It's Official: Spanking Is Useless

by Ashley Austrew
Originally Published: 

A 5-decade study just confirmed spanking doesn’t work

To spank or not to spank — that’s the question most of us have been asking ourselves since we became parents. Spanking is widely practiced, even today, but new research shows there’s no benefit to hitting, and in fact, it could bring about worse outcomes for our kids.

In a landmark study published this week in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Michigan analyzed 75 studies spanning 50 years and involving more than 150,000 kids. What they found, across the board, is that evidence overwhelmingly shows spanking is not an effective discipline tool, has exactly zero positive outcomes, and actually makes kids behave worse in the long run.

For their analysis, spanking was defined as an “open-handed hit on the behind or extremities” — in other words, the kind of hitting many parents see as acceptable. Per their findings, children who are spanked this way are more likely to defy their parents, and also more prone to aggression, cognitive difficulties, anti-social behavior, mental health issues, and to using hitting as a tool for asserting themselves.”The irony is that many parents spank when their kids are aggressive. So the child thinks you can use spanking to get what you want – kids learn that,” says study author Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff.

Spanking is one of those things that gets passed down from generation to generation, and we tend to make a lot of excuses for why we do it: it’s just a swat, it helps in emergency situations, it’s the only effective way to discipline a small child, it teaches kids respect, and the oft-cited “our parents did it to us and we turned out just fine.”

The truth is, spanking is outdated and, as this study shows, doesn’t have any of the benefits we want to believe it does. “This is a wide swath of children and the findings are incredibly consistent,” study author Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff told CBS News. “This shows there is a correlation between spanking and negative outcomes and absolutely no correlation between spanking and positive outcomes.”

I can remember being spanked as a child and the way it filled me with rage, made me feel ashamed, and completely dissolved any trust I had for my parents. As a result, I promised myself I’d never spank my own kids, but when spanking is what you’ve been taught, it’s hard to break that cycle. It’s taken a lot of work and many hours of reading about positive discipline for me to figure out how to parent in a way that’s effective for my kids, but also loving and respectful.

Obviously, no one can tell another parent how to discipline their kids, so long as what they’re doing isn’t abusive or illegal. But, given the evidence, it’s worth it to consider alternatives to spanking and to make the practice of hitting children a thing of the past. “People think if you don’t spank you’re a pushover,” says Gershoff, “but you can be a firm parent with high expectations for children. You don’t have to hit them to show you have power.”

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