Two-thirds of parents admit to spanking their children, and 81% of parents say that it’s sometimes acceptable to spank children. Yet study after study has shown the deleterious effects of spanking. A recent CNN article highlighted some of the worst effects of spanking, and parenting experts continue to emphasize that spanking is not an appropriate discipline strategy.
Spanking and the Child’s Brain
Severe spankings may undermine brain development. One recent study, for example, found that children who were frequently spanked, often with objects like belts, at least 12 times a year for 3 years or more had less gray matter in areas of the brain linked to mental health challenges and addiction. Another study found that children who were spanked by their mothers had fewer cognitive skills compared to other children. Researchers suggest this may be because children who are spanked don’t learn to control their own behavior. Rather than learning impulse control and other important skills, these children are perpetually afraid of being punished by external authorities and may to defer to authority as a result.
Other Negative Effects of Spanking
“Many parents spank when they are angry, which essentially teaches children that it’s okay for them to hit if they are large enough and angry enough,” says Grace Malonai, PhD, LPCC, a GoodTherapy.org parenting Topic Expert. Research backs Malonai up, with studies repeatedly finding that spanking increases aggression and antisocial behavior. One study found that children were 50% more likely to be aggressive by age 5 if they had been spanked more than twice in the previous month. Another study found a link between spanking and adult criminal behavior.
Parents who spank their children argue that some behaviors are so bad that spanking is the only way to teach children to avoid them. Malonai says this is wrong. “If your goal is to change behavior, spanking doesn’t work. In general, punishment has a very low effectiveness rate.” In addition to its ineffectiveness, Malonai points out that spanking can be damaging to the relationship between parent and child, “because spanking may teach a child to be afraid of his or her parent, which can reduce trust and sense of safety.” This lack of trust and safety in childhood influences the attachment style that the child develops, thus influencing his or her relationship patterns throughout life.
Parents who remain unconvinced of the connection between spanking and aggression should note that there are many other reasons not to spank. A 2013 study that found that children who were spanked by their fathers were more likely to have language and vocabulary problems. The same study also found that spanked children were more likely to behave defiantly.
In 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child moved to end spanking around the world, calling spanking violence against children.
- Castillo, M. (2013, October 21). Spanking young kids linked to aggressive behavior, language woes by age 9. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/spanking-young-kids-linked-to-aggressive-behavior-language-woes-by-age-9/
- Kovac, S. (2014, July 23). Spanking the gray matter out of our kids. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/23/health/effects-spanking-brain/
- Park, A. (2010, May 03). The long-term effects of spanking. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0%2C9171%2C1983895%2C00.html
- Smith, B. L. (2012, April). The case against spanking. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx
- Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says. (2013, December 11). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/131211103958.htm
- Tomoda, A., Suzuki, H., Rabi, K., Sheu, Y., Polcari, A., & Teicher, M. H. (2009). Reduced prefrontal cortical gray matter volume in young adults exposed to harsh corporal punishment. NeuroImage, 47, T66-T71. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.03.005
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