Study Claims That Children Who Are "Smacked" Do Better Later In Life

Illustration for article titled Study Claims That Children Who Are Smacked Do Better Later In Life

According to a study led by Professor Marjorie Gunhoe of Calvin College, children who are physically disciplined between the ages of two and six end up being more successful and well-adjusted than peers who had never been "smacked."


Gunhoe's study, which took the lives of 2,600 subjects into account, including "detailed interviews with 179 teenagers" determined that children who were disciplined before the age of six tended to do better academically and have more "optimism about the future" than those who were not disciplined during the same developmental period. However, children who were physically disciplined between the ages of seven and eleven were still more likely to be academically more successful, though they showed more negative behavioral traits.

Gunhoe argues that her research proves that parents should not be banned from physically disciplining their children: "The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data. I think of spanking as a dangerous tool, but there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool. You just don't use it for all your jobs." Debates are currently raging in the comment sections of both the Times of London and Daily Mail pieces on the study, as readers attempt to defend or dismantle Gunhoe's work, and, perhaps most interestingly, attempt to clarify the difference between a "smack" and physical abuse.


It's not entirely surprising, I suppose, that Gunhoe's study is already kicking up a great deal of debate: as the Daily Mail notes, "in a recent poll, more than 70% of Britons said they would support children's charities in imposing a ban on hitting of any kind as a form of discipline," and one imagines it will be hard to convince parents who do not agree with physically disciplining their their children to change their minds, no matter what the statistics might say, as evidenced by a comment by British "parenting guru" Penelope Leach, who tells Georgia Warren of the Times of London, "I do not buy this idea that children will learn positive behaviour from being smacked. The law says adults hitting adults is wrong and children should be protected in the same way. Children are people, too."

A Smacked Child Is A 'Successful Child' [TimesOnline]
Children Who Are Smacked While Young Are More Likely To Be Successful, Study Finds [Daily Mail]

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Hazey Jane

My friend and I had a discussion about this after seeing the headline on the train today. I think most of us can probably come up with anecdotes about spankings or smackings that were administered in extreme or justified (and, more importantly, rare) circumstances and whose recipients have turned out just fine.

My dad was (and still is to some extent) very much in favor of corporal punishment (in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he brought this story up the next time I hear from him) and my mother very much against it. Whenever I was in danger of getting spanked, I'd shriek for my mom if she was in the house and she'd come and put a stop to it. I tend to agree with her assertion that spankings, smacks, etc. make the parent feel better but don't do a lot to teach the child appropriate behavior; it seems to me that it just teaches the kid to fear punishment rather than to fear doing anything wrong in the first place. Furthermore, I know that my dad's parents' punishments were primarily physical in nature, and I think his eagerness (for lack of a better word) to spank my sister and me stemmed from that—there's a certain element of, "It was done to me and it's no fair I didn't get to do it to mine"-type bitterness to his statements when he tries to defend his point of view.

As for the study itself, I wouldn't be surprised if the kids who were smacked between the ages of two and six had parents who are strong on discipline. I don't necessarily mean strict parents, but parents who set boundaries and who aren't afraid to discipline their kids when lines are crossed. Such parents are likely to be fairly involved in their kids' lives (no point in setting rules if you're not going to stick around to see that they're obeyed) and thus get kids who more or less adhere to their parents rules and try to meet their expectations (both behavioral and academic).

As for this study itself, it's pretty obvious they haven't established a causal link between smacking small children and good behavior and academics later on and I don't think it'll turn out that there is one. What comes to my mind as a possible explanation for the data in this study is physical abuse isn't the only type of abuse. Kids whose parents don't pay attention to them or who out right neglect them, or who are verbally or emtionally abused are unlikely to be faring well in school or socially, but technically fall into the "never been hit" category.