Five Decades of Research Confirms: Spanking Produces Similar Outcomes in Children as Physical Abuse

Five Decades of Research Confirms: Spanking Produces Similar Outcomes in Children as Physical Abuse

Most people use the logic “I would never discipline my kids by hitting them, but I have no problem with spanking.” And, parents, scientists, and caregivers have debated about it and whether it is right or wrong to use it as discipline since forever. But, science has the last word! After five decades of research, psychologists have confirmed that spanking children produces similar effects as physical abuse.

Scientists: The Spanking Debate Is Over

In what researchers claim to be “the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spank… The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems, and cognitive difficulties.”

Published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the analysis included five decades of research and more 160,000 children. Most of the parents included in this meta-analysis agreed that there was a significant difference between spanking and other abusive behavior.

According to a 2014 report by UNICEF, around 80% of people spank their children, which researchers have defined as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities.

On the flip side,                                  

“Physical abuse is characterized by the infliction of physical injury as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning, shaking, or otherwise harming a child. The parent or caretaker may not have intended to hurt the child, rather the injury may have resulted from over-discipline or physical punishment.”

The Truth About Spanking and Physical Abuse

According to Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin,

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

Maybe the most important thing that Gershoff and her study`s co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor concluded from this research was 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.”

Interestingly, these findings don’t apply to childhood only. Researchers have analyzed the long-term effects of spanking on adult individuals and found that they had higher chances of exhibiting:

  • Support for physical punishment for their own children
  • Anti-social behavior
  • Mental health problems

Chantel, the founder of Earth Based Mom and a victim of child abuse, agrees with these statements. She believes that spanking has little (or nothing) to do with the child and everything to do with the parent!

“Spanking reflects your lack of self -control,” Chantel says. “The very thing you are trying to teach your child to have, you are inadvertently teaching them the opposite, which is also confirmed in this research.”


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