An Age-Old Form Of Discipline Seen In A New – And Shocking – Light

When it comes to parenting, we can count on the fact that we cannot always predict our kids’ behavior.  No matter how consistent and patient we are, no matter how much we teach them our rules, we cannot always count on them to be obedient.

Every parent has their own idea of what appropriate discipline is, and every child reacts to being disciplined in a different way.

But recent studies have produced some shocking results about a punishment that is often doled out in childhood, and it will make you think twice about using it on your children.

Researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study on the effects of spanking.  While it is far less acceptable and practiced than in generations past, if you spank your child as punishment, this study provides some food for thought.

ABC News reported:

The report, published in the April edition of the Journal of Family Psychology, looked at data from 75 studies –- a total of 50 years of data from more than 160,000 children. The researchers analyzed the relationship between childhood spanking and 17 outcomes including aggression, antisocial behavior and other mental health problems.

The research — featuring the findings from experts from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan — found that 13 out of these 17 outcomes were significantly associated with spanking.

Many parents today still implement spanking as a form of discipline, but these studies provide evidence that what we may think of as a harmless punishment may have adverse effects, negatively impacting our children in the same way as what we would label as physical abuse.

The experts agree – spanking is not an effective form of discipline.  It is often used because the parent feels out of control, not the child.  And though many of us were raised to “spare the rod and spoil the child,” spanking is now considered to be on par with other physical and emotional abuse in the consequences it yields.

Like other forms of physical abuse, spanking teaches kids not to trust the reaction of their parents, lowers their self-esteem, and shows them that violence can be used to solve problems.

Science News reported:

Researchers note that given that both spanking and physical abuse involves the use of force and infliction of pain, as well as being linked with similar mental health outcomes, it raises the question of whether spanking should be considered an adverse childhood experience.

Author Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says that it’s important to prevent not just child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting before it occurs.

“This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” said Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”

Studies also show that no differentiation is made in children’s minds when they are “traditionally” spanked as opposed to being hit with an object, pushed, or otherwise physically harmed.  Researchers found that spanking actually increases the likelihood of negative behaviors, the opposite of what most parents believe it to achieve in deterring behavioral issues.

ABC News continued:

Still, many may view this latest report as further evidence against the argument that spanking actually “works” as a form of punishment – and that it may also be linked to long-term damage that parents might not be aware of.

ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser, a pediatrician, discussed the report’s findings:  “There have been hundreds of studies done but one of the concerns is that a lot of the studies included more severe forms of physical punishment like hitting with an object,” Besser said.

“So here they looked at 75 studies where it was just spanking, so hitting on the bottom with an open hand. What they found was there was no long-term benefits from that and some potential long-term harm.”

Besser added…”when they looked at kids with various outcomes, these children were more likely to have been spanked. It’s children with aggressive behavior, children with low self-esteem, poor parent-child relationships and even some mental illness, like depression, more common in people who have been spanked.”

Instead of spanking as a form of discipline, experts agree that strong parent-child communication is key to unlocking the root causes of negative behaviors. It may be difficult when a child seems out of control to calm them down and get them to open up, but exercising patience and understanding can go a long way toward better behavioral patterns.

Consistency and positive reinforcement have been found to have far better outcomes in turning around a child’s negative behaviors and attention seeking, and not only is spanking detrimental to the child, experts have found that any kind of physical reaction is harmful to the parent’s emotional well-being, as well.

ABC News continued:

Besser advised parents to focus on shaping their child’s behavior.”What I say first is catch your child being good,” he said. “Praise works so much better. If you can catch them being good and reinforce that, that’s very effective.”

When a child’s behavior needs to be improved, Besser recommended using age-appropriate techniques [like] removing some of their privileges and then modeling good behavior.”When you spank when you’re angry, you’re teaching your kids when they’re out of control they should use violence and it doesn’t work,” Besser explained. “Often, it’s the parent who needs the timeout.”

Need further proof that spanking is not effective?  Another study conducted by university researchers links spanking with lower IQs in children – a shocking statistic. reported:

A study presented in 2009 showed that kids who had parents that spanked had lower IQs four years later when compared to kids who were not spanked.Experts theorize that this is because stress levels impact a child’s ability to learn and retain information, and a child who is spanked has higher stress and anxiety levels as they fear when they might be harmed next.

Remember, when your child is acting out or seeking negative attention, there is likely something deeper going on.  Praise and understanding promotes trust in our children, and when they trust us as parents, they are far more likely to talk out their problems than turning towards poor behavioral choices.

Was spanking a common punishment when you were a child?  How did it make you feel?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments.


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