Child corporal punishment: Spanking
Summaries of studies
"...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 Family. 1
"...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.
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.
On the Amazon.com 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:
"...in 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
"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
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)
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
James Dobson, "Screaming Mothers Part 1," Focus Radio, Focus on the
Family, 2005-JUN-02. The quotation appears approximately 7 minutes into the
"Punished for life: Canadian study links spanking to addiction and
psychiatric disorders," Reuters, 1999-OCT-5. Online at: http://nospank.net/adctn.htm
- The Nanny 911 forum is at:
Sean Fine, "Study links spanking to future alcohol abuse," The Globe
and Mail, Toronto, 1999-OCT-5, Pages A1 & A13.
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: http://pubpages.unh.edu/ 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 Amazon.com online book store
E. Larzelere, "A review of the outcomes of parental use of
non-abusive or customary physical punishment," Pediatrics
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: http://www.latimes.com/
Copyright © 1995 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2015-DEC-24
Author: B.A. Robinson