Well, here we go again. The news media and liberal pundits are lauding a new study that claims “… even minor forms of corporal punishment, such as spanking, increase risk for increased child aggressive behavior.” Could this be true?
As Time Magazine reports, “Disciplining young children is what parents are supposed to do — most moms and dads have no trouble agreeing with that. But should the punishment include spanking? As many parents can attest, few disciplinary measures stop a child from misbehaving as quickly as a swift smack or two on the bottom.”
But, most of the news media ran a different direction:
- Reuters reports, “punishing your toddler with a few swats on the rear may come back to bite you, a new report suggests.
- The New York Times says, “hitting a child — whether in anger or as a proscribed punishment — does not permanently improve behavior and can cause long-term emotional harm.”
- ABC News claims, “A new study links frequent spanking with aggression in young children.”
Theses news sources are basing their biased coverage on a biased study.
In this new study, researchers at Tulane University surveyed 2,500 mothers and found that when 3-year-old children are spanked often, they are 50 percent more likely to show aggressive behavior two years later. The study researchers say their study shows that even “light spanking” can increase the risk of aggression.
Since this “new” data goes against my experience and my understanding of the research literature on the topic, I contacted the researcher and expert I most trust in reviewing the studies on spanking — Robert E. Larzelere, Ph.D., at Oklahoma State University.
After reviewing the study, Dr. Larzelere has submitted this comment to the journal that published the misleading study:
Dr. Taylor.s study is well-intentioned but biased. It does not distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate spanking nor does it identify what parents should use instead.
In a recent study published in BMC Pediatrics, we used the same methods used in the Taylor article and got the same results (3rd row of Table 5).
The only problem was that we got the same apparently harmful child outcomes for grounding, sending children to their room, and even for child psychotherapy.
This led us to conclude that something is wrong when the “strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking” is based on statistical analyses that would make psychotherapy for children look as harmful as spanking!
Our study shows that these results are biased because defiant children lead parents to use all disciplinary tactics more often as well as to seek psychotherapy for their child.
Further, like all anti-spanking studies, Taylor’s study does not distinguish appropriate from inappropriate spanking.
Our 2005 summary of all 26 studies investigating other disciplinary alternatives as well as spanking found that spanking resulted in less noncompliance or aggression than 10 of the 13 alternatives when it was used nonabusively to back-up milder disciplinary tactics in defiant 2-to-6-year-olds.
Spanking led to worse outcomes than alternative tactics only when it was used too severely or as the primary disciplinary method.
The best parenting combines love and limits, using the mildest disciplinary tactic that fits the occasion, but spanking has been shown to be an effective option when young children respond defiantly to milder tactics, such as time out.
Then they will learn to cooperate with time out, so that loving parents can phase out spanking as soon as possible.
You can read more about spanking myths (and find out the facts about appropriate spanking) in several previous blogs I’ve written on appropriate spanking: