When I first saw the headline from the latest study to investigate the effect of spanking on a 5 year old, published last week in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, my first reaction was to file this one under “No Sh*t?” There have been a tremendous amount of studies on this topic, but what differentiates this one, is not only its high level of statistical control variables, but the additional information regarding maternal vs paternal spanking. (Mac-Kenzie, et al, 2013).
Children who were spanked by their mother’s twice a week or more at age 3 and/or 5 demonstrated much higher levels of externalized behavior such as aggression and rule breaking by the time they were 9 versus those children who were never spanked. Even the five year olds who were spanked by their mothers, but less than twice per week, demonstrated these behaviors by age 9.
The same aged children who were frequently spanked by their fathers, did not demonstrate as much of the above-mentioned behaviors, but scored significantly lower on receptive vocabulary tests.
Just a few of the statistically controlled variables included not only the child’s previous pattern of behavior, gender, and birthweight, but also socioeconomic status, maternal mental health and cognitive behavior- all of which had little effect on the universal findings.
A different study published last year indicated a relationship between spanking and mental health disorders even when there was no “severe maltreatment” (i.e. physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse).
I’m no neuroscientist (and definitely not a rocket scientist either) but is it safe to say that spanking (and in my opinion, the emotional trauma that comes with it as I’m unaware of parents who dish out a spanking with a smile), has a profound effect on the developing brain?
The researchers advise clinicians discuss with parents, the negative impact of spanking and teach better discipline practices that may lead to healthy “child trajectories.” I still file the findings under “no-duh” but it’s a valuable study that has shed some more light on the importance of teaching alternative means of discipline while continuing to develop even more effective techniques for parents while keeping our kids safe.
It should be noted, that these studies have identified the potential negative effects of spanking and that an identified trend is not rule. Many of our parents, perhaps the majority, were spanked regularly, but that was at a time when spanking was the cultural norm, a movie ticket was 5 cents, and our parents walked to school 8 miles each way in the snow. Oh, you heard the same thing too?
Lastly, if you were spanked regularly growing up, there’s a good chance your parent(s) used to cry after a spanking and utter those famous words, “I’ll never do that to my kids!”
Share your thoughts in the comments if you’d like, and enjoy the rest of the your weekend.