Spanking Your Kid Actually Creates More Behavior Problems, According To A New Study


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockNov 17 2017, 17:16 UTC

A massive 65 percent of people in the US approve of spanking children, a rate that‘s actually remained steady for over 25 years. Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Disciplining kids with spanking is a divisive topic that almost every parent has an opinion on. However, over the past few years, increasing scientific evidence has been mounting against the case of disciplining your kid with physical violence. A new study has added to this, claiming that spanking might actually make a child's behavior worse.

Psychologists at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Virginia recently found that kids who were spanked by their parents at age five years were more likely to have behavioral problems between the ages 6 and 8.


"Our findings suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and actually makes children's behavior worse not better," says lead author Elizabeth T Gershoff, psychology scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.

"Parents spank for many reasons, such as their educational or cultural background or how difficult their children's behavior is. These same reasons, which we call selection factors, can also predict children's behavior problems, making it difficult to determine whether spanking is in fact the cause of behavior problems," Gershoff explained. "We realized that the statistical method of propensity score matching could help us get as close to an experiment as possible."

Their research was recently published in the journal Psychological Science. They examined data from 12,112 children who participated in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Comparing children who had been spanked and those who hadn’t, they accounted for 38 other variables, including the frequency of spanking, the child's age, gender, overall health, and behavior problems at age 5, the parent's education, age, and marital status; and the family’s socioeconomic background, household size, and parenting quality.

Forming a definitive link between spanking and worsening behavior is hard to control, as an immeasurable number of facts can contribute to the change in the behavior. So, it not possible to definitively conclude that spanking necessarily leads to worse behavior. However, one conclusion is clearer: it certainly doesn’t seem to have a positive effect on the child’s behavior.


This is not the first piece of research to reach this conclusion. Another study last year analyzed over 160,000 children and similarly found that spanking was “not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children." On top of that, other meta-analysis studies have linked spanking to future antisocial behavior, mental health problems, problematic relationships with their parents, and lower cognitive ability.

At least 52 countries have banned spanking over the past few decades. However, it remains prevalent in the US, where it is still legal. According to a recent ABC News Poll, 65 percent of people in the US still approve of spanking children, a rate that's actually remained steady for over 25 years,

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