According to researchers who have looked at 50 years of data on 160,000 children, spanking not only does not stop unwanted behaviors, but actually gives rise to them

I was spanked as a kid, as I suspect that many folks of my generation were. I don’t fault my father for it. That’s just what people did back then, when I was a kid growing up in the south. And, while we’ve never talked about it, I’m certain that, when my dad was a kid, he got it a hundred times worse from his father. So I really don’t mind the fact that, on occasion, my father, who was very young at the time, chose to spank me. With that said, though, quite a few of my most vivid memories of my father are not of the happy moments that we shared together, but of moments when he was hitting me with his belt for having done things that I can’t even remember. And that, I think, is probably the main reason why, when I became a father, I decided that I’d not strike my children. I suspect my decision was also influenced by the fact that I’ve always been doubtful as to how effective spanking is in preventing unwanted behaviors, but, when it comes right down to it, I just didn’t want for my children to have memories of me hitting them competing for space in their minds along with their better memories of me… Regardless of my motivation, though, it looks as though, according to research published yesterday, I made the right decision when I chose to “spare the rod”.

Yesterday, researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Texas published what is being called the most definitive research to date on the subject of spanking (defined as “an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities”), and it appears to show that the practice is not only ineffective, but detrimental. According to the authors of the article, which was just published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the five decades of data they’ve assessed on 160,000 children has shown that spanking is significantly linked with 13 of the 17 outcomes they tracked, all in the direction of detrimental outcomes. In other words, spanking led to improvements in none of the outcomes being tracked.

According to Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, the University of Michigan School of Social Work professor who co-authored the article, they discovered that “spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children,” essentially doing “the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

The following clip comes from the University of Texas press release announcing the publication.

The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking by experts at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan…

“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. “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.”

Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor tested for some long-term effects among adults who were spanked as children. The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.

The researchers looked at a wide range of studies and noted that spanking was associated with negative outcomes consistently and across all types of studies, including those using the strongest methodologies such as longitudinal or experimental designs. As many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children, according to a 2014 UNICEF report. Gershoff notes that this persistence of spanking is in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of positive effects from spanking and ample evidence that it poses a risk of harm to children’s behavior and development.

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree”…

Who would have thought… beating your children might actually be bad for them.


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  1. Al Gant
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t doubt their findings, but it seems like a difficult thing to prove one way or the other given that they don’t know what might have been the case had parents not spanked. In other words, how do they know that these children would not have displayed even more unwanted behaviors had spanking not occurred?

  2. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I was not able to link to the article. I am curious to read how the researchers dealt with intervention selection bias.

  3. Marcia Peterson Buckie
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I have a lot of questions about the research which did say increases the risk of… ”

    Philosophically I agree that spanking doesn’t work.

    I have a writer/ internet friend from Norway. He said spanking and hitting kids is against the law. Its against the law to strike adults. Why would we not protect our most vulnerable citizens in the same way?

    I just think in the US the solution is to remove children from their homes, rather than support the family in doing better.

  4. Kayla Johnson
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I’ve worked with a fair amount of families that spank. They are quite defensive of their methods.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    It’s cool with Focus on the Family.

  6. Lisa Welchel
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Why spank when you can hot-sauce?

    Buy my book for details!

  7. Lynne
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Yes. My experience is that people who spank are defensive of their methods but no more than most parents get defensive about their parenting style. I’ve chosen to mostly share the research without comment because I am not sure how to comment without appearing judgemental. Mostly because I am judgemental on this issue! It reminds me of a Bill Hicks quote: “I don’t mean to sound bitter, cold, or cruel, but I am, so that’s how it comes out.”

  8. Mike White
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I dunno. I like a good spanking now and then.

  9. Taco Farts
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Are you there Common Sense? It’s me, Margaret.

  10. K.K.
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Hopefully this will free up some funding for research into things are not completely fucking obvious.

  11. Peter Larson
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    We don’t need no violence.

  12. Denise Heberle
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    In my experience, it is often a cultural mandate born out of the desperate importance that some children obey their parents immediately and without question to avoid greater injury – like getting shot by a cop…

  13. Chris Danguilan
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    mark? why did you pick a photo where the father and son are…smiling?

  14. site admin
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    It’s not Mark’s fault. I picked the photo. He just instructed me to “find something sexy”.

  15. Francis Baur
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I would have guessed Mark wasn’t spanked enough as a child.

  16. Laura Goins
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to see a longitudinal study involving this mom that I’m watching right now at the Hands On Museum.

    She’s following her 2 or 3 year old shrieker around asking him, “Is it time to go yet, honey?”

  17. Kayla Johnson
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I am sure that the researches who crated this summative evaluation took into account for environmental, social, and cultural frameworks. This study is not pathologizing those who spank, but the outcomes. I completely hear what you’re saying, but it’s not the same argument as whats being pointed out in this study.

  18. Jim Pyke
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Parenting is just easier when violence against one’s children is not consciously and deliberately chosen. To this day I have not done anything to my son (who is now 15) that could by any reasonable definition be termed “punishment”, much less hitting him. He’s made it through the struggles he has faced just fine.

  19. Jules
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Mmmmm, nothing creepy here.

  20. Frosted Flakes
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 4:55 pm | Permalink


    I am curious. Why did you offer your opinion that spankers are “defensive” about spanking? It seems like an odd time to offer that observation unless you were assuming that Al, Marcia and I are opposed to the conclusion of the study….No social scientist worth their salt would pretend there is not a basic truth behind what Al said with regard to the difficulty of studying this subject.

  21. stupid hick
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    Spanking, like any behavior that has persisted across diverse cultures as long as it has, must be adaptive in some way. Mark, consider that by depriving your children of time honored, traditional, punishment you may be making them less fit.

  22. Peter Larson
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    A case can be made that much of the violence one sees in African-American communities can be linked to physical punishment in the home, which can be linked to the horrific abuse that slave owners heaped on black people during slavery.

    However, isn’t there also an economic gradient here? Households will likely use such methods less as they make more money.

    No evidence to back that statement, or the previous one. I don’t know what I’m talking about.

  23. Max
    Posted April 28, 2016 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Louis C.K. has a pretty good bit about this subject where he says that it’s a bit odd that little, defenseless people that are completely dependent on you are the only living things that can legally be beaten. If you beat a dog or any other animal, let alone another human that’s not your child, you’d be arrested.

  24. EOS
    Posted May 3, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

  25. Eel
    Posted May 3, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I knew, if I waited long enough, EOS would show up with his belt.

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