Stop! Hitting! Your! Kids!

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The American Academy of Pediatrics has finally come out strong against spanking. In a policy statement released Monday, the leading organization of pediatricians advised “that parents do not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming.” What a thing that this must be said!


The last time the AAP issued guidelines on the matter—way back in 1998, a whole twenty years ago—it was anti-spanking, but delicately so. “Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects,” the statement read. “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior.”

This time around, buoyed by the decades hence of research, the AAP speaks to “the need for adults to avoid physical punishment and verbal abuse of children.”

Those many years of research have shown corporal punishment to be ineffective long-term. In fact, recent research has suggested that spanking might actually encourage “bad behavior.” Research has also linked corporal punishment “to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children.” Among those negative outcomes: “reduced gray matter volume in an area of the prefrontal cortex that is believed to play a crucial role in social cognition,” as the New York Times reports.

Spanking rates have certainly gone down over the years, but a 2013 Harris Poll found that a stunning 67 percent of parents had spanked their children. A 2014 General Social Survey found that seven in 10 adults in the United States believed that a “good, hard spanking is sometimes necessary to discipline a child,” as the Times reports.

The prevalence of spanking might be one of the biggest hurdles going forward, thanks to the old “I was spanked and I turned out alright” defense. But the AAP isn’t having any of that. The statement suggests that pediatricians advise parents “that although many children who were spanked become happy, healthy adults, current evidence suggests that spanking is not necessary and may result in long-term harm.”



I think we need to look at spanking like car seats. So many people hear “you shouldn’t spank your kids” and immediately get defensive because their parents spanked them, and if you aren’t supposed to, than that means that they had bad parents. But they love their parents, they couldn’t have been bad, so that must mean spanking is okay.

If it gets reframed as a lack of adequate resources or education, then someone can both have spanked their kid, and not necessarily been a bad parent, so there’s no need to get defensive. I don’t think people who didn’t use car seats in the ‘60's were bad parents. They didn’t have car seats, they parented with the tools available to them at the time.

Now we have car seats, and we know that spanking can be harmful.  Going forward, we have the tools to be better.  It doesn’t have to be a commentary on those who came before.