Is Spanking Associated with Child Abuse?

MedPage is reporting that a study saying that parents who use more than bare hands in spanking their children are far more likely to beat, kick, or burn them as well. So, is spanking ever appropriate?

My Take?

The researchers, from the University of North Carolina, reported that bare-hand spanking on the buttocks during the previous year was reported by 45% of respondents; 25% said they spanked with an object.

Among parents who said they spanked children with an object such as a belt or paddle, the risk for child abuse more than tripled. 

The researchers acknowledged that there is widespread support for bare-hand spanking in the United States, such that legal and other approaches to discourage it are not likely to get far.

But because spanking with objects appeared to be less common, “programs and policies to eliminate this behavior may be more personally tenable and politically feasible,” Dr. Zolotor and colleagues said.

Dr. Zolotor and colleagues said earlier research had found associations between spanking and abuse, but it did not distinguish among different levels of spanking.

“This is the first study to demonstrate that parents who report spanking children with an object and parents who frequently spank children are much more likely to report other harsh punishment acts consistent with physical abuse,” they said.

Dr. Zolotor and colleagues recommended that while spanking children may sometimes be appropriate, other physical punishments such as beating, kicking, and using objects, as well as shaking babies and toddlers, do far more harm than good.

So, is spanking good or bad? Should a reasonable and civilized country ban parental spanking?

Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University recently analyzed 88 studies involving corporal punishment, spanning 62 years of collected data, and concluded corporal punishment encourages negative behaviors in children.

But what if a medical study were released on the dangers of eating apples, and media outlets nationwide championed the banishment of oranges instead? Wouldn’t that be absurd? Well, apples are magically being turned into oranges when it comes to the subject of child discipline.

Gershoff’s study, as it turns out, is not about spanking—it was about corporal punishment,  of which spanking is only a small subset.

Corporal punishment includes spanking along with many forms of training or discipline that are inappropriate. Children in some of Gershoff’s analyzed studies were beaten or slapped. In other studies children were abused with sticks or injured in other ways. In fact, sixty-five percent of the studies included overly severe punishment.

Since the Gershoff study was released, it has grown into another anti-spanking tantrum by virtually every major media outlet. Headlines emblazoned across papers have touted breakthrough news on the negative effects of spanking.

Apples suddenly turned into oranges.

Is it any surprise to anyone that child abuse and severe punishment would be associated with negative outcomes?

Of course not.

Any civilized parent would be shocked by these types of abuse. But this is a far cry from judiciously used mild spanking employed by many, if not most, loving parents.

The excessive punishment of some misguided, angry or cruel parents should not become an argument to not discipline at all.

Not only was Gershoff’s work misrepresented, many articles ignored reports countering Gershoff’s review, including one by a prominent trio of researchers that was published in the same edition of the Psychological Bulletin of the American Psychological Association.

The group, including two researchers from the University of California at Berkley and one from the University of Nebraska, concluded “the evidence presented in Gershoff’s (review) does not justify a blanket injunction against mild to moderate disciplinary spanking.”

So, just what is appropriate spanking? The issue is not whether parents should spank, but how should they spank.

An important scientific conference defined spanking as physically non-injurious, intended to modify behavior, and administered to the extremities or buttocks.

I would add that such discipline is never administered in anger.

Used with children from approximately 18 months to six years of age (never later than puberty), spanking has been shown to be effective, especially when used in conjunction with other forms of discipline, such as time-outs, reasoning and other disciplinary tools.

Further, when studies that isolate mild spanking from abusive behaviors are analyzed, results have consistently proven repeatedly the practice is not harmful.

Why have we not seen these findings reported in the press?

Proper spanking is often a necessary tool in parenting.

In fact, studies have shown an increase in child abuse in homes where appropriate spanking does not occur, as eliminating spanking takes away a strong, useful and suitable tool from a parent.

Equating appropriate spanking with punishment that includes child abuse is inaccurate, unfair, and misleads parents who are striving to properly raise their children.

Based upon the best evidence available, I support the many parents who believe in appropriate spanking, when necessary.

But I also believe spanking must be administered wisely and only when appropriate. The evidence does not show that spanking is a disciplinary cure-all.

Not all children need to be spanked, and not all parents should spank their children—especially parents prone to anger, hostility, abuse, or outbursts.

However, a parent that does not teach that there are consequences to behaviors will leave it to the police and others to do that later in the child’s life.

Parents, for millennia, in virtually every recorded culture, have spanked their young children, when necessary, to teach them and to shape and mold their character—to ultimately benefit their children.

Now parents are being fed confusing information — apples turned into oranges — by what appear to be anti-spanking advocates. 

 

2 thoughts on “Is Spanking Associated with Child Abuse?

  • caringmomma

    Thank you! It seems everyone everywhere is so entirely against spanking of any kind that if you do use that tool, even in an appropriate way, you can be made to feel like a bad parent! Of course spanking can be overused and abused, of course there are horrible cases of child abuse, and even milder but still sad cases of parents spanking out of anger. But as a caring, loving stay at home mom, I have found a few rare occasions where my young child needed a spank on the rear (through his diaper) as a diciplinary tool. For an example, if he is repeatedly doing something I have said sternly not to and it is dangerous, like playing around on the stair case so that he almost falls or pulling away from me to run toward a street, I may spank not out of anger, but out of a desire to instill that there are times where it is very dangerous to disobey. Time outs and other punishments don’t work for every single situation. My child is very rarely spanked, and never hurtfully, but I have seen it work effectively in certain situations, and I would hate to think the rest of the world associates me with abusive type parents because of that!
    Thank you for your article!

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