The Psychology of Spanking

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The Psychology of Spanking

The word discipline comes from the root word disciplinare which means: to teach or instruct. However, most parents in America view this to include spanking:

  • “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”

Corporal punishment is defined as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for purposes of correction or control of the child’s behavior

But, some parents choose to withhold physical punishment from discipline practices, resulting in responses like:

  • “I was spanked as a child and I turned out fine!”
  • “I’d rather spank them than let the police beat them!”

But is it true? What are the effects of spanking? We took a look at the research to find out if it really does hurt you more than it hurts them.

Public Opinions in 2012

Across the country, in every state, parents reserve the legal right to hit their child if the force is considered “reasonable” – which is determined by the court on a case-by-case basis.

Percent that agree a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking”:

  • Parents: 72%
    • Fathers: 78%
    • Mothers: 66%
  • Asians/Pacific Islanders: 30%
    • Male: 47%
    • Female: 12%
  • Whites: 71%
    • Male: 78%
    • Female: 64%
  • Hispanics: 74%
    • Male: 72%
    • Female: 76%
  • American Indians/Alaskan Natives: 75%
    • Male: 86%
    • Female: 64%
  • Blacks: 82%
    • Male: 90%
    • Female: 74%
  • Less than high school: 78%
    • Male: 76%
    • Female: 80%
  • High School: 75%
    • Male: 83%
    • Female: 66%
  • Some college: 70%
    • Male: 79%
    • Female: 61%
  • College: 67%
    • Male: 70%
    • Female: 63%
  • Non-Christian: 66%
  • Christian: 78%
  • Republican: 80%
  • Independent: 69%
  • Democrat: 65%
  • South: 78%
  • Midwest: 72%
  • West: 64%
  • Northeast: %63%

With these percentages, it’s no wonder that 15% of children are spanked within their first year of life.

School

Spanking in schools is legal in 19 states: Alabama – Arizona – Arkansas – Colorado – Florida – Georgia – Idaho – Indiana – Kansas – Kentucky – Louisiana – Mississippi – Missouri – North Carolina – Oklahoma – South Carolina – Tennessee – Texas – Wyoming

During the 2009-10 school year, 11.6% of public schools allowed spanking as a disciplinary action and 8.1% actually used it. That’s roughly 8,000 schools nationwide that discipline their students by spanking [there 98,817 public schools for those years]

Estimated Children spanked in school 2009-2010:

  • With disabilities
    • Male: 28,655
    • Female: 5,283
  • Without Disabilities
    • Male: 140,775
    • Female: 43,753
  • Total Male: 169,430
  • Total Female: 49,036
  • Total: 218,466

The World

The USA is in the minority.

