Spanking Your Kids Doesn't Work

Spanking has long been part of the American parenting repertoire, and it's been the source of plenty of controversy. Any kid that's ever been spanked knows it's scary as hell, and, for that reason alone, plenty of parents refuse to do it. But there are still many that swear by it as an effective disciplinary tool. Swear though they may, a new review of twenty years worth of research on the effects of spanking kids has found conclusively that it doesn't work—and worse, it can actually do long-term damage to kids.

Joan Durrant, psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba, reviewed more than 80 studies on physical punishment and its effects and found no benefit to it. Instead, Durrant says, "We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time."

The reason is that spanking isn't a simple one-time event. Durrant explains, "If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful. It's no different for children. It's not a constructive thing to do." The other problem is that by spanking, you're only reinforcing violent behavior in your child. According to Durrant,

When children see someone resolve conflict with aggression, they are more likely to learn that behavior. Two-year-olds are the most aggressive people in the world. They don't understand the impact of their behavior and they can't inhibit themselves. So the more a child sees someone resolving conflict with aggression, the more aggressive they become.

Beyond just fostering aggression, the damage done by physical punishment can have serious near-term consequences, such as depression and a lowered sense of self-worth—spanking can even encourage kids to lie to avoid being punished. And there can be long-lasting damage done as well. Being physically punished as a child has been linked to mental health problems and drug abuse in adulthood, and there's also evidence it may alter parts of the brain.

So, while past generations may have sworn by it, it seems spanking doesn't quite live up to its reputation as a cure-all for bad behavior—in fact, it could end up spawning even worse behavior down the line. And as tempting as it may be as a quick solution in a desperate situation, relying on it is only going to make things worse for your child in the end. So maybe the old saying needs to be reworked to "spare the rod, save the child."

Why Spanking Doesn't Work [Time]

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