Science Says Spanking Kids Could Lead To Future Dating Violence

by Meredith Bland
Image via ljubaphoto/Getty Images

Spanking may be a predictor of dating violence

Research has been showing for years that the use of spanking as a form of discipline can result in poor outcomes for kids. A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics shows that it may lead to future dating violence, as well.

Despite the changing attitudes toward corporal punishment in the United States over the past few generations, most parents still believe in spanking. According to a national survey from 2014, “76 percent of men, and 65 percent of women, 18 to 65 years old, agreed that a child sometimes needs a ‘good hard spanking.'” However, research done over the past twenty years has shown links between spanking and childhood aggression, mental health problems, and decreased cognitive ability. There’s also the idea that if you don’t want your kids to hit other people, you shouldn’t hit your kids, which may play a role in the findings of this latest study out of the University of Texas.

In the study, researchers asked 758 young adults (ages 19 and 20) whether they had received physical punishment as children and then compared it with their history of dating violence. The result? “Kids who said they had experienced corporal punishment were more likely to have recently committed dating violence,” said the study’s lead author, Jeff Temple, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, to CNN.

While 19% of the study participants reported having been involved in dating violence, 68% of that group reported having received physical punishment as children. According to researchers, this resulted in a “significant positive association” between corporal punishment and dating violence. This association remained even after they controlled for childhood physical abuse, which means that the relationship was between slapping and spanking as opposed to child abuse. “Regardless of whether someone experienced child abuse or not,” said Temple, “spanking alone was predictive of dating violence.”

There are a lot of people out there who believe in spanking and think it has had a positive influence in their household. Fine. You do you. But for the rest of us, spanking means telling kids that physical violence can be used as means to punish bad behavior, that hitting is appropriate when we’ve reached our last straw, and that hitting can be part of a normal, healthy relationship. Some may believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child,” but others believe that the line between physical discipline and abuse is too unclear, and teaches lessons they’d rather their child not learn.

As Boston University Associate Professor Emily Rothman told CNN: “The experience of having someone direct aggression to you increases the likelihood that you’ll fall back on aggression when in a flight or fight moment. Having been hit by the parent can elevate stress and reduces a child’s coping skills, so they may lash out.”

If we want to break the cycle of abuse, we need to start by doing that work ourselves. There isn’t a parent out there who hasn’t been tempted, at one time or another, to smack their kids into next Tuesday. But if our job is to teach our children how to behave as adults, then we can’t be an adult who hits the ones we love and says it was justified. That it was their fault. That they forced us to do it because of their behavior.

Those excuses sound pretty familiar, don’t they?