A study built upon five decades of research following 160,000 children found that spanking didn’t make children more compliant in the short term. On the contrary, spanking was associated with a high risk of children defying their parents, becoming aggressive and anti-social. In the long run, mental health issues and cognitive difficulties may arise.
Unlike other studies which grouped various forms of physical discipline, the researchers at University of Texas and University of Michigan focused solely on the effects of spanking. The findings published in the Journal of Family Psychology do not suggest that spanking will automatically ruin children. Instead, they argue that there’s a significant risk spanking increases risk for detrimental child outcomes.
“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” said lead author Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”
The more frequent children were disciplinarily spanked, the higher the risk children would defy their parents. For the purpose of this analysis, a spanking is defined as an open-handed smack of a child’s bottom or extremities. A total of 13 detrimental outcomes were associated with spanking.
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children,” said Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work,. “Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”
As many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children, according to a 2014 UNICEF report. Not all of these kids will turn into sociopaths, but there are significant risks that this might happen. Furthermore, there is no evidence that spanking provides any positive outcomes.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” Gershoff says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”