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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Results of studies: 1996 & 1997

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As noted elsewhere, many studies into the effects of spanking have proven to be highly unreliable because they are largely based on the researchers' interpretation of children's behavior. Such interpretations are heavily subject to bias.

However, there are a few studies in which research bias is minimal or non-existent. One such investigation was reported during 1996 and was a longitudinal study that extended over decades. Its results is believed to be applicable to North American families:

bullet A 1997 longitudinal study of adjustment by youths in New Zealand

1996: Review of eight pro-corporal punishment studies:

Robert E. Larzelere is the director of research at Boys Town, NE, and a skeptic of the anti-spanking position. He analyzed what he considered to be the eight strongest studies of corporal punishment (CP). 1 He found that they showed that spanking and other forms of violence short of actual abuse had "beneficial outcomes." However, the study seems almost without value when closely examined:

bullet Seven of the eight studies measured only the child's short term compliance to the parent's request. There is probably a consensus among therapists, child psychologists, researchers and parents that spanking does make the child behave, at least for a little while. What these studies did not examine are the long-term effects of spanking observed by other studies: increasing non-compliance by the child, increased anti-social behavior with other children, and long range emotional and addictive problems as an adult. It is worth noting that in five of the seven cases, the effectiveness of spanking was compared to alternative methods of discipline. Spanking offered no advantages.
bullet The eighth study did show long-term beneficial results from spanking. However it dealt only with a single child who had a severe conduct disorder, and who might be suffering from schizophrenia. Thus, one cannot extrapolate the study's results to the general population of children. In addition, most of the study dealt with training the mother to reinforce the child's positive behaviors and to be more confident and consistent in issuing commands to the child. One might speculate that an equivalent or even better beneficial result might have been observed if the spanking were replaced by an alternative form of discipline.

1997: New Zealand study of adjustment by youths:

D.M. Fergusson and M.T. Lynskey of the Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine, New Zealand completed a longitudinal study over 18 years of 1,265 children born in New Zealand. Youths who reported having experienced harsh or abusive treatment during childhood had higher rates of  juvenile offending, substance abuse, and mental health problems. 2

The PubMed abstract states:

OBJECTIVE: To study the relationships between retrospective reports of physical punishment/maltreatment and rates of adjustment difficulties at age 18 in a birth cohort of New Zealand subjects.

METHOD: Data were gathered over the course of an 18 year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1,265 New Zealand born children. At age 18 retrospective reports of exposure to physical punishment/maltreatment were obtained. At this time the cohort was also assessed on measures of psychosocial adjustment juvenile offending, substance abuse behaviors, and psychiatric disorder.

RESULTS: Young people reporting exposure to harsh or abusive treatment during childhood had elevated rates of juvenile offending, substance abuse, and mental health problems. However, subsequent analysis using logistic regression methods showed that much of the elevated risk shown by this group was explained by social and contextual factors that were associated with patterns of childhood punishment/maltreatment. Nonetheless, even after control for confounding factors those reporting harsh or abusive childhood experiences were at increased risks of violent offending, suicide attempts, being a victim of violence, and alcohol abuse.

CONCLUSION: This study leads to three major conclusions: (1) Those exposed to harsh or abusive treatment during childhood are an at-risk population for juvenile offending, substance abuse, and mental health problems; (2) Much of this elevated risk arises from the social context within which harsh or abusive treatment occurs; (3) Nonetheless, exposure to abuse appears to increase risks of involvement in violent behavior and alcohol abuse. 3

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Adah Maurer, Ph.D. & James S. Wallerstein, "The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime," (1987), The Natural Child Project, at:
  2. D.M. Fergusson & M.T. Lynskey, "Physical punishment/maltreatment during childhood and adjustment in young adulthood," Child Abuse and Neglect, 1997 Jul;21(7): Pages 617-30.
  3. Ibid: Abstract at:

Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2009-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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