Though almost three-quarters of Americans believe spanking a child is good for them, I've never been able to understand how we figured that hitting a child could teach a child not to hit others.
Catherine Taylor at Tulane University and her colleagues reviewed data from a 20-city study that took place between 1998 and 2005. Data from almost 2500 children shows that 3-year-olds who are spanked twice a month are one and half times more likely to be aggressive at age five than children who are not spanked. What's particularly interesting is that Taylor and her group were able to rule out the confounding effect of factors like the mother's own history of maltreatment, intimate partner violence in the home, or the mother's substance use, depression and stress. They even ruled out whether the parents considered aborting the child before birth. Though any one of these factors might create a home environment that makes a child more likely to be aggressive, none of these factors explained the difference between the children who were spanked and those who were not.
At this time of year, there's a little know fact that parents may want to consider. Both social workers and educators know that the children with the most problems are most likely to be identified when they hit Kindergarten in September. All those little aggressive people who were at home being spanked instead of taught how to control themselves suddenly find themselves in classrooms where they have to cooperate. Is it any wonder that children who are subjected to corporal punishment at home are unable to cope at school as well as children who have been better treated. Suddenly diagnoses like ADHD and Conduct Disorder get put on kids who might have otherwise done just fine if their parents had spared the rod a bit more and taught their child proper self-discipline.
On most issues I follow the lead of the parents with whom I work. I can be convinced of many things, from bedtimes to mealtimes. But tell me that spanking a child teaches them discipline and I have to shake my head. "Do your child a favor," I say. "Teach them discipline through words and actions that are neither violent nor degrading." Your child is much more likely to succeed in school. And that, after all, was what we were trying to achieve as parents, wasn't it?