If You Were Spanked as a Child, You're Not 'Fine' & Your Kid Won't Be Either

sad kid

You might think that the "spare the rod, spoil the child" theory of discipline went out of vogue a generation or two ago, but plenty of parents still spank their kids -- though after reading the latest study, they might want to stop. According to the most recent research, corporal punishment does not result in any of the positive qualities parents hope it will, including "friendliness, openness, kindness, sympathy, and understanding of others" ... in fact, spanking has the opposite effect.


A long-term study of 3,279 urban US families with young children published in the Child and Family Blog showed that kids' social competence is not linked to spanking or any other form of physical punishment. Spanking is, however, linked to such negative outcomes as "higher levels of aggression, poorer mental health, lower cognitive ability, more negative relationships with parents, and a higher risk of delinquency and criminality." 

The study also found that the key to producing all those positive outcome we want for our kids is -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- maternal warmth (affection, positive reinforcement, and responding verbally to children). However, being kind to kids does not decrease the aggression associated with spanking -- or, in other words, giving your child a big hug after smacking him on the bottom won't undo the damage.

More from The Stir: 12 Scientific Facts About Spanking Your Kids

"We were somewhat surprised that the two sets of behaviors -- spanking and child aggression, and warmth and child social competence -- did not interact with each other," lead study author Inna Altschul, PhD, told The Stir.
In other words, Altschul explains, warmth did not decrease aggression, and spanking did not decrease social incompetence. "...The findings can be understood in terms of modeling behaviors for children," she adds. "Children learn how to behave from how their parents behave."
Sounds like common sense, but clearly many parents aren't making the connection, considering that studies show over three-quarters of children are spanked at least once (with most spanked more often). The question is, with so much scientific evidence out there to the contrary, why don't more parents see that spanking doesn't work? Altschul says that research suggests there are two primary reasons that parents continue to spank: "One is that they believe that it is an effective intervention, and the second is that some parents perceive spanking to be normative in their communities."

"Anecdotally, as a mom myself, I see how much judgment there is around parenting among parents," she adds. "So, if someone perceives that their community members would not think them to be good parents if they didn’t spank, they might do so." 

As for why some parents might believe spanking to be an effective form of discipline, Altschul says one answer is that children may be temporarily compliant immediately after a spanking. "However, the evidence shows that future negative behavior is likely to be acerbated," she says. "Thus, it’s about short-term and easily linkable information versus long-term patterns of behavior."

More from The Stir: 5 Reasons You Aren't 'Fine' If You Were Spanked as a Child 

Of course a kid is going to immediately cooperate after being spanked -- he wants to avoid further spanking!! And while I can certainly understand the temptation to resort to a quick discipline fix, is that temporary compliance really worth it in the long run? As a mom, I'm not judging anyone who does spank; parenting is hard, and we don't always think our actions through in the moment. But hopefully this study will at least help to convince parents to abandon the idea of spanking based on actual results.

Hopefully it will also help to dispel this all-too prevalent "I got spanked and I turned out fine" myth.  

"Parents use information about how they were raised to make their own parenting decisions," said Altschul.

"However, spanking is just one factor among many that determine how someone turns out -- I would argue that the countervailing question is, 'Could you have turned out better, if you were not spanked?'"

Based on this study, it would seem as if the answer to that question is "yes" more often than not. 


Image via iStock.com/SolStock

Read More >