Experts give their opinion on spanking as punishment


We don’t like to throw contentious issues in your face – on the contrary, we usually prefer to show cute dogs and babies! – but sometimes new information comes out that’s too important to keep to ourselves. It turns out that a disciplinary technique that went out of style some time ago is still making news. Here’s the scoop.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan have written a report that confirms the popular belief that spanking can have a negative psychological effect on a child, even years after it was administered.

Whether or not you’re a fan of this type of discipline, it’s hard to argue with these findings. The study, which was published in the Journal of Family Psychology, followed approximately 160,000 children over a 50-year period, making it the most comprehensive analysis to date of this controversial form of punishment.

Not surprisingly, the study’s authors, Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan Kaylor, put the results together and found that today, as adults, the group that was spanked as children was more likely to exhibit antisocial behavior and suffer from health problems.

In addition, both researchers believe that this form of punishment causes the same types of symptoms experienced by victims of abuse. Gershoff explains, “As a society, we view spanking and physical abuse as separate behaviors. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked to the same negative child outcomes as abuse, but to a slightly lesser degree.”

Discipline behind closed doors
Despite the social taboo associated with spanking, the act itself is not technically illegal, although it may fall into the realm of child abuse in some legal gray areas. Nonetheless, it is clear that no parent wants to admit that they are prey to brutal punishment of their child.

In fact, according to a 2016 study by Zero to Three, 30% of parents who spank their children several times a week say they “don’t feel good about it.” Added to this is the roughly 77% of this same group who feel that this form of corporal punishment is “not one of the most effective methods of discipline.”

So these statistics raise the following question: Why spank if 1) we feel guilty and 2) we are not sure it is all that effective?

We think all parents can answer this question quickly and honestly, because we want what’s best for our children! Unless you are a cold-hearted individual, it is certainly not your goal to hurt your children, but sometimes it is hard to be consistent with a preschooler who consistently misbehaves.

A word from the spanking advocates

After reading about this study, you may be saying to yourself: Well, I was spanked, and I turned out just fine! If so, then your experience most definitely warrants some attention; let’s spend a bit of time on the flip-side of this polarizing issue.

One of the most vocal spanking advocates around is Christian-based Focus on the Family, an organization which was originally founded by psychologist James Dobson back in the seventies.

In an opinion piece written for Time in 2014, Focus on the Family’s director of counseling Dr. Jared Pingleton, explains that “spanking [. . .] can be one effective option among several in a parent’s tool chest as they seek to steer their children away from negative behaviors.”

The psychologist goes on to clarify that there is, of course, a time and place for choosing this type of punishment. He says, “Generally speaking, we advise parents that corporal discipline should only be applied in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority—never for mere childish irresponsibility.”

Another campaigner for this school of thought is Dr. Diana Baumrind from the University of California, a psychologist who has made a career out of researching authoritative disciplining methods. Instead of promoting the virtues of spanking, she argues that the act does not necessarily have a long-lasting effect on a child’s psyche as they grow into adulthood.

According to the New York Times, in a 2001 talk given at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Baumrind stated that “When parents are loving and firm and communicate well with the child, the children are exceptionally competent and well adjusted, whether or not their parents spanked them as preschoolers.”

Whew! What a complex issue this is! Take a look at Science.Mic’s article here to get even more information on this groundbreaking study. No matter what side you’re on in terms of this issue, we think it’s most definitely important to educate yourself. Our kids are the future, after all!

Now it’s your turn to give us your two cents on spanking! What are your thoughts regarding this form of discipline?

Do you believe that spanking is effective?

Were you spanked as a child?

Tell us all about your thoughts and experiences in the comments