“If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” -Dr. Benjamin Spock
The majority of parents in the United States spank their children although experts in the field disagree with this practice. There is more and more evidence that spanking should be avoided and that it doesn’t work in the long-term. While it does seem to get temporary compliance, meaning that the child might stop what they are doing right then, there are many long-term negative effects with a lot of harsh, physical or corporal punishment (Berger, 2018; Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014; Smith, 2012).
Spanking models aggression and can increase the child’s aggression, because children do what they see their caregivers do (Berger, 2018; Berk, 2013; Bobo doll video). Spanking teaches children that violence is an okay way to solve problems (Feldman, 2014).
The bad behavior doesn’t go away and it can come back, when there is no threat of punishment. For example, if parents tell their teenage daughter she’s grounded and she can’t see her boyfriend, she may just get angry and sneak out when she thinks she won’t get caught. Spanking also creates fear of the parent or teacher and it can harm the relationship between the adult and the child (Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014).
Children who are spanked are less likely to have a healthy internal sense of right and wrong. Spanking is connected to worse mental health, more depression and anxiety, increased aggression, more alcohol abuse, delinquency and antisocial behavior (Berger, 2018; Berk, 2013; Feldman, 2014; Smith, 2012).
Spanking doesn’t teach the child what they should be doing; it only tells them what not to do. Right now I am yelling, “Don’t think of a giraffe!” Are you picturing a giraffe? Of course! When you tell people not to do something that’s exactly what they tend to do. If parents or teachers tell children “Stop running!” all the children hear is “Run!” Instead, tell them what you want them to do. “Use your walking feet, please.” This takes a little more effort but they will hear “Walk” and be more likely to do it.
Parenting experts recommend using other discipline techniques such as talking with children, praise for good behavior, and time-outs (Berk, 2013; Smith, 2012). I would suggest squatting down to the child’s eye level and talking to him/her about the misbehavior and why it’s not okay. Does it hurt someone? Parents can explain to the child why running out in the street is not okay, because it’s not safe and he/she could get hurt. If there’s a safety reason a child shouldn’t be doing something, like climbing on dangerous furniture, explain that. They will understand and be less likely to do it. If there isn’t a good reason why, then the adult needs to think about whether or not it’s a good rule. Ultimately, you want them to know right from wrong internally, because you won’t always be there, and they will have to make good choices on their own.
Bobo doll video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zerCK0lRjp8&t=12s
Corporal Punishment in American Schools Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPADltNd-_o
Spanking video from ABC’s 20/20 “A Lesson They Will Never Forget”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVRKOdBBINY&t=21s
Berger, K. S. (2018). The developing person: Through Childhood and adolescence (11th ed.). New York, NY: Worth.
Berk, L. E. (2013). Child development (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Feldman, R. S. (2014). Child development: A topical approach. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Smith, B. L. (2012, April). The case against spanking: Physical discipline is slowly declining as some studies reveal lasting harms for children. Monitor on Psychology, 43(4), 60-63. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx