A paper presented at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma on Sept. 25 by sociologist Murray Straus has caught my attention this week. Straus and his colleague Mallie Paschall followed children over the course of four years and determined that those who were spanked had up to a 5-point lower IQ than their peers who were not spanked. Further, the more the children were spanked, the lower their IQs.
This debate is not new. In fact, I find myself in this debate at least a few times each month with some of the families I see. The age old question is whether or not spanking is an effective form of discipline. My professional stance (in conjunction with the science that supports it) is that spanking is actually punishment (not discipline) and is only effective in the short-term. Try telling that to the ‘old school’ father who swears, “It worked on me when my father spanked me!” With a little more investigation in my office, I am often able to reveal that while it may have garnered attention in the short-term, it fueled resentment toward the parent over the long-term.
I truly believe that the majority of spanking occurs in the form of a parental temper tantrum in which the parent has lost control and is at a loss for an effective discipline strategy. There are a number of problems with punishment that I encourage parents to consider when deciding if they really want to employ spanking as a method of punishment.
- Spanking focuses anger on the parent doing the spanking. When we resort to punishment it gives children someone else to be mad at or something else (the spanking) to blame.
- Spanking causes the behavior to stop quickly, but in the absence of spanking, the negative behavior returns.
- Spanking does not teach accountability. The “punisher” (parent) is responsible to see that the child’s behavior changes. The child learns nothing on their own as a result of the spanking.
- Punishment denies a child the right to experience the real consequence of their actions. If your child hurts someone else, for example, the other child may not want to play with your child anymore. Your child quickly forgets this possibility when spanking is introduced.
- A big error comes when we think that the punishment has taught the child what to do the next time a similar situation occurs. It has taught the child NOT to do something… but it has not taught them what they should do!
In case those reasons were not enough, we also know that spanking makes children anxious (especially toward the parent using this method) and spanking can lower self-esteem. A report endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2008 looked at 100 years of research and concluded, “There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.”
The full report can be read at www.phoenixchildrens.com/discipline