How Bad Is Spanking, Really?
Chelsi Silvey was holiday shopping when her daughter, then almost 5, had a category-five meltdown. Christmas was just a few weeks away, Silvey rationalized, so she wasn't about to buy a new toy — shiny as it was — and hand it right over. "When I put her in the car, she kicked me and threw her car seat at me," Silvey recalls. "I was so taken back by her
Silvey is part of the majority of American parents who believe in spanking. About 75 percent of Americans say that "it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard, spanking," according to a 2016 survey of over 60,000 people from the University of Chicago.
A more recent Huffington Post poll found that 69 percent of participants disagreed with a South African court's ruling that made spanking children illegal. Even the Bible says it's okay: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son," states Book of Proverbs 13:24.
When parents like Silvey explain why they spank, they almost always caveat it. "Spanking is the very, very last thing I will do, and only with my hand and never, never with an object," Silvey says. Another parent, Samie Gouveia, explains, "It should only be done as a last resort if time-outs and speaking are not cutting it, and obviously not hard enough to leave a mark."
But while recent surveys are clear, experts are urging parents to reconsider.
"Spanking is a euphemism for hitting," says developmental psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. "We convince ourselves that hitting children is okay."
In other words, while many parents keep corporal punishment in their disciplinary toolbox, there's still something that feels wrong about it. The research explains why: Spanking does have serious long-term effects, and we need to be talking about it.
"Spanking actually makes children worse behaved over the long term," Gershoff says. "They actually get harder to parent."
THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS
Last year, she and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, used information on more than 160,000 children over a 50-year period to publish a meta-analysis in the Journal of Family Psychology on the effects of spanking. The results were fairly damning: Spanking was associated with aggression, antisocial
Another study of more than 8,300 people, published last month by the University of Michigan, found that adults who were spanked as children were more likely to feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink heavily or use illegal drugs.
Gershoff points to two popular theories on why corporal punishment seems to have such unintended effects. First: Parents model aggression when they resort to spanking, and children learn by example. The lesson is that hitting is a way to get what you want, especially when Mom and Dad aren't around.
In the long run, it may not only change how they interact with the world, but how their stress systems get activated. Some researchers hypothesize this kind of stress, called "toxic stress," can cause mental and even physical harm by affecting brain structure.
"Spanking is not as a bad as physical abuse," Gershoff clarifies. "It's a continuum, but all of the research suggests it's activating the same kind of problems that physical abuse does."
To people who were spanked as a child, the reasoning can sound far-fetched. After all, most of us turned out fine—right? But child development experts say that's in spite of spanking, not because of it. Gershoff's example: Baby boomers and Gen X-ers "turned out fine" without car seats, but most grandparents would never drive off without strapping kids in them now.
THE GOOD NEWS
Sociologists have observed a small but steady decline in the acceptance of spanking. The University of Chicago survey has asked people to evaluate that same statement—"it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard, spanking"—for 31 years, and agreement has fallen 12 percent since first asking the question in 1986.
"When we know better, we need to do better," states psychologist Vanessa Lapointe, Ph. D., author of Discipline Without Damage.
To get your point across without hitting, focus on building a solid relationship with your child first, she says. When kids feel a strong attachment, they actually want to please their parents. While they may not always deliver (because they're, you know, kids), they will come to terms with the rules.
"It's stepping into your role as
Kids will have tantrums. They're not supposed to have the maturity of an adult, and if you're like Chelsi Silvey, you'll know from personal experience that spanking doesn't solve them.
"I try to find better ways," she says, "Most of the time just talking to her works—no bashing, but asking her if there are other ways she could've handled the situation differently."
From: Good Housekeeping US
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.