12 Scientific Facts About Spanking Your Kids

father corporal punishment child

Over the past week, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been accused of abusing two of his sons. He was charged with beating his 4-year-old child with a switch and leaving another 4-year-old with a scarred head. While much of the drama has surrounded the NFL and the Vikings over their handling of the case, the news has also shined a light on the act itself. The star football player has essentially become the face of corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment, and spanking in particular, has been a hot debate in the parenting community for generations. Those who practice it swear it works. Those who abstain strongly discredit its effectiveness. But what effects does it really have? We've looked to recent research and published studies to really determine how spanking impacts children.

Take a look at these 12 scientific facts about corporal punishment and decide for yourself:

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  1. Kids who are spanked before age 3 are more likely to be aggressive. Researchers at Tulane University polled 2,500 mothers to gauge their disciplining habits and found that 54 percent of moms have spanked their child at least once. When they checked back in with them two years later, they found that the kids who were spanked were visibly more aggressive. They were prone to screaming and cruelty, were more mean to other people, and would fight and threaten others frequently.
  2. One-third of babies are spanked. In a study that focused on 2,788 families, researchers at the University of Michigan determined that 30 percent of 1-year-olds are spanked. The 2014 study also found that if still spanked after the 12-month mark, there were much higher possibilities that Child Protective Services would be involved.
  3. Spanking doesn't work. Multiple researchers, including Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, who researches physical punishment at the University of Texas at Austin, have made the claim that spanking has no positive outcomes. Why? When parents see that spanking doesn't have any effect on calming their children, they increase the violence. Does that change anything? No. Gershoff even notes that children do not learn discipline lessons from spanking, but instead begin to fear the parent and develop aggression (see number 1).
  4. Religion affects how parents discipline. The University of Chicago's General Social Survey has polled parents and specifically asked them if they believe that spanking is "sometimes necessary to discipline a child." From the 70 percent that answered that they "strongly agree" or "agree," they've also found that born-again Christians are 15 percent more likely to be in favor of spanking.
  5. So does race. The same survey, which was analyzed by the site Five Thirty Eight, also found some disparities among racial groups. Whites, on average, are 11 percent less likely to spank their children than African-Americans. Non-whites and non-blacks (classified as Asians, Native Americans, etc.) are 5 percent less likely than whites to approve of spanking.
  6. And political standing. The University of Chicago survey also determined that Republicans are more likely to agree spanking is acceptable. The least likely parents to use corporal punishment? Democrats.
  7. Spanked kids are more likely to lie. When researchers and study authors polled 3- and 4-year-old students from both punitive and non-punitive schools, they found a significant increase in how they reported information. Turns out, children who are spanked are more likely to lie than those who are not.
  8. It changes the child's brain chemistry. A 2010 study looked at children who were spanked at least once a month for three years. The researchers from the Harvard Medical School then found that these children had much less gray matter in their brains. This is the same matter that is tied to depression, addiction, and other mental health issues, making them more likely to develop the disorders.
  9. Children who are spanked have a lower IQ. The same study also looked at how the gray matter determines a child's IQ level, and the results weren't good. The gray matter area is specifically related to the decision-making and analyzing part of your brain, so the more the child experienced harsh corporal punishment, the lower their IQ became.
  10. It's legal to use corporal punishment in schools in 19 states. That's right: 31 states have banned corporal punishment in schools, but 19 still allow it. It's most common in the form of paddling. 
  11. Spanking victims are more likely to develop substance abuse. Physical punishment during childhood directly correlates to increased dependence on alcohol and drugs when they're older, shows a 2012 study by the University of Manitoba. The study featured more than 34,000 participants, who were asked about their childhoods and then related back to their current dependencies. Authors found a strong link between repeated spankings and a higher dependence on alcohol.
  12. And have slower language development. When looking at almost 2,000 3- and 5-year-olds, and checking in again with them at age 9, researchers at Columbia University discovered that children who endured corporal punishment at home had increased language problems. Their vocabulary was stunted, they weren't expressive, and they generally scored lower on tests than children who weren't spanked.

What are your views on spanking?

 

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