Science Explains 4 Reasons to Never Spank Children

Science Explains 4 Reasons to Never Spank Children


“Corporal punishment of children is a violation of their rights to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity. Its widespread legality breaches their right to equal protection under the law.” ~ The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children

Did you know that spanking has been outlawed in 53 countries?

Perhaps the most complete dissolution of child punishment comes from the United Nations (UN). The global organization, which consists of 193 countries, determined via the “UN Convention on the Rights of the Child” treaty that corporal punishment (read: spanking, hitting, or otherwise) is a violation of human rights.


To date, 53 UN member states have prohibited most forms of corporal violence against children. 56 member states have pledged a commitment to full prohibition.

Those of us who faced the hand, stick, and/or belt (including this writer) may scoff at the notion that “all spanking is bad.”

But scientists and mental health experts may just have a point. Mainly, that spanking isn’t in the long-term interest of our youngsters.

In this article, we’ll delve into the latest scientific and psychological findings pertaining to the corporal punishment of children.

The only suggested prerequisite: approach this all-important subject with an open mind. (There is some common ground, after all!)

Why You Should Never Spank Your Children, According to Science…

“Detrimental child outcomes.”

In an article published in the Journal of Family Psychology, researchers set out to address two persistent issues; perhaps the most important being whether the psychological impacts of spanking is comparable with those of physical abuse.

To make this determination, scientists evaluated over 100 studies representing over 160,000 children. Of the 17 standard psychological outcomes of physical abuse, spanking was observed in 13.

Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, states:

“We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

In other words, not only did spanking not affect obedience, the punishment contributed to “increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.”

“You can not punish out these behaviors…”

Alan Kazdin, Ph.D., and Sterling Professor of Psychology and Child Psychiatry at Yale University states: “You cannot punish out the behaviors that you do not want,” therefore, “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research.”


Kazdin concludes his findings in a bluntly-straightforward manner:

“We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying that (spanking) is a horrible thing that does not work.”

Physical punishment, including spanking, may work in the short-term. This effect is rather simple to explain: children are scared of being hit! The result just doesn’t last.

The reason that spanking doesn’t work long-term, according to Kazdin, is that children don’t possess a developed punishment/reward mechanism (the byproduct of a maturing brain.) Hence, the child is unable to alter behaviors following physical punishment.

Are spankers unknowingly feeding a violent streak?

A 2011 study published in Child Abuse and Neglect concludes that spanking may result in an “intergenerational cycle of violence in homes” where physical punishment occurred. In other words, parents may – unknowingly – be creating a perpetual cycle of physical violence.

Researchers involved in the study interviewed parents and children age 3 to 7 from over 100 families. Analysis of the research concludes that children who are physically punished are more likely to embrace physical violence as a means of resolving conflicts with peers.

Researchers warn against the absence of “immediate negative effects of spanking.”

“A child doesn’t get spanked and then run out and rob a store,” says Dr. Gershoff, however, “There are indirect changes in how the child thinks (and feels) about things.”

Popular dissent

Robert Larzelere, an Oklahoma State University professor specializing in parental discipline, disagrees with the premise surrounding much of the abovementioned research.

“The studies do not discriminate well between non-abusive and overly severe types of corporal punishment. You get worse outcomes from corporal punishment than from alternative disciplinary techniques only when it is used more severely or as the primary discipline tactic.”

Larzelere – and many others – are proponents of “conditional spanking,” wherein the act is incorporated into other forms of youth discipline – including the temporary restriction of privileges (e.g., play time), time-bound punishment (timeout), and effective communication between child and parent.

Final Thoughts

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