  • 145 countries (60.3% of the world’s population) have some kind of spanking ban:
    • 42 countries (10% of the world’s population) ban spanking in the home, schools and detention centers: Albania – Argentina – Austria – Bolivia – Brazil – Bulgaria – Cape Verde – Congo, Republic of the – Costa Rica – Croatia – Curacao – Cyprus – Denmark – Finland – Germany – Greece – Honduras – Hungary – Iceland – Israel – Kenya – Latvia – Liechtenstein – Luxembourg – Macedonia – Malta – Moldova – Netherlands – New Zealand – Norway – Poland – Portugal – Romania – South Sudan – Spain – Sweden – Togo – Tunisia – Turkmenistan – Ukraine – Uruguay – Venezuela
    • 52 countries (34% of the world’s population) ban spanking in just schools and detention centers: Andorra – Armenia – Azerbaijan – Belarus – Belgium – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Cambodia – Cameroon – Canada – China – Cuba – Czech Republic – Dominican Republic – El Salvador – Estonia – Ethiopia – Fiji – Gabon – Georgia – Guinea-Bissau – Haiti – Hong Kong – Ireland – Italy – Jordan – Kuwait – Kyrgyzstan – Laos – Lithuania – Macau – Malawi – Mali – Marshall Islands – Monaco – Montenegro – Namibia – Nicaragua – Philippines – Russia – San Marino – Serbia – Slovakia – Slovenia – South Africa – Switzerland – Taiwan – Thailand – Turkey – United Kingdom – Uzbekistan – Vietnam – Zambia
    • 27 countries (10% of the world’s population) ban spanking in just schools: Afghanistan – Algeria – Bahrain – Bangladesh – Belize – Burundi – Chad – Colombia – Congo, Democratic Republic of the – Djibouti – Ecuador – Guinea – Iran – Japan – Kiribati – Libya – Mauritius – Micronesia – Mongolia – Oman – Peru – Samoa – Sao Tome and Principe – Tonga – United Arab Emirates – Vanuatu – Yemen
    • 24 countries (6% of the world’s population) ban spanking in just detention centers: Bhutan – Burkina Faso – Chile – Cote d’Ivoire – Egypt – France – Jamaica – Kazakhstan – Korea, North – Korea, South – Lebanon – Liberia – Morocco – Mozambique – Panama – Paraguay – Senegal – Seychelles – Sint Maarten – Solomon Islands – Suriname – Swaziland – Timor-Leste – Uganda
  • 53 countries (39.6% of the world’s population) have no ban on spanking: Angola – Antigua and Barbuda – Aruba – Australia – Bahamas – Barbados – Benin – Botswana – Brunei – Comoros – Dominica – Eritrea – Gambia – Ghana – Grenada – Guatemala – Guyana – India – Indonesia – Iraq – Lesotho – Madagascar – Malaysia – Maldives – Mauritania – Mexico – Myanmar – Nauru – Nepal – Niger – Nigeria – Pakistan – Palau – Palestinian Territories – Papua New Guinea – Qatar – Rwanda – Saint Kitts and Nevis – Saint Lucia – Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – Saudi Arabia – Sierra Leone – Singapore – Somalia – Sri Lanka – Sudan – Syria – Tajikistan – Tanzania – Trinidad and Tobago – Tuvalu – United States – Zimbabwe
  • 2 countries (.2% of the world’s population) have unknown spanking laws: Central African Republic – Equatorial Guinea

Professional Opinion

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines physical punishment that causes any degree of pain and discomfort (even light) to be abuse. They argue that eliminating corporal punishment of children is “a key strategy for reducing and preventing all forms of violence in societies”

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against spanking because the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits.

A meta-analysis of 88 scientific studies over 62 years found a remarkable 94% consensus that spanking is associated significantly with undesirable behaviors and experiences:

  • decreased moral internalization
  • increased child aggression
  • increased child delinquent and antisocial behavior
  • decreased quality of relationship between parent and child
  • decreased child mental health
  • increased risk of being a victim of physical abuse
  • increased adult aggression
  • increased adult criminal and antisocial behavior
  • decreased adult mental health
  • increased risk of abusing own child or spouse

Spanking is associated with only one desirable behavior:

  • increased immediate compliance

The Effects of Spanking as a Child

Spanked children become more aggressive

Aggression is defined as:

  • argumentative
  • disobedient
  • cruel/mean/teases/threatens
  • destroys things
  • physically attacks people
  • screams/unusually loud

Children who are spanked less than twice a month at age 3 are 17% more likely to be aggressive at age 5.

Children who are spanked more than twice a month at age 3 are 49% more likely to be aggressive at age 5.

The results controlled for

  • Child’s aggression at age 3
  • Family demographics
  • Psychological maltreatment of child
  • Neglect of child
  • Partner aggression
  • Parenting stress
  • Major depression
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Considered aborting the child

“… the child learns to be aggressive by being treated directly with aggression.”

 Spanked children become more delinquent

Delinquent behavior is marked by aggression and rule breaking. The results controlled for:

  • Family demographics
  • Delinquent behavior & vocabulary skills at age 3
  • Temperament at age 1
  • Cognitive stimulation at age 1
  • Low birth weight
  • Birth order
  • Parental drug use
  • Parental care
  • Domestic abuse
  • Father support
  • Mother’s stress/depression/impulsiveness/intelligence

Delinquent behavior at age 9 of spanked children compared to non-spanked children: [23% of the difference is due to spanking]

  • Mothers spanking
    • Age 3
      • Less than 2x/week: -0.04
      • More than 2x/week: 0.21
    • Age 5
      • Less than 2x/week: 0.65
      • More than 2x/week: 1.83
  • Fathers spanking
    • Age 3
      • Less than 2x/week: −0.19
      • More than 2x/week: −0.24
    • Age 5
      • Less than 2x/week: 0.25
      • More than 2x/week: 0.18

For perspective, boys score 1 compared to girls at 0.

