The emotional and physical impact of spanking children is a hotly debated subject in today’s parenting world. Many mental health professionals advocate parenting without spanking your children, but some parents remember being spanked as a child and believe that the practice creates an environment of positive discipline within the household. However, much of the evidence published by scientists today suggests the effects of spanking are negative and last well into adulthood.
History of Spanking
A strictly disciplined household today almost seems like a relic of another age, but it was very common for spanking and other forms of physical punishment to be doled out by parents in past eras. In Western civilization, one of the primary influences on parental discipline in the past was the Christian bible, with several passages from that book dictating how parents were meant to discipline their children.
Bible-based approaches to physical discipline have remained strong in religiously conservative circles while secular views on the subject have moved toward opinions against physical punishment. However, one of the most popular sayings that people often attribute to the Bible wasn’t actually part of that book. The phrase, “spare the rod and spoil the child” was actually from a poem by Samuel Butler, who wrote it in 1664.
Cultural Differences in Child Rearing
Although spanking has been a prevalent part of many cultures over the past millennia, some communities have built a reputation for corporal punishment in the modern age. One such community is the African American community, where spanking has been an acceptable and common type of discipline, according to a parenting columnist’s piece in “The New York Times.”
According to the author, corporal punishment has been as popular as “fried chicken and Kool-Aid,” and that black males have often experienced greater incidence of incarceration than non-blacks, as well as reduced academic achievement. In addition, according to the author, black females have exhibited high rates of abortion along with significant numbers of children born without two parents in the household.
One of the interesting features of the article is that the author suggests that spanking in affluent black households isn’t the same as those that occur in poor households. However, reducing the incidence of spanking in black households has been difficult for the community since different parenting styles have been associated with parenting styles that lack the traditions of black culture.
Although spanking occurs in all societies and sections of society, it’s an act that does happen more frequently in certain demographics, according to a study of spanking conducted in Canada. In an article punished in “Psychology Today,” some of the common features of families with a tradition of spanking included:
- Low-income families
- Families with no higher education
- Religiously conservative families
- Families with toddlers and preschool-age children
According to the article, one of the primary reasons for the prevalence of spanking was the immediate response and submission the act offered parents who were stressed and needed a swift way to discipline a child.
According to a study published in the research magazine “Pediatrics,” frequent spanking of young children by parents cause some children to develop aggressive tendencies that weren’t apparent in children who weren’t spanked by parents. According to videos on the study by CBS News, kids who got a spanking from parents more than two times a week were impacted very strongly compared to children who got a spanking just once a week or less.
One of the significant results of the study was the impact on children who were spanked early in life and had parents who continued to spank them until they reached five years old or beyond. Those children tended to display rather aggressive behaviors as a child, as well as developmental problems regarding speech and vocabulary. In addition, spanking by fathers seemed to make speech problems even worse.
Consensus of Psychologists
The American Psychological Association (APA) published an article in its April 2012 issue that suggested spanking wasn’t an effective form of punishment. In fact, the article suggested that spanking in the international community was starting to gain traction as a violation of human rights. A report in 2006 published by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child suggested that physical punishment was violent and needed to be outlawed.
In addition, the article also suggested that the majority of studies and statistics on the subject saw no improvement in child behavior or discipline when spanking was employed. In fact, studies cited by the APA and other mental health organizations have seen a variety of injurious results from spanking ranging from physical injury to lasting psychological trauma.
In addition to the international 2006 report from the United Nations on physical punishment of children, it would seem that several countries around the world have prohibited physical punishment. According to an article published by “Psychology Today,” 24 different countries had outlawed physical punishment as of 2009, when the article was published. Countries with laws against spanking on the books included Greece, Spain, and Venezuela, among several others.
Mental Health Professionals Were Once Divided
Many publications and studies today cite the near-universal rejection of spanking children as a viable method of punishment and discipline. However, an interesting article published by “The New York Times” in 2001 suggests that it’s only very recently that most mental health professionals have joined forces to claim spanking is harmful.
Rather shockingly, the article cited radical conservative Dr. James Dobson as suggesting that spanking was an act that should make a child cry. The article also showcased opinions from a Dr. Murray Straus at the University of New Hampshire, who suggested that spanking caused a variety of mental issues like depression and juvenile delinquency.
At the 2001 meeting of the American Psychological Association, one of the speakers suggested that the infrequent “swat” on a child wasn’t linked to any long-term harm, as long as it was accompanied by an environment of attentive parenting. One of the prevailing views on the pros and cons of spanking just a decade ago suggested that it was a parent’s decision to spank or not spank and that there was no definitive study to suggest spanking was always harmful.
Controversial Spanking Bill Reaches Kansas Government
Although opinions against spanking seem to permeate the conversations of many mental health experts, one surprising law recently found its way to the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice in the state of Kansas. According to a report on the bill by the “Topeka Capital-Journal,” House Bill 2699 would allow a parent to spank a child as long as the parent abided by the guidelines of spanking defined in the law.
Bill 2699 would define spanking as a parent using the palm of his or her hand to strike the clothed bottom of a child up to 10 times. Advocates of the bill suggest that the verbiage would help law enforcement officers define what was a criminal act of child abuse and what was a proper disciplining of a child. According to quotes from various state lawmakers, the bill wasn’t something that would achieve universal acclaim or acceptance.
On the other side of the legal issue, a member of the House of Representatives from New York introduced a bill to Congress in 2011 that was designed to end corporal punishment in schools. Named the “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act of 2011,” the bill was sponsored by Representative Carolyn McCarthy, but it was never enacted.
Alternatives to Spanking Children
With the study in “Pediatrics” influencing the opinions of many within the mental health community regarding spanking, suggesting alternatives to spanking has become a popular topic of discussion. A recent article published by “The Huffington Post” suggests using some or all of the following for alternatives to spanking:
- Institute “time-out” isolation
- Use the word “no” consistently
- Use gestures with toddlers to indicate misbehavior
- Don’t give in to the child
- Regularly praise children when they’re good
However, the opinions of psychologists today haven’t yet meshed with the modern public. A recent article by a pediatrician with Boston Children’s Hospital suggests that the majority of parents do spank their children. A survey cited in the article, which was conducted by “The Boston Globe,” suggested that 90% of parents spanked their toddler-age children. Because not every child who experiences corporal punishment or spanking grows up to become violent, it’s difficult to convince parents that spanking may have unfortunate results.
In the United States, deciding should parents spank their children is a concept that some people believe is a discussion for the household and shouldn’t be influenced by laws crafted by the government. Other parents and child advocates in the mental health community see spanking as an entirely negative form of punishment. Many attitudes toward spanking children today label the act as something negative and likely to harm the future development of the child, but the practice is still prevalent in nearly all sections of modern society.