Which saying describes your parenting style? "Spare the rod and spoil the child", or "violence breeds violence"? An American study of over 3,000 children reveals that spanking is simply counterproductive. Corporal punishment was shown to be an excellent predictor of aggressive and poor behavior, rather than a tool that teaches children to be obedient — even if the parent-child relationship was warm and responsive the rest of the time.
Don't Spank, Even If You're Otherwise A Good Parent
Shawna Lee, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, worked on the newly released spanking study published in the journal Developmental Psychology. Lee and her colleagues wanted to test a popular belief that spanking doesn't harm kids if they generally have a warm, loving relationship with their parents.
They did so by following 3,200 children from diverse ethnic backgrounds who lived in 20 different American cities. The kids were tested at ages one, three and five. Mothers were asked how often they spanked, how their kids behaved, and what their relationship with their children was like.
Spanking did not pass the test. Maternal spanking at age 1 predicted higher levels of child aggression at age 3, and maternal spanking at age 3 predicted higher levels of child aggression at age 5.
Many parents believe that a warm and responsive parenting style counteracts any negative effects of spanking. The study shows that this is not the case and that spanking has negative consequences regardless of parenting styles.
Lee said: "Spanking predicted worse, not better, child behavior over time, regardless of how warm mothers were with their children." She added that parents still frequently utilize spanking as a form of discipline, despite plenty of evidence that the practice is harmful and counterproductive.
How To Stop Spanking
Do you still spank to discipline your kids? Don't be ashamed to admit it if you do, as you are certainly not alone and were probably doing it with the best of intentions. Some moms and dads spank to deter their kids from engaging in dangerous activities like touching a hot stove, inserting their little fingers into the electric outlet, or running into the road. Others used spanking when their kids are rude, or after a child was violent towards another child ("He should know what it feels like!")
However you employ spanking, this study should make you think twice. Unless you're spanking out of sheer anger — in which case anger management classes are available to you — you use corporal punishment to correct bad behavior.
Shawna Lee's study shows that spanking causes long-term behavior problems of the exact kind you were probably trying to correct.
That should be quite enough to theoretically convince a parent that there are better ways to discipline children, but we all know that there are times at which we simply don't know what else to do but spank... or at least yell (which isn't good either). I'd invite you to build on the news that spanking makes children more aggressive and poorly behaved in the long run by testing if it actually works in the short-term.
What lesson does your child take away from a spanking? If you think back to your childhood, you'll realize it certainly won't be "Oh, I did something really bad and should remember not to do that again". It's much more likely to be something like: "That was really unfair, but I'll get my revenge one day!" This is hardly the message you wanted to convey.
This study is definitely not the first to find that spanking is bad, but it makes the unique point that spanking is bad even if you're usually an excellent parent.