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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Summaries of studies

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Conflicting quotations:

  • "...there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that when done by a loving parent in a the context of love that ... [corporal punishment] is harmful to children." James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family1

  • "...there appears to be a linear association between the frequency of slapping and spanking during childhood and a lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems." Dr. Harriet McMillan, in a Reuters article "Punished for life: Canadian study links spanking to addiction and psychiatric disorders." 2

  • "God tells us in His own Word that if we don't spank our children when they deserve it, it will spoil them. That's why we are now seeing what's really happening in America's homes, on TV!" A posting to the Nanny 911 forum. 3

  • "What a bunch of hogwash!" Response to the above posting.
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Studies of mass murderers, "ordinary" murderers, rapists etc. generally show that most were victims as children of seriously abusive punishment during childhood. A preliminary study of 26 inmates on death row of a US prison found that all had been so seriously abused as children that they had probably suffered brain injuries. If serious abuse causes such extreme anti-social behavior, one might speculate that milder forms of childhood punishment might also negatively affect the children later in life.

A number of researchers have attempted to link spanking with problems in the "spankees'" later behavior -- either during childhood, or adulthood. Some seem to have found links between "corporal punishment and lower IQs, teenage delinquency, adult criminality, marital conflict and spousal abuse." 4Other research papers found no such relationships. As in many studies of this type, objectivity is often diminished; the results frequently confirm the researchers original beliefs.

Some studies contain weaknesses:

  • Some include subjects who have been physically and/or sexually abused. Abuse victims will generally show a much higher level of psychiatric, behavioral and addiction problems in adulthood. By mixing these victims with others who have only been spanked, the results may be skewed.

  • None of the studies that we have examined prove a cause-and-effect link between spanking and later problems. A "chicken and egg" situation may exist:
    • A pattern of harsh parental discipline might be the root causative factor of problems which emerge later, in adulthood.

    • The propensity for later adult problems might have been present during early childhood. This might have made the subjects more prone to behavioral problems as children. This, in turn, may have driven their parents to try spanking as a means of control.

In our opinion, motivating parents to change from corporal punishment to alternative methods of discipline would make a massive contribution to the mental health of the next generation.

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On the website, Christopher D. Dugan reviewed the book by Murray A. Straus and Denise A. Donnelly called "Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effect on Children." 5 He gave an excellent summary of recent studies into the effect of spanking on children, both at the time and later in adulthood. He wrote, in part:

" the longer run, spanking has no measurable beneficial effects at all, and is associated with a variety of long term negative effects. The more children are spanked, the more they assault siblings and other children. The more children are spanked, the more their rates of age-adjusted antisocial behavior increase over time. Spanking in childhood is associated with higher levels of alcoholism, depression, masochistic fantasy, and suicidal ideation later in life."

"As more family violence data accumulates, more evidence accumulates in support of Straus's view of normative forms of violence 'spilling over' into criminal forms. Parents who spank their children are significantly more likely to also physically abuse them than parents who don't. Parents who spank their children are more likely to physically abuse each other. And physically abused children are even more likely to grow up to commit crimes against non-family members than spanked children, who are in turn more likely to do so than non-spanked children."

"The mounting tide of research on spanking resembles the growth of research on the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. In both cases, no single study settled the issue. Every study had its weaknesses and its strengths. But when all of the available studies are viewed as a whole, a grim picture emerges: of a widespread, culturally ingrained habit which causes grave harm, bit by bit, by subtle increments."

"The parallels between smoking and spanking extend beyond the similarity of research study designs. Both are addictive practices justified by their practitioners in similar ways. 'I've smoked for fifty years and I feel great!' 'I was spanked and it never did ME any harm!' Bit by bit, the mounting evidence linking smoking with cancer eroded much of the cultural denial. Straus's book is at once a recognition of a similar trend towards popular identification of spanking as a harmful, injurious act, and an influence furthering that trend."

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2007: An article in the Los Angeles Times:

Ben Harder wrote an article in the Times which included the following:

  • Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology at Yale University and president-elect of the American Psychological Association said:

"Corporal punishment has really serious side effects. Children who are hit become more aggressive. A family that hits once in a while? The research is equivocal about that. ... [Spanking] suppresses [misbehavior] momentarily. But you haven't really changed its probability of occurring. Physical punishment is not needed to change behavior. It's just not needed."

  • During the last decade, many studies showed that kids who get spanked are more likely than their peers to display behavioral and emotional problems later in life. The more frequently they're spanked, the more harmful the consequences tend to be.
    • Murray Straus and two colleagues at the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, found that 6- to 9-year-olds whose mothers spanked them at least weekly were more likely, two years later, to behave antisocially than were kids whose moms didn't spank.

    • "Another 1997 study also linked spanking to subsequent antisocial behavior, and it additionally found that children who were spanked at the beginning of the five-year study were more likely to be getting into fights at school by the end of the study." African American kids were an exception.

    • "... other studies that have tracked kids over time have linked corporal punishment to higher rates of children later assaulting their parents and higher rates of boys assaulting their girlfriends..."

    • In a 2003 study, Bugental, a pediatrician, and colleagues at the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville found that those infants who were spanked frequently, had increases in the stress hormone cortisol when they experienced an unusual situation, like being left with a stranger when their mother had left the room. Bugental said: "They were very easily frightened. They tend to be more afraid of things generally. ... in the children who had not been spanked, there was hardly a blip" in cortisol. This could potentially cause impaired coping abilities, social and emotional problems and cognitive deficits. 7

  • An informal poll associated with this article showed that 57.7% of Times readers who responded to the poll were spanked as a child. However, only 40.3% spank their children. 59.7% discipline their children by taking away privileges. (N = 67)
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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. James Dobson, "Screaming Mothers Part 1," Focus Radio, Focus on the Family, 2005-JUN-02. The quotation appears approximately 7 minutes into the program.
  2. "Punished for life: Canadian study links spanking to addiction and psychiatric disorders," Reuters, 1999-OCT-5. Online at:
  3. The Nanny 911 forum is at:
  4. Sean Fine, "Study links spanking to future alcohol abuse," The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 1999-OCT-5, Pages A1 & A13.
  5. M.A. Straus, Corporal punishment of children and adult depression and suicidal ideation," Chapter 5 of: "Beating the devil out of them: Corporal punishment in American families and its effects on children," New Brunswick, (2000), Page 60 to 77. Online at: This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:  Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  6. E. Larzelere, "A review of the outcomes of parental use of non-abusive or customary physical punishment," Pediatrics 98:824-831
  7. Ben Harder, "Spanking: When parents lift their hands -- It's better not to use corporal punishment, researchers agree. But, in fact, people do. Now we're learning the consequences," Los Angeles Times, 2007-FEB-19, at:
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Copyright 1995 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2015-DEC-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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