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Posted at 9:31 AM ET, 04/14/2010

Study says spanking can lead to aggressive behavior

By Valerie Strauss

A new study finds that children spanked frequently at the age of 3 are more likely to become aggressive when they are 5.

The study, led by Tulane University health researcher Catherine Taylor, says the finding remains true even when other factors--such as the parents’ stress level, depression, substance abuse, neglect, and the presence of other aggression within the family--are taken into account.

The study, “Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior,” will appear in the May issue of Pediatrics.

The research study involved nearly 2,500 mothers. Almost 46 percent reported that they had not used corporal punishment on their child in the previous month, while 27.9 percent said they did one or two times and 26.5 percent reported spanking more than twice.

The mothers with more risk factors (stress, depression, drug/alcohol use) were more likely to spank frequently, but even accounting for that, frequent spanking at age 3 increased the odds of higher levels of aggression at age 5.

The aggression was seen in behaviors such as screaming, arguing, bullying and being cruel to others.

“There are ways to discipline children effectively that do not involve hitting them and that can actually lower their risk for being more aggressive,” Taylor said. “So the good news is, parents don’t have to rely on spanking to get the results that they want. If they avoid spanking but instead use effective, non-physical types of discipline, their child has a better chance of being healthier, and behaving better later.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as other medical organizations oppose corporal punishment at home and in schools.

That, unfortunately, hasn’t stopped the practice in schools. There are still 20 states that permit it, and the Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that it is legal for schools to spank or paddle kids for discipline in areas where it is not outlawed by local authorities.

So, in Mississippi, for example, there were 57,953 cases of corporal punishment in 110 of the state’s 152 school districts during the 2008-09 school year, according to the state Department of Education. It was a drop from the 58,343 cases reported a year earlier--but more than the 47,727 cases reported in 2006-07.

The Tulane study is just the latest in a long line of research studies extending back decades showing that corporal punishment should be considered as a significant risk factor that increases the probability of psychological disorders in children as they grow older.

This is a no-brainer. Adults should stop hitting kids.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 14, 2010; 9:31 AM ET
Categories:  Early Childhood, Health  | Tags:  Tulane study and spanking, aggressive behavior and spanking, corporal punishment, spanking, spanking causing aggression in kids, study and spanking  
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Somehow I stumbled upon this book as a new parent:
and I'm very glad I did. Author Alfie Kohn makes a compelling case for not punishing OR rewarding kids--doing so, he argues, sends the message of conditional love--I love you ONLY IF you are good, smart, etc. Also punishment and rewards to control behavior do not make a kid a better person--teaching them ethical behavior through our own example and explaining WHY we do/don't do things (say thank you, not bite people) do.
That being said, of course you can't let your kid run around like a banshee, being destructive. But punishing them afterwards sends the wrong message. So does bribing them or rewarding them when they do things right.
Working hard to understand how your child sees the world, and what the real reasons are behind what they do is more useful. This shows you respect them and truly love them no matter what kind of monsters they sometimes are. This can be VERY hard to do--but it WORKS.
My child can be very difficult. But she is also very polite, curious, compassionate, and can read (at 3), and is starting to read music. If it weren't for Kohn's advice, I don't know if she'd be doing half of it. I don't praise/reward her when she does something good with a "good job honey, you're so SMART!" when she does something right--this distracts her from her curiosity about whatever it is she's doing, and sucks the joy out of the activity.
And through explaining how bad behavior affects other people, she thinks about these things now--"why is that baby crying?" "why is that man asking for money?" and she APOLOGIZES to me (okay, sometimes) after tantrums for "being cranky and yelling". Do I force her to do this? Absolutely not. She apologizes because I APOLOGIZE TO HER when I lose my cool.
If you want to be a better parent, I highly recommend reading Kohn's book. Even if you disagree with him (though it's hard to argue with scientific research) it is an entertaining read!

Posted by: Grachia | April 14, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

So just to get this straight.

The children who get spanked most are also the ones who behave worst?

And we are meant to believe that the spanking results in the behaviour, rather than the behaviour results in the spanking?

Who are you trying to kid?

Posted by: oldandrew | April 14, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Hard to argue with science!?! It is easy to argue with it, when it is not science. First, this article lists mothers only. What about fathers. You cannot leave out a parent and call it scientific. 2nd it says it remains true even when other factors are evident, doesn't mention the sex of the child, doesn't mention if the family is whole are broken, this "scientific" study, is not science at all. It is another fallacy by bleeding hearts that do not want to make tough decisions.

Kids need discipline, not punishment and they do need rewards and pats on the back.

I have two children, 17 year old son and 13 year old daughter, and I get more respect out of them and ethical behaviour when I show them their boundaries and when I praise them for a job well done. And part of their discipline has been corporal punishment. My children are two of the most respected people at church, very polite, very helpful not only at home but of others and they learn to do right and think (key word) beofre they decide to throw some kind of tantrum and then have to apologize.

Quit trying to create a weak world of sissies.

I find it funny that as a manager at work, the management classes tell me that people are like children and these techniques work at home and that workes need praise and discipline just like children do, and that these same techniques will work at home just like they will at the office, and these so called child psychologists come out and say something different.

Treat your children like the humans they are. They need love 1st and part of that love is discipline and priase.

Posted by: crdodson47 | April 14, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Do crdodson47's management classes, when telling him (or her) that employees "need praise and discipline just like children do" also say that the manger should hit the employees? Why do people who favor corporal punishment seem to assume that "discipline" is synonymous with "hitting"?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 15, 2010 8:44 AM | Report abuse

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