Little child boy wall corner  – Image from Shutterstock

During spanking debates (which are frequent among parents everywhere) most pro-spankers tend to say that only severe child abuse, not simply spanking or slapping, leads to problems. However, new research, published this week in Pediatrics, shows that in reality, any physical punishment of a child can be detrimental. In this research, the study authors first eliminated the most extreme instances of abuse and child maltreatment including beatings, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect and exposure to intimate partner violence. Then the researchers looked at children exposed to “harsh physical punishment” such as “pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting.” The researchers found that when kids are pushed, shoved, grabbed, slapped or hit, even when severe abuse is absent, the children end up more at risk for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse and several personality disorders. Tracie Afifi, lead author of the study tells USA Today, “Although it is well established that physical and sexual abuse, emotional neglect, and other severe forms of maltreatment in childhood are associated with mental illness, this is one of the first studies to show a link between non-abusive physical punishment and several different types of mental disorders.

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Father attempting to discipline his daughter  – Image from Shutterstock

This new research builds on stacks of past research that says spanking is not only non-useful, but harmful for children. Physical punishment has been linked to lower IQ, acting out and aggression, antisocial behavior and more. In fact, few organizations recommend spanking anymore. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), for example, “Strongly opposes striking a child for any reason.” AAP goes on to say that if you lose it and spontaneously hit a child, you should later explain calmly why you did it and apologize to your child for your loss of control. The CDC, among other health organizations, notes that physical family violence (pdf) can lead to health and behavior problems. Still, on the flip-side, many parents believe spanking is just fine and even some researchers say spanking is good, resulting in more successful adults. New research or not, the debate to spank (or not) will likely rage on as some surveys show that at least half of parents, but maybe as many as 94%, consider hitting a child an appropriate form of discipline.

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Angry little boy   – Image from Shutterstock

Although there are plenty of good reasons not to spank, I don’t hit my own son for the following reasons:

  • I think spanking is hitting. Dress the term up if you like, but to me a hit is a hit is a hit, no matter if you call it “spanking” or not.
  • I don’t think it’s okay (barring a zombie apocalypse or other self defense issue) to hit anyone.
  • Can you imagine a world where this is how we solve all our problems? Don’t like what your partner says, hate a decision your boss makes, grandma making you angry? Well, hit them. That’ll show em. Personally, I like to imagine a smarter, more rational world with the ability to talk issues out and maintain some control.
  • I don’t want to be hit so why would I hit my child? If my partner got mad at me and hit me, or my best friend slapped me, how long do you think we’d all be buddies. NOT LONG. If being hit will devalue me and make me feel abused, how will it make my son feel?
  • If I hit another adult I could literally be arrested for assault and/or battery, yet I can hit my child so long as I call it spanking. What sort of messed up logic is this? The law shows is that it’s okay to hit people, so long as they’re smaller, more defenseless and younger than you are.
  • Hitting is how bullies solve problems. I don’t want to be a bully.
  • I fail to see how hitting a child teaches them anything useful. It does teach them that when people do something they don’t like they should hit them.
  • Why on earth would I hit anyone I love – especially my own child?

As a parent, I’m far from perfect. I think we’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t. But I know that I won’t have to ever wish I could take back spanking. I won’t hit my partner, my sister, my friend and I certainly will never hit my son. If you’re looking for a way to deal with your child’s behaviors that don’t involve hitting, here are 101 things you can do instead of yelling or spanking or read instead of spanking (pdf).

+ Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample