To spank or not to spank is one of those heated debates that can turn a room full of otherwise logical parents into a room full of crazy people. Many think that spanking is no longer as popular here in the USA, but as CNN notes, a 2012 national survey showed that more than half of all women and three-quarters of men in the USA think a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” Even though so many parents are on board, spanking-advocates may be very, very wrong, with past research linking even MILD physical punishment to an increased risk for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse and several personality disorders. On top of mental problems, now CNN has collected a slew of research that shows how physical punishment may be even more detrimental than we thought. Spanking may in fact, lead to a smaller amount of gray matter in the brains of children. Harsh corporal punishment in the studies discussed by CNN are defined as at least one spanking a month for more than three years and shockingly, the kids who are regularly spanked appear to have less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex than their peers. Researchers also say that there are “significant correlations” between how much gray matter is found in these brain regions and IQ test performance.

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Elizabeth Gershoff is considered the leading researcher on spanking in the USA today and she tells CNN, “There’s no study that I’ve ever done that’s found a positive consequence of spanking. Most of us will stop what we’re doing if somebody hits us, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned why somebody hit us, or what we should be doing instead, which is the real motive behind discipline.” Still not convinced that spanking is a bad idea? Let’s just consider for a minute the fact that you, as the adult, can FOR SURE come up with a more logical punishment than hitting someone. Let’s also remember that if you hit grandma or your spouse or your best friend, even if you call it, “spanking,” you could be arrested and charged with assault. Let’s reflect on the fact that hitting someone smaller than you makes you a HUGE bully – something we discourage our own kids from being. All this in mind, let’s look at what else the research says. According to study after study spanking a child results in the following:

  • Spanking can lead to a decrease in cognitive ability relative to other children.
  • Spanking a three year-old child has been linked to higher levels of child aggression when the child is five.
  • Spanking is associated with later aggression and delinquency.
  • Spanking sometimes results in “hostile attribution bias,” a problem that causes kids to learn to expect people to be mean to them.
  • Spanking DOES NOT prevent violence but teaches kids that only threats of violence or hitting will solve problems. You hit kids, they’ll hit others. Period.
  • Spanking can actually harm a child physically – especially a young child.

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The above facts have been so well researched that there should be zero debate about the ineffectiveness of spanking by now. Joan Durant, a professor at University of Manitoba and author of a study about the damage physical punishment can have on a child notes, “We’re really past the point of calling this a controversy… because in the research there really is no controversy. We have more than 80 studies, I would say more than 100, that show the same thing (about corporal punishment being harmful), and yet we keep calling it controversial.”

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, gray matter is the key to the brain’s ability to learn self-control. “The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought-processing part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex), the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences,” write the authors of a 2011 study that appeared in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. It’s a chicken or egg situation for sure. Kid is out of control – you hit him – kid gets more out of control – you hit him – kid loses more control – weeeee! So by all means, slap and hit that gray matter out of your kids. Or, you know, be an adult, who can handle misbehavior like an adult. You don’t hit other adults when you’re mad; or well, you shouldn’t. You discuss the problem. You take a time out. You may even take a favor away. You don’t however hit other humans to solve a problem. Remember – kids are human too. We get it. Parenting is hard and kids can be extremely frustrating, but there’s always another option over corporal punishment. If you need help with positive parenting methods, check out the links below.

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+ Spanking the gray matter out of our kids

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