It's after 6 p.m. The supermarket checkout line is going nowhere. Tempers are fraying fast. Six-year-old Lizzy whines for a DoodlePop, as everyone in the vicinity clenches their teeth. Lizzy's mom finally explodes. Yanking her daughter within reach, she yells, "I told you to stop that!" and delivers three hard smacks to Lizzy's behind.
Changing our minds
Corporal punishment has been an accepted part of child rearing for untold generations. And in a recent study done by Parents magazine, nearly three-quarters of respondents still believe that spanking is an appropriate punishment for misbehavior. But though it's taken a long time for the idea of discipline without spanking to reach the mainstream. Professionals concerned with children's health and development are saying increasingly, "Don't spank."
The Case Against Spanking, by Irwin A. Hyman, director of the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives, also makes clear the connection between spanking and rates of child abuse. Citing Sweden, a country that made spanking illegal in 1979, he notes, "In 1981, only 26 percent of parents supported spanking. The support rate is currently less than 11 percent... [and] Sweden went from a family violence-related child death rate of 18 percent in 1970 to 0 percent in recent years."
What's wrong with spanking?
In his book Beating the Devil Out of Them, Murray A. Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab at the University of New Hampshire, states: "Most parents use corporal punishment to stop a child from misbehaving and to make him or her well-behaved. While that may be their intention, the evidence in this book indicates that spanking and other legal forms of corporal punishment are more likely to block that goal."
More and more research shows that spanking doesn't do what we think it does and can do things we would never intend.
Studies with both animals and children show physical punishment is actually less effective than positive reinforcement and other forms of discipline in correcting and changing behavior. In fact, research shows that over time, children who are spanked may increase their bad behavior.
In some children, spanking does little to develop a sense of conscience, but instead fosters the idea that they only need to be good if someone will find out. Fear of getting caught doing the wrong thing is very different from learning to behave because it's the right thing to do.
Researchers have also found that children who are spanked show higher rates of aggression and delinquency in childhood than those who were not spanked. As adults, they are more prone to depression, feelings of alienation, use of violence toward a spouse, and lower economic and professional achievement. None of this is what we want for our children.