The Prevalence and Impact of Spanking as a Form of Discipline: Does Spanking Equate to Abuse?

By: David Lee Sexton, Jr.

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Pixabay[Hands by johnhain on November 5, 2015, CC0]

Prevalence of Spanking as Discipline

Spanking continues to represent a commonly used practice that parents engage in to discipline their children. 76% of men and 65% of women agree that “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking” (ChildTrends, 2015). Spanking is viewed by most as a necessary and normal part of child-rearing, and the practice is often defended as a completely separate practice from hitting or abuse (Gershoff, 2017). However, Gershoff (2017) indicates that spanking may not be as detached from abuse as many parents believe.

Effects of Spanking on Development and Behavior

Meta-analytic studies conducted by Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor (2016) found that the use of spanking does not actually result in more compliance from children, both short-term and long-term. In addition, Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor found that did not result in decreases in aggressive or antisocial behavior or increases in the internalization of good morals. Interestingly, the results actually indicate that spanking was linked to worsening behavior in children, rather than behavioral improvements. Finally, spanking was also associated with increases in aggression and antisocial behavior exhibited by children, and spanking was also linked to negative developmental outcomes in childhood, such as mental health problems, low self-esteem, and poor academic performance.

Spanking vs. Physical Abuse

Gershoff (2017) indicates that family violence experts consider spanking to be on the continuum of violence against children. While spanking may seem like a fairly harmless disciplinary tool due to the lack of pain or signs of injury associated with it, the biggest risk of utilizing spanking in discipline is the threat of spanking leading to physical abuse in the future. Gershoff points out that 75% of physical abuse cases involved parents who sought to intentionally physically punish their child and indicates that there is a strong association between use of spanking as a form of punishment and physical abuse. So, while many parents may believe spanking will not lead to negative outcomes for their children, the fact is it can be easy to take spanking too far and slip into physical abuse. As such, it is important to be aware of existing research regarding the effects of spanking to make informed decisions about discipline.

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about spanking and its effects on development and behavior, please take some time to watch the MFLN Family Development team’s free, archived webinar presented by Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D. Dr. Gershoff is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a developmental psychologist who studies how parenting and discipline, in particular, affect the development of children. Her research combines longitudinal and hierarchical methods for understanding the dynamic and multilayered contexts of children’s lives.

References

Child Trends Datanank. (2015). Attitudes toward spanking. Retrieved from: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=attitudes-toward-spanking

Gershoff, E. (2017). Unintended consequences: What we now know about spanking and child development. MFLN Family Development. Retrieved from:  https://learn.extension.org/events/3017

Gershoff, E.T. & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (June 30, 2016) Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. 30(4), 453-469. http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Ffam0000191

This post was written by David Lee Sexton, Jr. of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

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