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Spanking worsens a child's behavior and can cause them more harm, says study

A review of many studies showed that physical punishments could also lead to relationship violence.

Spanking worsens a child's behavior and can cause them more harm, says study
Image source: Getty Images

"Spare the rod and spoil the child" goes the old saying but studies are now showing that it may not be the best approach. A review of 69 studies shows that spanking can cause real harm to children. The studies conducted in various countries including the US, Canada, China, Colombia, Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, show that physically punishing kids do not improve their positive behavior or social competence over time, reported CNN.

Image Source: Getty Images (representative)


The review of the studies was published in the journal Lancet and stated that physical punishment such as spanking is "harmful to children's development and well-being." The senior author of the review, Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor in human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, stated that parents were taking the wrong approach to teaching their children. "Parents hit their children because they think doing so will improve their behavior," said Gershoff. "Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children's behavior and instead makes it worse."

Image Source: Getty Images (representative)


The published review showed that children were more likely to act out after being punished. They also tend to develop external problem behaviors with time. The study stated that actions such as spanking could lead to relationship violence. All forms of punishment that were verbal and "severe" physical punishment were not used for the study. The study only took into account physical punishments that didn't amount to child abuse. Some of the actions classified as child abuse include "hitting a child with an object; hitting or slapping on the face, head or ears; throwing an object at a child; beating; hitting with a fist; punching; kicking; washing a child's mouth out with soap; throwing down; choking; burning; scalding; and threatening with a knife or gun." 


While some studies showed positive and negative effects to physical punishments, the majority of the studies showed they had negative effects on children. Of the studies reviewed, 13 of 19 independent studies showed that spanking and other child punishment methods only created problematic behaviors in children with many reporting "increased aggression, increased antisocial behavior, and increased disruptive behavior in school." It was also found that children acted out after being punished irrespective of the child's sex, race, or ethnicity. "In other words, as physical punishment increased in frequency, so did its likelihood of predicting worse outcomes over time," said Gershoff.

Some of the conduct issues that arose from being physically punished include temper tantrums, argumentative and defiant behavior, active defiance and refusal to follow rules, spitefulness, and vindictiveness. Children, who were subject to physical punishment, are more at risk to experience severe violence or neglect that can result in the involvement of child protective services. Pediatricians' groups are urging parents to use "healthy forms of discipline" through positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, and setting expectations. "Parents should never hit their child and never use verbal insults that would humiliate or shame the child," said Sege, lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics' policy statement on corporal punishment.


Spanking continues to be an accepted form of punishment in many parts of the world. A 2017 UNICEF report showed that 63 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 4 live in countries that permitted spanking and were regularly subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers. In America, all 50 states permit parents to discipline their children using physical punishment. Of the 50 states, 19 allow schools to use corporal punishment during the school day. However, some school districts in these states have banned corporal punishment. 

A study published in April revealed that parents are slowly moving away from physical punishments. Spanking declined in America between 1993 and 2017, thanks to millennials and Gen X parents, who are spanking their kids less than previous generations. As per the study, only 35 percent of parents reported that they spanked their child in 2017, as opposed to 50 percent in 1993.

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