Is spanking children an effective method of parental discipline?


Fact Box

  • A common form of corporal punishment in the U.S. is disciplinary spanking, which is defined as “physically non-injurious, intended to modify behavior, and administered with the open hand to the extremities or buttocks” [1].
  • According to Dr. Robert Larzelere, a parenting professor, researcher, and author of numerous papers about discipline and spanking since the 1980s, “Only 5 research studies have restricted their definition of spanking to open-handed swats on the bottom, [and] none of them found any harmful effects of spanking. And 4 studies found it to be tied for first place as the most effective way to enforce cooperation with timeout in defiant 2- to 6-year-olds” [2].
  • In 1979, Sweden was the first country to ban all forms of corporal punishment of children, including spanking, in all settings. In the time since then, a total of 58 counties have adopted a ban [3].
  • In 1989, the United Nations convened to internationally define the Rights of a Child, including the Right to be raised without violence. Spanking is clearly designated as a violation of this right. Every member State of the Convention has signed this treatise, although the United States remains the only country not to ratify it into law [4].
  • Large scale research shows that two out of five parents fail to accurately judge their force when “smacking” their child, and that continued use of smacking leads to an escalation of force [5].

Suzanne (Yes)

An aspect of healthy family life is observable in children who are kept from dominating parent-child relationships, whether at home or in public – achievable through many disciplinary tactics. Spanking, though increasingly controversial, remains a valid method of disciplining, especially younger children who are unable to reason or discern consequences [1]. But as with any method, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. 

Spanking-positive parents and researchers agree that punishing out of anger or with objects is never the right way to correct children [1,5,6,7]. Spanking is not revenge, should not be the first response, should be an infrequent occurrence, and should be reserved for clear and willful defiance [6]. Spanking is to be done privately, to avoid shaming the child openly, by an emotionally controlled parent, after several warnings had been administered in situations where the child endangers himself or others or after disobeying previous reprimands with milder punishments. It is to be followed by a loving embrace and a verbal review of the offense and reason for punishment [5-6]. This is proven to be more effective with younger children than authoritarian or permissive parenting, where discipline is either too harsh (for instance, implementing objects in physical punishment) or too loose (where parent responses are erratic or emotionally wavering) [2,3,4,7]. 

Parents, by necessity, exist to guard, guide and edify their children while exemplifying restraint and authority. Spanking adds weight to parent’s words so that young children learn there are real-life repercussions to disobedience, and it should always be administered in loving correction, not in emotional retaliation [5,6].

Karina (No)

Most adults were spanked during childhood. In the last four decades, over fifty countries have banned corporal punishment, allowing scientists to compare different systems of child discipline on a global scale. This surge of research by behavioral and medical professionals has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to oppose spanking unilaterally.

Discipline aims to decrease negative behaviors and to increase positive behaviors. To effectively teach children to self-regulate appropriate behavior, parents should clearly communicate desirable behavior, set consequences for its violation, and allow for consistent follow-through. A smack on the buttocks seems productive, but nearly three-fourths of children return to the problem behavior within ten minutes of punishment. The threat of pain hinders learning, and physical reprimands are not suitable for all settings and disciplinarians, making spanking a poor contender for long-term reform. Pediatricians can readily offer intervention strategies that are far more reliable and don’t teach children that hitting is an acceptable way to resolve conflict.

Medical experts have warned against spanking as punishment for decades. Though spanking does not cause physical harm, it has similar developmental risks to physical abuse. Poor behavioral, cognitive, psychological, and emotional outcomes are most strongly associated with spanking during the first decade of life, and risks increase with the frequency of punishment. The risk of impaired development holds true even if the relationship is otherwise warm and loving. The strong link between spanking and adverse developmental health doesn’t prove that spanking is the cause of unfavorable outcomes. Still, parents should educate themselves with medical consensus to make the safest and most informed decisions for the welfare of their children. [Sources: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9]

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