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Physicians warn: Spanking makes kids more aggressive & raises risk of mental health issues

The American Academy of Pediatrics released new guidelines today regarding their advice against spanking, going further than they have before to discourage parents from spanking their children. The AAP said that spanking children as a form of discipline makes children more aggressive and raises the risk of mental health issues.

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The AAP statement opens by saying:

Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term. With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children. In this Policy Statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics provides guidance for pediatricians and other child health care providers on educating parents about positive and effective parenting strategies of discipline for children at each stage of development as well as references to educational materials. This statement supports the need for adults to avoid physical punishment and verbal abuse of children.

The statement continued:

The AAP recommends that adults caring for children use healthy forms of discipline, such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, redirecting, and setting future expectations. The AAP recommends that parents do not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming.

One of the policy recommendations the group made was:

Parents, other caregivers, and adults interacting with children and adolescents should not use corporal punishment (including hitting and spanking), either in anger or as a punishment for or consequence of misbehavior, nor should they use any disciplinary strategy, including verbal abuse, that causes shame or humiliation.

And this isn’t simply the opinions of the members of AAP. They have actual data to support their statements:

In 2009, the UN Children’s Fund defined “yelling and other harsh verbal discipline as psychologically aggressive towards children” [Source]. In a longitudinal study investigating the relationship between harsh verbal abuse by parents and child outcomes, researchers noted that harsh verbal abuse before age 13 years was associated with an increase in adolescent conduct problems and depressive symptoms between ages 13 and 14.

They pointed out that despite data and recommendations from healthcare professionals, many parents still engage in corporal punishment as a disciplinary consequence for their children:

According to a 2004 survey [Source],approximately two-thirds of parents of young children reported using some sort of physical punishment. These parents reported that by fifth grade, 80% of children had been physically punished, and 85% of teenagers reported exposure to physical punishment, with 51% having been hit with a belt or similar object.

The statement also pointed out how ineffective aggression towards children is:

Most parents used a verbal disciplinary strategy before corporal punishment. Corporal punishment then occurred at a mean of 30 seconds later, suggesting that parents may have been “responding either impulsively or emotionally rather than instrumentally and intentionally.” The effects of corporal punishment were transient: within 10 minutes, most children (73%) had resumed the same behavior for which they had been punished [Source].

I couldn’t agree more with the statement made by the AAP. 

Look – no rational person thinks you’re a bad parent if you spank your children. People who say you’re a bad parent for doing it are people whose opinion you shouldn’t care about. While I don’t spank my kids, I understand the desire to do it. You’re in a stressful moment that you have somewhat limited control of, and you want to correct the undesired behavior as quickly as possible. 

In fact, I think you can still be a good parent and spank your children. I was spanked as a form of discipline as a child, and I think my parents were great parents. I don’t blame them at all for it and certainly don’t hold it against them. I got in trouble at school for talking and being disruptive a lot when I was in elementary school. It wasn’t until I was 29 that I was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed medication that would have helped me tremendously had I gotten treatment for it as a child.

But the results here are clear – it’s detrimental to children’s development and is not an effective deterrent. 

When you spank your children, the message you’re sending to them is that aggression is an acceptable response to solving problems. It’s saying that if someone does something you don’t want them to do, hitting them is a rational response.

What also confuses me about people who are pro-spanking children is their rationale. Most pro-spankers would agree that it’s completely appropriate to spank a 5 year old. However, many would have problems with spanking a 17 year old child. What this says to me is that the more ability a child has to defend themselves from being spanked, the less appropriate it is to spank them. The more defenseless they are, the more appropriate it is to spank them. 

And as one of the people who helped write the AAP’s statement said: “We know that children grow and develop better with positive role modeling and by setting healthy limits. We can do better.”

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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