Spanking as a form of discipline has declined for all income levels since 1998, but it is still implemented by many parents. A research report exploring parenting in the U.S. found that 1 in 6 parents report spanking their children at least some of the time. The report also revealed that African-American parents are more likely to spank their children than are White and Hispanic parents. A survey looking specifically at parents of kids ages 3-4 found that 94% of parents spanked their children in the previous year. In that same survey, 76% of men and 65% of women agreed with the statement that “a child sometimes needs a good hard spanking.” Fifty-two countries, excluding the U.S., have banned spanking. Individual states vary on whether they have restrictions on spanking. The issue of spanking has caused a divide among society and professionals. Some believe that spanking causes long-term harm to children while others see it as a harmless way of correcting a child’s behavior.
Those that believe spanking causes harm point to research that demonstrates the variety of ways that spanking can leave an impact on children. For example, an analysis looking at 20 years of research found that spanking causes cognitive impairments and long-term developmental difficulties. Specifically, the researchers found that harsh spanking may reduce grey matter in the brain and cause increased aggression. Another analysis looking at 50 years of research found that the more children are spanked the more likely they are to disobey their parents and experience cognitive difficulties, aggression, mental health problems, and antisocial behaviors. In addition, the analysis discovered that adults spanked as children were more likely to experience anti-social behaviors and mental health problems, demonstrating the potential for long-lasting effects. These same adults were also more likely to support spanking as a form of discipline for their own children. A study involving children ages 3-7 found that those that received a physical punishment were more likely to support the use of hitting to solve their own problems. Those against spanking argue that not only does it cause harm, but it is also ineffective. Several studies show that spanking is not an effective disciplinary method and actually makes children’s behavior worse.
Supporters argue that spanking is harmless if done right. Some professionals say that spanking should only be used with young preschool-aged children that cannot understand reasoning techniques and should only be used for “willful disobedience or defiance of authority.” In addition, the child should receive a clear warning that their behavior may call for a spanking. Spanking should never be done in a way that could cause physical harm and should take place in a private place and be administered in a calm manner. One study found that conditional spanking, defined as “two open-hand swats to the buttocks when a parent is not angrily out of control…used when a child responds defiantly to milder disciplinary tactics such as time-out” is effective. The results of this study showed that conditional spanking had outcomes that were better than or equal to the other disciplinary methods tested. In regards to the potential harm caused by spanking, another study looked at adolescents from families that used occasional spanking and found that there was no evidence of the spanking from childhood causing harm to the their social or emotional development.
Does spanking do more harm than good? Should the U.S. follow other countries and ban spanking? Or is spanking harmless and effective when used under certain guidelines? What do you think?