Research over the decades has shown that spanking children is useless and potentially harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended a new policy statement published in the Pediatrics journal – saying parents should not spank, hit or slap their children. America’s 67,000 members strong leading group of pediatricians issued a statement in 1988 which recommended that parents develop methods other than spanking to discipline their kids.

This new statement is essential because it reflects decades of critical new research done on the effects of corporal punishment. Parents and educators trust pediatricians for advice on how to discipline children – almost as much [1] as they trust their spouses and parents. Hence when pediatricians say that spanking is the wrong approach, parents are more inclined to listen.

People need to stop spanking their children in the name of discipline – other, more effective means of discipline can be adopted. In American society – we do not allow adults to hit each other. On similar lines, we should provide children with the same protection from being hit, similar to the protection given to all adults.

Incremental changes in norms are slowly happening; this is indeed good news. Hospitals across the country [2] are implementing “no-hit zones” [3], a policy that has been studied and advocated for [4], – which does not allow hitting of any kind, including parents spanking their kids. City leaders in Madison Heights, Michigan, and Stoughton, Wisconsin have made their whole cities into “no-hit zones”.

It is quite similar to no smoking zones, which are enforced through social pressure to change behavior. Initiatives like no-hit zones when paired with education campaigns on military disciplines – are a fruitful step towards improving the national conversation about spanking.  

There are several reasons to stop spanking. Spanking doesn’t work in correcting the behavior of a child. Some parents say it works for their kids. A child may cry and even briefly stop doing the activity that was deemed harmful, but numerous studies [5] involving thousands of children have shown that spanking does not make a child better behaved in the long run, on the other hand, it makes their behavior worse. Parents might not see this in their day-to-day interactions, but the research is clear: the more often a child is spanked, the more aggressive he or she becomes.

Spanking also teaches little kids that it is acceptable to use physical force to get what they want. It is not surprising to learn that the more we spank a child, it would be more likely [6] they are to become aggressive or engage in offensive behaviors like stealing.

Thousands of parents have raised their disciplined children without spanking. Kids thrive on attention from their parents or adults [7]. Nothing is perfect – but by telling children clearly what you expect from them and then praising their deed is the best approach to discipline.

To see reductions in spanking across American society in the long run, we need to bring about changes in the social norm. Hitting adults as not acceptable, so we seriously need to expand the social model a little to include children, but changing social practices may be challenging in several regions in America, like in the South, or some communities, like conservative Christian denominations. Models in these areas can be changed, but it will likely take time, and several conversations would be required to achieve collective goals for our next generation children.

The majority of us whom our parents have spanked today think we have “turned out OK”. But maybe we were fortunate that our parents communicated to us about what behavior they expected from us in the future. That indeed has helped us develop self-control and make good behavior choices.

Given the dozens of research studies [8] indicating that spanking increments the risk of harming a child, it seems that we – “turned out OK” in spite of spanking, not because of it. We should be the generation of parents who break the cycle of spanking and do better with the children of the next generation. Let us teach them how to behave with others without spanking or hitting our little ones!

References:

  1. Parents’ professional sources of advice regarding child discipline and their use of corporal punishment, NCBI
  2. Champions For Children Prevent Child Abuse, Official Website
  3. Hitting Hurts: No Hit Zone Conference, University of Minnesota, Department of Pediatrics
  4. Data on physical punishment leads to ‘No Hit Zones’, SAFE
  5. Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses., NCBI
  6. When it comes to school, harsh parenting can backfire, CNN
  7. Pediatricians strengthen stance against spanking kids, CNN
  8. Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline?, American Psychological Association
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