My colleague here at DailyStrength, Dr. Jeremy Shapiro
, recently wrote about the new information that has been released about the long-term effects of spanking on overall mental health
. The DS community responded with varying opinions and both sides of the argument were represented in the comments.
It is true, as Dr. Shapiro reported, that this study was much more comprehensive than previous ones and that many variables were controlled. The fact that the study began with over 34,000, and ultimately included just over 20,000, due to the elimination of any participants that were recipients of harsh abuse, does make the findings compelling.
To review: the primary researcher, Tracie Afifi, Ph.D., and her colleagues concluded that up to 7% of many adult mental health disorders could be directly attributed to “harsh physical punishment.” The researchers themselves pointed out that this data was collected from adults who were giving a historical report, which can always leave open the possibility of bias.
While I am convinced that spanking is not a useful parenting tool, it is clear that there is a very wide continuum on which spanking falls. The parent who proffers an exasperated swat on a toddlers diapered behind is not in the same category as the parent who uses a belt to discipline their child, or who harshly spanks their child with an open hand on a bare bottom and leaves a mark.
It seems the lines get very blurred when these types of studies appear and typically it is the parents who are mindful about their behavior who feel the worst. It is those parents who may have, out of frustration, doled out that mild spanking on the rare occasion, that feel the guiltiest about their behavior; and suffer from both internal and perceived external judgment, and worry endlessly about how that one instance will affect the rest of their child’s life. This is not the group of parents that we need to be concerned about.
Unfortunately, those who hold spanking in high regard as a regular tool of discipline will most likely be undaunted by any research that debunks their notion of the value of spanking. Therefore, I feel strongly that we need to offer alternative tools to these parents, who have rationalized that spanking is the only way to get their message across to their children.
There is no doubt that a frustrated parent, and one that feels as though they are losing in a power struggle with their child, will find some sense of relief and temporary return to power when they employ the practice of spanking. The key here is that it is only temporary and does not accomplish the main long-term goal. The very best argument I can see for the abandonment of spanking is that it simply doesn’t work.
Lessons are not taught through fear, and when a child grows up in a state of fear the division between them and their parents becomes ever greater. This division can lead kids to act out outside the home as a way to feel powerful somewhere – since they feel powerless at home.
Clinicians often see kids who are struggling with behavior problems or substance abuse and who have been the recipients of corporal punishment. It is difficult to know which came first. Is the child's behavior such a problem that the parents have resorted to physical punishment, or is the spanking causing the acting out? A very good argument can be made for both sides of this debate but what is not debatable among developmental specialists is the fact that spanking is not an effective tool for parents.
One of the best ways to avoid resorting to spanking is to give yourself a time out. When you feel you have come to an impasse or your instincts are telling you to act out physically, take yourself out of the situation. Not only is this good role modeling for your child, of proper impulse control, but also it gives you an opportunity to slow down your heart rate and gather your thoughts.
Have realistic consequences at the ready for a child who is misbehaving and then stick to them.
By all means, if you feel as though you are struggling to get a handle on disciplining your child and if spanking is your go to method, then seek out help from a parenting professional who can give you tools to use instead of your hands.
Everyone is a unique individual and there is no definitive way to know how spanking will precisely affect each child in the long run. We all want to give our kids the best foundation we can, so regardless of what the studies prove or disprove about the results of spanking, is it really worth taking a chance with our child’s future sense of well-being? I think not.
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