Analysis Confirms Link Between Spanking, Harm to Children

Young child sitting in the corner as punishmentThe more frequently children are spanked, the more likely they are to develop aggression, cognitive challenges, mental health conditions, and antisocial behaviors, according to a study of more than 160,000 children published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Parents who spank their children say they do so to improve their behavior, but the latest research suggests spanking can have the opposite effect. A 2014 United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report found that as many as 80% of parents across the globe spank their children.

Does Spanking Work? Study Says No.

Researchers identified spanking as an open-handed hit to the rear or the extremities, eliminating some behaviors many Americans—including those who spank their children—would consider abusive. They then looked at studies of this type of spanking conducted over the past 50 years.

The team identified 17 potential negative outcomes associated with spanking. Thirteen negative outcomes, including aggression and mental health diagnoses, increased among children who were spanked. The more frequently children were hit, the more likely they were to experience negative outcomes. Adults whose parents had spanked them were also more likely to support spanking and continue physical punishment for their own children.

The researchers emphasize that many parents draw a clear distinction between beneficial spanking and harmful physical abuse. Yet both spanking and abuse increased negative outcomes in children, to almost the same degree.

How Common is Spanking?

Numerous studies have documented the damaging effects of spanking, and most therapists advise parents to avoid spanking. Yet spanking remains a common practice. An ABC News poll found 65% of Americans approve of spanking, and 50% spank their own children. A 2014 study of preschoolers and their families found that parents in 15 of 33 families hit their children in a six-night period. A total of 41 spanking incidents occurred during the study period, but spanking did not seem to have the effect the parents intended. After 75% of spanking incidents, children were misbehaving again within 10 minutes.


  1. Crandall, J. (November 8). Poll: Most approve of spanking kids. Retrieved from
  2. Gray, B. B. (2014, April 29). Spanking may be more common than parents admit. Retrieved from
  3. Gershoff, E. T., & Grogan-Kaylor, A. (2016). Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. doi:10.1037/fam0000191
  4. Reeves, R. V., & Cuddy, E. (2014, November 06). Hitting kids: American parenting and physical punishment. Retrieved from
  5. Risks of harm from spanking confirmed by analysis of 5 decades of research. (2016, April 25). Retrieved from

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  • Susannah


    April 26th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    It doesn’t work and it just makes them more fearful of you

  • Debbie


    April 26th, 2016 at 11:06 AM

    One more reason to avoid using an ancient book, written by Bedouin Shepherd, as a guide to living a happy life. Now if we can only get this hated, horrible book out of our schools and our government.
    Prov 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently).”
    Prov 19:18: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.”
    Prov 22:15: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”
    Prov 23:13: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.”
    Prov 23:14: “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel).”
    Prov 29:15: “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

  • Una


    April 26th, 2016 at 2:19 PM

    I am all for disciplining my children but not at the cost of risking abusing them. This is the parent who takes things way too far and they say things like oh, I am doing this for his good later on down the road. But then they take things way too far and they actually end up hurting the child both physically as well as emotionally. There are so many other ways that you can discipline your child than by spanking them. I think that the parent who always resorts to this has some deep seeded issues that they need to work out and not on the kids.

  • Frances


    April 27th, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    This can easily go both ways. Some children can receive one spanking in their lifetimes and that’s all they need to know that isn’t something that they ever wish to experience again!

    But other kids? It’s as if this sort of aggressive behavior toward them sparks aggression in them and it makes them even more willful and disobedient.

  • lilly


    April 27th, 2016 at 2:13 PM

    You will be hard pressed to change the minds of many parents about spanking. Some feel like if it doesn’t hurt then it isn’t discipline at all :/

  • Skip


    April 29th, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    There are millions of us here who were regularly spanked as children. I think that most of us have turned out okay. I am sure that there are people who commit violent acts because of how they were treated as children, but I don’t think that it would be those of us who were disciplined through spanking. Now if you are abusive then that is another whole story, but you know that there are some kids who will not ever respond to anything other than a good little pop every now and them. I am still not sure after all of these years and even articles like this that can convince me that it is wrong.

  • Brenda


    April 29th, 2016 at 4:22 PM

    I was spanked as a child and now have bad behavior as an adult. And PTSD from consistent mental spiritual and physical abuse and just recently I have been in a relation with someone that yells screams at me and his girlfriend and has activated my PTSD to an extreme… he has been stalking me around my town home text and phone… I put a block on my phones and text and facebook… But I fear he is going to kill me for reasons unknown. I need some support, yes and I’m getting support from my therapy clinic. I need some treatment and changes in my meds as well. THANK YOU all for your support. Brenda

  • GoodTherapy Admin

    GoodTherapy Admin

    April 30th, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    Dear Brenda,

    Thank you for your comment. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about stalking at and additional information about what to do in a crisis at

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  • Thad


    April 30th, 2016 at 1:21 PM

    Pretty much I believe that most parents rely on spanking when they have reached the end of their rope and don’t know what else they can do to end the bad behavior. So they go back to what was done to them as a child, thinking that if it didn’t hurt them then why would they think that it would hurt the child? Except that it more likely did hurt them and they just have not been able to come around to recognizing and understanding that quite yet/

  • Blair


    May 2nd, 2016 at 10:22 AM

    Is there really ever been anyone who has responded all that well to getting hit to make a point? Kids are no different. This has to be a threatening thing to them and they don’t want to be hurt in this way any more than an adult does. In my experience I think that spanking only makes a child even more defiant.

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