasoning and non-physical punishment Larzelere and Kuhn What can children learn from being spanked?
Not much. Their protector has turned against them, provoking emotions that overwhelm their ability to attend to anything else. And even older children have trouble making sense of corporal punishment. For this, they need our thoughtful, constructive help. For instance, kids need us to talk with them about their feelings. What should you do when you feel really angry? When we coach children on how to handle their own emotions, we help them develop self-control. How does it make your sister feel when you knock down her tower of blocks?
What can you do to make amends? When we help kids understand how their behavior affects others, we help them develop an internal sense of right and wrong, and provide them with crucial insights for getting along with other people. Kids need a lot of other things too, especially the kids who get into trouble the most, who often have attention problems , poor working memory skills, or other difficulties.
They need us to act as good role models, and they need an environment that feels safe, supportive, and fair. Parents provide this sort of help when they use positive parenting techniques, and other, non-combative approaches to shaping and correcting behavior. For more information, see my these evidence-based tips for handling aggressive or disruptive behavior, as well as this guide to positive parenting techniques. In addition, see these articles about teaching children about emotions, and supporting the development of self-control. By definition, conditional spanking is used sparingly — only after non-physical punishments have been attempted, and only after the child has failed to heed a warning.
Is this approach to spanking as detrimental as other forms of spanking? Probably not. But it seems likely that emotion also plays a role. Research suggests that the negative effects of spanking increase when parents show low levels of warmth and sensitivity Berlin et al Research reveals that schools treat students unequally, perpetuating a climate of racism, and contributing to racist attitudes. In countries throughout the world, school corporal punishment is linked with worse emotional and academic outcomes Gershoff ; Ogando Portela ; Talwar et al There is also evidence that acts of public shaming backfire.
They tend to make individuals feel either hopeless, or angry and unrepentant. Studies reveal that corporal punishment is meted out with bias. For example, in U. For a given offense, black children receive more severe punishments than white students do Gershoff and Font Similar unjustified disparities have been observed for students with disabilities, including autism Gershoff and Font It also creates a harmful atmosphere — a climate that reinforces racist attitudes, and the stigmatization of people with disabilities.
International research suggests that spanking is problematic in cultures throughout the world. But culture does appear to make a difference. In some cultures, the negative effects of spanking are more marked. We might expect Fred to have a tougher time. As a result, Fred may be more likely to view spanking as a that his parents are — distressingly — out of control. So Fred experiences more psychological harm. We can see this playing out in Norway, where spanking has been illegal since Most ethnic Norwegians reject spanking as a disciplinary tactic, but among the Sami, an indigenous minority group, people often accept spanking as a traditional practice.
Does it make a difference? It seems to. Among ethnic Norwegians, physical punishment predicts a pattern of increasing anti-social behavior over time. Among the Sami, researchers have found no such correlation Javo et alHer first spanking
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Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy