Yesterday, we looked at the first of three studies on adverse outcomes resulting from spanking in childhood. Researchers discovered that spanking in childhood increases the risk for depression, suicide attempts, moderate to heavy drinking, and illicit drug use in adulthood. One often hears endorsers of spanking as a parental discipline tool say, “I was spanked as a child and I turned out okay.” Maybe — but maybe not.
The second study, published last month in Psychological Science, finds that spanking is not only an ineffective discipline tool, it tends to make the behaviors being disciplined worse. Robert Preidt says “sparing the rod” might result in better behavior:
Researchers analyzed data from more than 12,000 children in the United States and found that those who had been spanked by their parents at age 5 had more behavior problems at ages 6 and 8 than those who had never been spanked.
“Our findings suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and actually makes children’s behavior worse, not better,” said study author Elizabeth Gershoff, a psychological scientist at the University of Texas at Austin.
Parents resorting to spanking in order to discipline their misbehaving children could find themselves spanking more frequently as misbehavior worsens. More conflict, more misbehavior, more violence is not a recipe for a happy childhood:
“The fact that knowing whether a child had ever been spanked was enough to predict their levels of behavior problems years later was a bit surprising. It suggests that spanking at any frequency is potentially harmful to children,” Gershoff said.
“Although dozens of studies have linked early spanking with later child behavior problems, this is the first to do so with a statistical method that approximates an experiment,” she said.
But the study could not prove that spanking actually caused later behavior problems.
But as we saw yesterday, spanking during childhood can cause behavioral problems as we get older. And as we’ll see tomorrow, it can lead to unhealthy relationships in adults.