Spanking Does More Harm Than Good, UT Researcher Finds

Kid crying after being spankedWere you spanked as I child? I sure was.

My parents each had their instrument of choice: Mom grabbed a plastic kitchen spoon when she came after my brother and me. Dad didn’t chase us. He simply got out his big leather belt, folded it in half, and smacked it so hard against something immovable we could hear he meant business from the neighbor’s bushes. It was a rare but devastatingly effective maneuver.

As tried and seemingly true a method as corporal punishment is, UT professor Elizabeth Gershoff says almost all of the research from the early 1900s on suggests spanking children as a disciplinary measure does more harm than good.

“It is associated with more aggressive and anti-social behaviors in children,” Gershoff said in an interview with Texas Science last week. “The more frequently or severely children are spanked or hit, the more likely they are to have symptoms of depression or anxiety, both at the time they’re punished and later. There is evidence to suggest that it erodes the connection between children and their parents, making children less likely to trust their parents. There’s even evidence that it is linked with lower child IQ scores.”

About all spanking accomplishes is immediate compliance, Gershoff said.

Despite all the research suggesting otherwise, parents continue to believe that spanking works. According to Gershoff, the vast majority of children get spanked at some point in their lives.

“By the time American children reach middle and high school, 85 percent have been physically punished, either with a spanking or something harsher,” Gershoff said.

What explains the disparity between the growing body of evidence and the pervasiveness of the practice?

People are reluctant to think or acknowledge that their parents’ methods might not be the best. Gershoff said she frequently hears people say, “I was spanked and turned out fine.”

“What I tell people, in response to that argument, is that we have an evolving sense of what’s good for children. When I was young, my parents’ first few cars didn’t have seatbelts. I was never in a carseat. My brothers and sisters and I bounced around in the back of the station wagon. Parents would be horrified by that now, but do I think less of my parents for doing that? No, because that was the norm then.”

Were you spanked as a child? Did you, do you, or will you spank your children?

Read Gershoff’s full 2002 study below.

Illustration by Jamie Appel

Corporal Punishment by Parents



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