Most Americans say that spanking your kids is OK, but researchers don’t agree.
The majority of Americans — generally two-thirds or more — say that spanking is at least sometimes necessary to discipline a child, several recent studies conclude. People living in the South tend to be most amenable to spanking, and those in the Northeast the least, according to data from the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey.
And we put these beliefs into practice. Some 57% of mothers and 40% of fathers had spanked their 3-year old child and 52% of mothers and 33% of fathers had spanked their 5-year-old child, according to a 2013 study of children across 20 U.S. cities in the journal Pediatrics, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Many researchers say that spanking is a big no-no, however. Children who were spanked were more likely to exhibit aggression, mental health problems, cognitive issues and antisocial behavior, among other problems, a study of more than 160,000 children concluded in the April Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Society. What’s more, spanking did not increase these children’s obedience levels, the study found.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” co-author Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, told Science Daily. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”
Other studies have also shown that spanking can harm children, and the American Psychological Association advocates for the use of use of “non-physical methods of disciplining children.”
Still, it’s virtually impossible to prove cause and effect with these spanking studies. It may not be the spanking that causes kids to behave badly down the road, but instead that worse-behaved children get spanked more and their bad behavior simply continues on into adulthood. And, of course, there are thousands of individuals who were spanked as children and say they don’t have any issues from it.