The consequences of spanking your child might be more severe than you think


Spanking is a hotly debated topic with parents. Some believe it’s necessary to keep kids in line, while others think it’s overly harsh. Now, new research is siding with team “do not spank”: It suggests spanking can lead your child to be violent in relationships when they’re older.

That’s the major takeaway from a study published in The Journal of Pediatrics. For the study, researchers recruited 758 young adults in Texas and asked them about their experience with spanking and physical abuse as kids, as well as their current experience with dating violence.

Nearly 20 percent of the participants admitted they had committed physical dating violence, and 68 percent of those reported being spanked, slapped, or hit with a physical object as kids. The researchers found a “significant positive association” between spanking and committing dating violence as adults, even after they controlled for things like sex, ethnicity, age, parents’ education, and childhood physical abuse. As a result, they concluded, spanking could increase the chances that a child will turn violent when they become older.

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The study findings back up previous research that connects spanking during childhood with physical violence down the road. One meta-analysis of 36 studies published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that parents who said they spanked their kids were three times more likely to say their kids were aggressive later in life. Another study recently published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect polled more than 8,000 adults and found that those who were spanked as kids were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and to have attempted suicide in the past.

This isn’t surprising, says Dr. Mayra Mendez, a licensed psychotherapist and programme coordinator for mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “Corporal punishment is frightening and detrimental to a child,” she says. Spanking, slapping, or hitting a child with objects teaches a child that this is how problems are solved, and that can carry over into adulthood.

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Dr. Gina Posner, a paediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, agrees. “If you’re hitting your child, you’re saying that it’s okay to hit,” she says. “It makes sense that when they get older they may ‘punish’ someone they’re with the same way.” That’s why Mendez recommends that parents use discipline that teaches children how to regulate their emotions and consider their options before they act.

“Corporal punishment teaches that this will take care of a problem right away—I used violence and the problem is solved,” Mendez says. “But that’s not problem solving.”

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