 Spanked children develop less verbal skills

Verbal skills at age 9 of spanked children compared to non-spanked children: [38% of the difference is due to spanking]

  • Mothers spanking
    • Age 3
      • Less than 2x/week: 0.30
      • More than 2x/week: −0.37
    • Age 5
      • Less than 2x/week: 0.22
      • More than 2x/week: −0.92
  • Fathers spanking
    • Age 3
      • Less than 2x/week: 0.26
      • More than 2x/week: −0.56
    • Age 5
      • Less than 2x/week: −0.79
      • More than 2x/week: −4.21

For perspective, children whose moms dropped out of high school score -2.6 compared to children whose moms finished college at 0

Spanked children develop less gray matter.

Children who were spanked at least 12 times a year for at least 3 years have less gray matter as an adult than children with very minimal exposure or no exposure at all to harsh spanking.

Spanking = spanking with an object, on occasion, for the purpose of disciplining a child, provided it did not extend beyond the buttocks, was not conducted out of anger, and did not result in injury.

Gray matter reduction in young adults who were spanked as children:

  • Right medial frontal gyrus: 19.1%
    • The ability to differentiate the self from other objects.
    • The ability to recognize one’s own attributes and preferences.
    • The ability to understand another person’s perspective (an essential skill in conflict resolution )
    • The ability to judge and predict the behavior of others.
  • left medial frontal gyrus: 14.5%
    • The ability to pay attention and retrieve memories
  • right anterior cingulate gyrus: 16.9%
    • The ability to monitor one’s own actions to ensure that they are consistent with intentions.

These regions have been linked to:

  • addiction
  • suicidal behavior
  • depression
  • PTSD
  • dissociative disorders

These regions are part of the medial rostral prefrontal cortex which plays a crucial role in social cognition as well as functional organization.

Even when controlling for education levels, spanked children scored 10 points lower on IQ tests. 75% of that is explained by spanking. In other words, stop spanking your kids and they will score 7.5 points higher on the IQ test.

Did the spanking cause the impaired development or did the impairment (and thus bad behavior) cause the spanking? Those involved in the study were being spanked before the age of 4 – before these areas of the brain are developed.

Why is gray matter important? Gray matter functions to process information. Specifically in these regions, it aids in decision-making and thought-processing. The more gray matter you have in these regions, the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences.

Results controlled for:

  • substance abuse
  • head injury
  • fetal drug/alcohol exposure
  • exposure to physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • perinatal or neonatal complications
  • neurological disorders
  • growth and development conditions

 

The Effects of Spanking when the Child becomes an Adult

Adults who were spanked have more mental illnesses and drugs/alcohol abuse problems.

Spanked is described as: pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit but not severe physical abuse (hit so hard it left marks, bruises, or caused an injury), sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence.

Percent of psychiatric disorders attributed to spanking:

  • Alcohol abuse or dependence: 3.4%
  • Drug abuse or dependence: 3.0%
  • Mood disorders: 2.8%
    • Major depression: 2.4%
    • Dysthymia:
    • Mania: 5.2%
    • Hypomania:
  • Anxiety disorders: 2.1%
    • Panic:
    • Social phobia:
    • Specific phobia:
    • General anxiety:
    • PTSD:
  • Cluster A Personality Disorders: 4.2%
    • Paranoid:
    • Schizoid:
    • Schizotypal: 7.2%
  • Cluster B Personality Disorders: 4.8%
    • Antisocial: 5.5%
    • Borderline: 4.6%
    • Histrionic:
    • Narcissistic: 4.7%
  • Cluster C Personality Disorders:
    • Avoidant:
    • Obsessive compulsive:

These percentages might seem small, but when you consider that 46% of Americans are estimated to suffer from some form of psychiatric disorder over the course of their lives, a large population of sufferers might be prevented by the absence of physical punishment. If harsh physical punishment did not occur, the prevalence of psychiatric disorders might be reduced by 2% to 7%.

