Study Finds No Difference Between The Effects Of Spanking And Physical Abuse

A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, on April 7, 2016, finds that spanking children can cause them to defy their parents more and experience anti-social behavior, like mental health issues, cognitive difficulties and aggression.

Researchers Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor conducted meta-analysis on 50 years of research on spanking involving 160,927 children. The data was gathered from previous researches conducted on the subject from the University of Michigan and the University of Texas.

The analysis is the most up-to-date and comprehensive effort to understand the effects of spanking on young children. The researchers primarily focused on effects of spanking alone and did not include other types of physical punishments in their analysis to understand the issue at hand more comprehensively.

The aim of the study was to see if the effects of spanking are different from those of physical abuse and if the effects were robust to study design differences.

Spanking here is defined as an open handed hit on extremities or the behind and is also a known form of corporal punishment.

The researchers found that this type of hitting was associated with 13 of the 17 outcomes they examined, all of them which were damaging to the child’s health.

According to Elizabeth Gershoff, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas, the main focus of the study was ‘spanking that most of the Americans’ would not consider as abusive and the study found that it was associated with detrimental outcomes which were not intended, whereas the outcomes intended by the parents, immediate or long term compliance, were not present at all.

Previously, Gershoff addressed why spanking is often ineffective. Primarily, experts believe that for punishment to be effective, it should adhere to three conditions: it should be immediate, consistent, and delivered after every transgression of the same nature. Spanking is often administered without fulfilling this criterion. Moreover, children learn by complicated techniques, that is internalizing reasons for behaving in acceptable and appropriate ways. Spanking fails to teach why their behavior was wrong and what they should have done instead. But it does teach them that they should only ‘behave well’ under the threat of punishment, and once the threat is removed they have no reason to do so.

GroganKaylor, co-author and an Associate Professor at School of Social Work in the University of Michigan, also remarked, “The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

The interesting aspect of the research was the fact that how the inclination towards physical punishment was being passed from one generation to another. When the scientists looked closely at the data, the pattern emerged where adults who were spanked as children showed anti-social behavior and a history of mental health problems. These adults were more prone to physically punishing their own children too, thus it was observed that tendency to hit children can pass through generations.

Another important finding included that the pattern of spanking and its negative outcomes were consistent throughout all types of studies. The studies with strongest methodologies, whether longitudinal or experimental, showed the same pattern.

There was no difference between the effects of physical abuse and spanking. The magnitude of the effects caused by light hitting was equal to that of physical abuse. The study also showed one directional relationship and a direct correlation between spanking and its harmful effects.

Another research paper, authored by Gershoff, found that according to previous findings negative outcomes of spanking are similar across different cultures, races, ethnicities, and in communities where mothers and children both perceived spanking as a norm.

United Nations in a 2006 report of ‘Committee on the Rights of the Child’ has stated, “Corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment are forms of violence” “and that it should be banned in all context”.

Recently, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has proposed a ban for corporal punishment of children. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has also concluded that this form of punishment is a direct violation of children’s human rights.

Corporal punishment is also recognized to violate children’s human rights in at least seven human rights treaties.

United States is one of the three countries (along with Somalia and South Sudan) which do not implement these policies and maintains that parents and school personnel (in 19 states) can spank children.

According to a UNICEF report published in 2014, nearly 80 percent of people worldwide hit and spank their children and six out of 10 children between ages of two and fourteen are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers worldwide. That makes nearly a billion children worldwide being harmed on a regular basis.

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