The Damage Spanking Does
(Including Creating Bullies)
By Wendy Priesnitz
“If we really want a peaceful and compassionate world, we need to build
communities of trust where all children are respected.” ~ Desmond M.
Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus, Global Initiative to End All Corporal
Punishment of Children, 2006
If you hit
your child, you give them a message that it’s okay to hit others. And
when kids hit others, we call it bullying.
published in 2010 in the journal Pediatrics examining the case histories
of almost two thousand five hundred American children confirms that
spanking breeds bullies. The study used respondents to the Fragile
Families and Child Well-being Study, conducted in twenty U.S. cities
between 1998 and 2005.
Dr. Catherine Taylor of Tulane University and her team factored out the
influences such as maternal mental health and use of drugs, domestic
violence, neglect, income, age, race, and education. And spanking
emerged as the most important factor in determining which three-year-old
children developed into aggressive five-year-olds.
half of the three-year-olds spanked more than twice in the previous
month by their mothers turned into aggressive five-year-olds, even when
accounting for the child’s level of “natural” aggression at age three.
Forty percent of the kids spanked only once or twice in the previous
month turned into bullies by age five.
studies have connected spanking and aggression in children, although
this was the first and one of the largest and demonstrates just how
powerful the link is. In 2002, psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff
of Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty
analyzed 62 years of data and found spanking leads not only to childhood
aggression but other antisocial behaviors such as lying and cheating,
and other types of misbehaviors behind their parent’s backs.
A University of Michigan study published in the journal Developmental
Psychologyfound that a mother's affection
after she spanks her child does little to diminish the negative impact of
the act. More than three thousand white, African American, and
Hispanic families in major cities participated in the study. Data was
collected when children were ages one, three and five. Mothers disclosed how
often spanking occurred and reported children's aggressive behavior and
their own warmth toward their children.
"There is a common belief that spanking that occurs in
a positive parent-child relationship will not be harmful to children," says
Shawna Lee, an assistant professor at the U-M School of Social Work. "We
were able to test that belief in this study. Spanking predicted worse, not
better, child behavior over time, regardless of how warm mothers were with
their children." Despite the studies indicating that spanking
increases child aggression, parents still continue to use physical
punishment at high rates in hopes to see positive behavior, she adds.
Unfortunately, spanking is still legal in many countries, including both
Canada and the U.S., and most parents, when surveyed, say they approve
of and have used spanking as a form of child discipline. In fact,
according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, spanking happens at
least once a week in twenty-five percent of two-parent, middleclass
families. Twenty-four countries ban spanking, including Sweden, New
Zealand, and Spain.
Conscious Parenting Without
Discipline, an interview with Dr. Shefali Tsabary in Natural Child Magazine, May/June 2014
Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and
Reason by Alfie Kohn (Artria Books, 2005)
For Your Own
Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence by Alice
Miller (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990)
Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting by Alice Miller
(W.W. Norton, 2006)
Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Child
Magazine, has been a journalist for over forty years, and has authored thirteen
books and contributed to many more.