With a U.S. pollution of 316.1 million, 145,360,000 people suffer from psychiatric disorders. Any where from 2,907,200 to 10,175,200 could be spared by not spanking.

Adults who were spanked have more health problems

Increased chance of developing a physical condition if spanked

  • Any phisical conditions: 30%
    • hypertension
    • Hepatic disease
    • Diabetes
    • Cardiovascular disease: 28%
    • Gastrointestinal disease
    • Arthritis: 25%
    • Obesity: 20%

Results controlled for:

  • Family demographics
  • Parent had a problem with alcohol or drugs
  • Parent went to jail or prison
  • Parent was treated or hospitalized for a mental illness
  • Parent attempted suicide
  • Parent died by suicide

Adults who were spanked have more family violence and disfunction

When spanking fails, parents who rely on it tend to increase the intensity of its use rather than to change strategies.

In Canada, 75% of physical child abuse cases involved spanking.

In the U.S., child abusers admit that 66% of their abuses began with spanking.

Compared to children who are not spanked, children who are spanked are:

  • 7 times more likely to be violently abused (punching, kicking, or hitting with an object)
  • 2.3 times more likely to need medical attention due to abusive injuries

Studies suggest that spanking communicates to children that “aggression is normative, acceptable, and effective” and leads to greater acceptance of interpersonal violence.

Individuals who were physically punished during childhood are

  • more likely to engage in physical and verbal aggression with their spouses: 6% is attributed to spanking
  • more controlling with their spouses: 6% is attributed to spanking
  • less able to understand their spouse’s perspective: 10% is attributed to spanking

A study of the dating relationships of students at 33 universities in 17 countries show a .44 correlation between being spanked as a child and assaulting a dating partner in college:

  • When 10% of students were spanked, 21% of students hit their dating partner
  • When 80% of students were spanked, 34% of students hit their dating partner

Spanking Alternatives

85% of parents express moderate to high levels of anger while spanking their children.

54% of mothers say that spanking was the wrong thing to have done half of the time.

85% of parents say they would rather not spank if they had an alternative they believed worked.

A healthy system of teaching and nurturing prepares children to achieve:

  • competence
  • self-control
  • self-direction
  • caring for others

An effective discipline system must contain three vital elements. Each element needs to be functioning adequately for discipline to be effective:

  • 1) Develop a positive, supportive, loving relationship between the parent and child:
    • Maintain a positive emotional tone in the home.
    • Pay attention to the child to increase positive behavior / withhold attention to decrease negative behaviors.
    • Be consistent in daily activities to reduce resistance and make negative experiences less stressful.
    • Respond consistently to similar behaviors.
    • Be flexible by listening, negotiation, and involving the child in decision-making. This has been associated with long- term enhancement in moral judgment.
  • 2) Use positive reinforcement strategies to increase desired behaviors:
    • Give regular positive attention or “special time.”
    • Listen carefully and help them learn to use words to express their feelings.
    • Provide children with opportunities to make choices and to understand the consequences of their choice.
    • Reinforce desirable behaviors with frequent praise and ignore trivial misdeeds.
    • Be a good model for orderly, predictable behavior, respectful communication, and conflict resolution.
  • 3) Remove reinforcements or apply punishment to reduce or eliminate undesired behaviors.
    • Be consistent with time-out and removal of privileges (increases compliance from 25% to 80%)
      • Be clear about what the bad behavior is and what the consequences will be.
      • Provide a strong and immediate consequence when the bad behavior first occurs.
      • Providing an appropriate consequence each time the bad behavior occurs.
      • Deliver instruction and correction calmly and with empathy.
      • Give a reason for the consequence. This helps children learn appropriate behavior.
    • Use verbal reprimands infrequently and always direct them towards the bad behavior not the child’s character.

So what if my child runs into the street? I have to spank her so she never does it again!

Actually, the most effective deterrent for children in those kinds of situations is for them to see your fear for them… not for you to spank them.


spanking

Sources:

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