A new study suggests that spanking children may have a detrimental impact on their social development, demonstrating a number of worsened social behaviors when compared to children from non-violent backgrounds. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests physical punishment can have long-term effects on the children that last well into adulthood.
Spanking, when parents hit children as a punishment, was an extremely popular form of discipline until recent years, when research has highlighted a number of behavioral and cognitive differences in children that have received it. Despite the criticism, a 2019 study suggests that spanking has not left many parents' book of punishments, with half of US parents spanking their children in the previous year and one-third spanking them in the previous week.
Now, longitudinal research from the Old Dominion University, of children aged 5-7 years, suggests that corporal punishment may alter social development in a number of metrics, including higher externalizing behaviors, lower self-control, and lower interpersonal skills in childhood.
“My teaching of ‘sociology of child welfare’ at my current institute led me into this important topic of violence against children,” said study author Jeehye Kang in a statement reported by Psypost.
“Although I have had a broad research interest in children’s well-being, I had never taken a course or conducted research on the issue of child maltreatment during my training of sociology and demography (although some schools do have some curriculums). So, it was a humbling experience to see how little I knew about this important topic, but now I see I can contribute to preventing violence against children as a researcher and a teacher. It is my passion to do more research on spanking and other forms of violence and translate my knowledge into teaching.”
The study looked to eliminate as many confounding variables as possible by matching variables within the cohort of 5-7-year-olds, of which there were over 17,000 that had a lifetime incidence of spanking and over 10,000 that had recent spanking. The study also excluded any child who had been spanked more than twice a week.
In total, 61 percent of the children had been spanked at some point in their lifetime, while 28 percent had been spanked in the last week. The spanked children had lower self-control and lower interpersonal skills at ages 6-7, suggesting a stunted development that occurred rapidly after the punishment. As frequent spanking was excluded, the results suggest it does not take a significant number of times for this punishment to be delivered for it to be problematic.
According to the research, spanking appears to have the “opposite effect” to what parents wish to achieve – it does not provide children with discipline, it just stunts their social growth.
The study was published in Child Abuse and Neglect.