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Spanking Children Doesn’t Work

Another large study found problems with parents spanking children - specifically that spanking may make a child's behavior worse over time. More than 50 countries ban spanking, but many parents still spank in the US (and yes, it is legal). Unfortunately some states in the US also allow spanking (corporal punishment) in schools even today, which is viewed by many as physical abuse.

Psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia found that children who were spanked by their parents at age five years were more likely to have behavioral problems between the ages 6 and 8. "Our findings suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and actually makes children's behavior worse not better," says lead author Elizabeth T Gershoff.

The researchers had 2 main conclusions. First:They found no evidence that spankings in general or recent spankings are effective at reducing "externalizing behavior problems" (e.g., fighting, arguing, getting angry, disrupting activities, being impulsive - as reported by their teachers) over time.  Instead, this study (like others) found that instead spanking children predicts more behavior problems in the future in children. And secondly, while the number of spankings was important (frequent vs not frequent spankings) with the result that children receiving frequent spankings had more behavior problems later, they also found  that a child who is spanked even once is more likely to have behavior problems in the future than a similar child who is never spanked. From Medical Xpress:

Spanking linked to increase in children's behavior problems

Children who have been spanked by their parents by age 5 show an increase in behavior problems at age 6 and age 8 relative to children who have never been spanked, according to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study, which uses a statistical technique to approximate random assignment, indicates that this increase in behavior problems cannot be attributed to various characteristics of the child, the parents, or the home environment - rather, it seems to be the specific result of spanking.

Gershoff and coauthors Kierra M. P. Sattler (University of Texas at Austin) and Arya Ansari (University of Virginia) examined data from 12,112 children who participated in the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. When the children were 5 years old, their parents reported how many times they had spanked their child in the past week (if any). The researchers classified any child whose parent provided a number other than zero as having been spanked.

The researchers then matched children who had been spanked with those who hadn't according to 38 child- and family-related characteristics, including: the child's age, gender, overall health, and behavior problems at age 5; the parent's education, age... Pairing the children in this way yielded two groups of children whose main difference was whether their parents had spanked them, effectively accounting for other factors that could plausibly influence the behavior of both parent and child. This approach allowed the researchers to approximate the random assignment of participants to groups, a hallmark of experimental design.

To gauge children's behavior problems over time, Gershoff, Sattler, and Ansari examined teachers' ratings when the children were 5, 6, and 8 years old. Children's teachers reported the frequency with which the children argued, fought, got angry, acted impulsively, and disturbed ongoing activities. The results were clear: Children who had been spanked at age 5 showed greater increases in behavior problems by age 6 and also by age 8 when compared with children who had never been spanked.

Gershoff and colleagues conducted a similar analysis with only those children who had been spanked by their parents, comparing children who had been spanked in the week before the study (which suggests frequent spanking) and those who had not. Children spanked in the past week at age 5 also experienced greater increases in problem behavior at age 6 and 8 compared with children not spanked as frequently.

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