As a young child, my siblings and I would routinely turn on one another and resort to physical violence as a means of intimidation, punishment, and as a primal expression of untamed aggression. With your siblings, you never really knew what was coming, as physical aggression was about as random and unpredictable as childhood itself. However we were lucky, as our parents “spared the rod” (so to speak) and, while they yelled themselves blue, never laid a finger on us. This afforded us a great deal of emotional security (not quite appreciated at the time) in a household where slamming someone on the back of the head with a phonebook was considered a mode of disagreement.
So when I was unfortunate enough to witness friends being punished by their parents in a corporal way (spanking and slapping), it was both shocking and offensive to my pre-adolescent brain. With siblings it was war, sure, but with parents, no matter how insubordinate the behavior may have been, it was always as placid as Switzerland, at least it felt like it should have been.
According to data recently collected, approximately 72 percent of American parents think that corporal punishment is permissible when dealing with misbehaving children. Judging from this figure (along with supplemental supporting data) most children in this country, at one time or another, are on the receiving end of some form of corporal punishment. While many parents agree that a swift spanking will almost immediately curb and rein in some undesirable or unruly behavior, the lasting effect is proving to be much less desirable.
This month, in the Journal Pediatrics, a study led by Catherine Taylor of Tulane University revealed the strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking: of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were more likely to be aggressive by age 5. “The odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began increased by 50 percent,” says Taylor.
A 50 percent increase is significant, and these children who were subject to corporal punishment (note: researchers define corporal punishment as “physical force intended to cause pain–but not injury–for the purpose of correcting a child’s behavior, not simply hurting him”), as compared with children who were not hit, were, according to the Tulane study, more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, get frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against others. Essentially, spanking (or any form of corporal discipline–pick your poison) provides an immediate deterrent to “bad behavior,” but ultimately instills fear and resentment, rather than understanding.
As if aggressive disciplinary tactics leading to aggressive children wasn’t bad enough, a report last year authored by Murray Strauss, a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, found that children who were physically punished had up to a five-point lower IQ score than kids who weren’t–the more children were spanked, the lower their IQs. This study associated corporal punishment and spanking with fright and stress; kids who experience that kind of trauma have a much harder time focusing and learning.
So this whole spanking thing, that has been de rigueur for centuries (think Little House on the Prairie), is apparently an ill-advised short-term solution leading to significant social and development problems in the future. Still, as the polls suggest, people will keep on keeping on with their spanking regimen, just as long as children act out and swift justice is called for.
Abstaining from any overt judgment, I am curious if these findings change your mind or reinforce already strong convictions on the subject of corporal punishment? Is it possible that this data is skewed in such a way to emphasize the negatives of the practice while negating important economic and sociological factors that may influence the findings? Has your personal experience with corporal punishment/spanking (as punisher or punished) left you with strong feelings one way or another? Should corporal punishment be outlawed or should we just all mind our own business?