The May issue of Pediatrics has published a study done through Tulane University that has concluded children that are spanked at age three have a nearly 50 percent greater chance of exhibiting more aggressive behavior by age five. Health researcher Catherine Taylor says that “We found [the results] to be true even after taking into account other factors that might have explained this association such as the parents’ level of stress, depression, use of drugs or alcohol, and the presence of other aggression in the family.”
The study reviewed the responses of nearly 2,500 mothers who participated in the Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study conducted from 1998-2005. The study concluded that a child that was spanked more than twice in a month at age three led to higher levels of aggression at age five including bullying, screaming, fighting, and destruction of property.
What It Means
The study revealed two important things. One is that spanking doesn’t have to be a form of punishment used to control behavior and aggression. Only 26.5 percent of mothers reported spanking their children more than twice so spanking isn’t a problem in a majority of American homes.
However, the second item to note is that over a quarter of mothers still engage in spanking as a form of corporal punishment even though the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly states that there are many other ways to control behavior that work better than spanking.
Time magazine states that the reason spanking may become a less effective means of behavior control is that children outgrow it and that corporal punishment may build a wall of fear in the family instead of understanding why a particular behavior is abhorrent. Spanking may solve the short term solution but all the child understands from just a spanking is hurt.
The AAP says that more effective methods of discipline include time outs. The time out method allows for appropriate positive and negative reinforcement of behavior in a quiet setting where you can discuss what happened with your child instead of having a painful shout and spanking tantrum.
Spanking is too often an emotional response to a situation that should be dealt with in a calm manner. Corporal punishment also fosters a loop of aggressive behavior that may extend into the teen and young adult years if left unchecked.
CNN reported in 1997 that study on spanking had interviewed over 900 mothers of children aged six to nine and had concluded that spanking leads to antisocial behavior in later years such as lying, disobedience, and cheating. The 1997 study also took into account other socioeconomic factors that could produce the behavior. The more current study seems to reinforce what three quarters of parents already seem to know: spanking is not very helpful to the long term well-being of children.