A new analysis of two decade’s worth of research, published in the Canadian Medical Associate Journal, seems to confirm what many parents have believed for years: spanking doesn’t work. Sure, it can be helpful in curbing short-term behavior issues, but in the long run, it doesn’t do a child any favors. There’s a reason corporeal punishment isn’t routine in schools anymore – why is it any different when a parent is dealing with their own child?
Research has shown that kids who are physically punished by their parents actually become more aggressive over time, according to Joan Durrant, a child psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba. Not only that, but in an interview with Time magazine, she pointed out that “those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time.”
More than 80 different studies were reviewed for the analysis, and none have found positive long-term outcomes for children who are spanked. It can degrade relationships between parents and children, says Durrant. The Time article goes on to outline a whole host of long-term issues caused by spanking:
Children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer. Harsh punishments can wind up backfiring because they can foster lying in children who are desperate to avoid being spanked. Later in life, physical punishment is linked to mental-health problems including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.
So, given the research, why do so many parents – some studies estimate up to 90% of parents – still spank their children? It turns out there are a host of reasons. Parents may believe it’s appropriate because they were spanked as children and “turned out fine.” They may not even know where to start in punishing a child without resorting to spanking – there aren’t a lot of resources easily available to educate parents on appropriate methods of discipline. Parents may also simply dig in their heels, frustrated by the idea that someone else is trying to tell them how to raise their child.
The research, however, is clear: it’s not about tradition or allowing parents autonomy in child-rearing decisions. Ultimately, it’s about parents being able to foster a closer, more trusting bond with their children long-term – without children feeling the need to lie or sneak behind their parents’ backs to avoid punishment. And it’s about equipping kids with the tools they need to learn how to peacefully handle conflict in the adult world. And isn’t that ultimately what all parents should strive for?
Photo by: D Sharon Pruitt