Is it ok to spank your children?
- The American Heritage Dictionary defines spanking as “A number of slaps on the buttocks delivered in rapid succession, as for punishment.”
- A 2013 Harris Poll found that 81% of respondents say that “parents spanking their children is sometimes appropriate.”
- Psychologists have identified four major parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and uninvolved. Of the four types, spanking usually falls within the authoritarian or authoritative styles.
- Harvard researcher Jorge Cuartas’ study, “Corporal Punishment and Elevated Neural Response to Threat in Children,” found that “Preschool and school-age children--and even adults--[who have been] spanked are more likely to develop anxiety and depression disorders or have more difficulties engaging positively in schools and skills of regulation, which we know are necessary to be successful in educational settings.”
- According to parenting professor and researcher Dr. Robert Larzelere, “Only five research studies have restricted their definition of spanking to open-handed swats on the bottom, [and] none of them found any harmful effects of spanking. And four studies found it to be tied for first place as the most effective way to enforce cooperation with timeout in defiant 2- to 6-year-olds.”
An aspect of healthy family life is observable in children who are kept from dominating parent-child relationships, whether at home or in public. Spanking, though increasingly controversial, remains a valid method of discipline, especially for younger children who cannot reason or discern consequences. But as with any method, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it.
Spanking-positive parents and researchers agree that punishing out of anger or with objects is never the right way to correct children. Spanking is not revenge, should not be the first response, should be an infrequent occurrence, and should be reserved for clear and willful defiance. Spanking is to be done privately to avoid shaming the child openly, by an emotionally controlled parent, after several warnings have been administered in situations where the child endangers himself or others or after disobeying previous reprimands with milder punishments. It is to be followed by a loving embrace and a verbal review of the offense and the reason for punishment. This is proven to be more effective with younger children than authoritarian or permissive parenting, where discipline is either too harsh (for instance, implementing objects in physical punishment) or too loose (where parent responses are erratic or emotionally wavering).
Parents, by necessity, exist to guard, guide, and enlighten their children while exemplifying restraint and authority. Spanking adds weight to parents’ words so that young children learn there are real-life repercussions to disobedience--and it should always be administered in loving correction, not in emotional retaliation.
Most adults were spanked during childhood. In the last four decades; however, over fifty countries and territories have banned corporal punishment, allowing scientists to compare different systems of child discipline on a global scale. This surge of research by behavioral and medical professionals has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to [oppose spanking] unilaterally.
Discipline aims to decrease negative behaviors and to increase positive behaviors. To effectively teach children to self-regulate appropriate behavior, parents should clearly communicate desirable behavior, set consequences for its violation, and allow consistent follow-through. A smack on the buttocks seems productive, but nearly three-fourths of children return to the problem behavior within ten minutes of punishment. The threat of pain hinders learning and physical reprimands are not suitable for all settings and disciplinarians, making spanking a poor contender for long-term reform. Pediatricians can readily offer intervention strategies that are far more reliable and don’t teach children that hitting is an acceptable way to resolve conflict.
Medical experts have warned against spanking as punishment for decades. Though spanking does not cause physical harm, it has similar developmental risks to physical abuse. Poor behavioral, cognitive, psychological, and emotional outcomes are most strongly associated with spanking during the first decade of life, and risks increase with the frequency of punishment. The risk of impaired development holds even if the relationship is otherwise warm and loving. The strong link between spanking and adverse developmental health doesn’t prove that spanking is the cause of unfavorable outcomes. Still, parents should educate themselves with medical consensus to make the safest and most informed decisions for the welfare of their children.