Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Analysis of the Reasearch on Spanking Part 2

The Evidence For and Against

The Evidence For Spanking:

There were fourteen studies that showed either a neutral or a net positive effect of spanking on children. The quotes below from the studies are tedious, so I will sum up here. Spanking is effective at reducing antisocial behavior. It is more effective in black families than white families, and more effective for younger children (about ages 2-6) than older children and infants. Spanking has no effect on self-esteem, reduces the likelihood that the child will do drugs, and rated similarly with other methods of discipline. Above-average use of spanking produces adverse effects, but moderate use is associated with greater nurturing on the part of the parent than below-average use of spanking.

So as you can see, there is significant research spanning 4 decades that suggests that not only is spanking not harmful to children, but that it can actually be beneficial. Anyone who suggests otherwise either doesn't know what they're talking about or has an agenda.

But that doesn't mean that there are no ill effects from spanking. The research behind childhood aggression and spanking is well-documented, as we will see tomorrow with the case against spanking.

Until then, here are the studies in greater detail for those of you like me who are crazy enough to want to read about them (the number in parenthesis refers to the number of the study on pubmed after searching for "spanking"):

1975 (115) - A study of 5,044 US Army soldiers showed that, "Childhood antecedents [...] associated with non-use of illegal drugs and which showed as much as a 20% difference in reported occurrence between abusers and non-users of illegal drugs were: spanking, church attendance, first alcoholic drink after 15 years, and perceived "happy" parental marriage." No such relationship (positive or negative) was seen for alcohol abuse.

1989 (106) - The abstract, in full (emphasis added), reads: "Punishment has long been a controversial topic in psychology, perhaps partly because its effects are different under different circumstances. This study used retrospective reports from college students to examine the effects of spanking, a common aversive punishment, on self-esteem and perceived fairness of parental discipline, while taking the effects of other parental characteristics into account. No parental characteristic interacted with the slightly negative effect of spanking on self-esteem and fairness. However, controlling for positive communication or for a parent-oriented motivation for spanking eliminated the negative effects of spanking, suggesting that the negative effects reflected use of spanking as a replacement for positive communication with the child."

1991 (103) - The study measured the self-esteem scores of 134 college students, and also rated the students' perceived fairness of their parents. Children perceived parents who "used spanking, grounding, or scolding more, and had been over-all stricter" as being more unfair. However, "[t]here was no evidence that spanking, grounding, scolding, or monetary rewards had any effect on children's self-esteem scores, whether these methods were used by mothers or by fathers."

1997 (86) - " Five articles that met selection criteria revealed that abusive parents spanked their children more often than did nonabusive parents. Aggregated data from nonabusive parents were used to compute a continuum or "normal range" of daily spanking frequencies from 0 to 5.73 (M = 2.5) times in 24 hours." This is interesting to me, since one of the anti-spanking studies I'll show tomorrow defined "frequent" spanking as twice in a month. Definitions, definitions....

1997 (83) - This is an especially interesting study of 1,112 4- to 11-year olds. It is the earliest study I've seen that looks at spanking and race (and it's not the last study we'll see that addresses this). Very, very intriguing: "[S]panking predicted fewer fights for children aged 4 to 7 years and for children who are black and more fights for children aged 8 to 11 years and for children who are white. Regression analyses within subgroups yielded no evidence that spanking fostered aggression in children younger than 6 years and supported claims of increased aggression for only 1 subgroup: 8- to 11-year-old white boys in single-mother families." Incidentally, this was also the only study I found where spanking was not largely linked to aggression.

1999 (74) - An analysis of the data 20 years after Sweden enacted a spanking ban showed that, "the spanking ban has made little change in problematic forms of physical punishment. The conclusion calls for more timely and rigorous evaluations of similar social experiments in the future."

2000 (59) - Another study shows a difference between spanking in black families and white families: "Although a positive correlation between the use of physical discipline (i.e., spanking) and disruptive disorders in children is found in studies of European American families, research on African American families has found a negative association or none at all. Moreover, a review of the literature indicates that the positive association between spanking and child behavior problems is bidirectional for White families, whereas it is the product of reverse causation (i.e., negative child behaviors result in spanking) in Black families."

2000 (57) - A review of the published literature on spanking: "All six studies that used clinical samples (including four randomized clinical studies) and all three sequential-analysis studies found beneficial outcomes, such as reduced noncompliance and fighting, primarily when nonabusive spanking was used to back up milder disciplinary tactics in 2- to 6-year olds. Five of eight longitudinal studies that controlled for initial child misbehavior found predominantly detrimental outcomes of spanking. However, those detrimental outcomes were primarily due to overly frequent use of physical punishment. Furthermore, apparently detrimental outcomes have been found for every alternative disciplinary tactic when investigated with similar analyses. Such detrimental associations of frequent use of any disciplinary tactic may be due to residual confounding from initial child misbehavior. Specific findings suggest discriminations between effective and counterproductive physical punishment with young children."

2001 (32) - A study of 2017 parents of children under 3. Parents with "above-average use of spanking shared a high prevalence of parent depressive symptoms and a low level of nurturing [...] Parents who used average levels of spanking made frequent use of nonphysical disciplinary strategies and had high levels of nurturing interactions. Parents who reported below-average spanking had relatively low levels of both disciplinary and nurturing interactions."

2005 (35) - A meta-analysis of 26 studies showed that, "effect sizes significantly favored conditional spanking over 10 of 13 alternative disciplinary tactics for reducing child noncompliance or antisocial behavior. Customary physical punishment yielded effect sizes equal to alternative tactics, except for one large study favoring physical punishment. Only overly severe or predominant use of physical punishment compared unfavorably with alternative disciplinary tactics."

2007 (25) - I won't quote from this one, because the language is a bit frustrating, but the gist is that when the mother endorses the use of spanking, both she and the children suffer from fewer depressive symptoms. For mothers who did not endorse the use of spanking and yet still spanked, there was a link between depression on the part of the mother and the child.

2008 (22) - A longitudenal study of 1,863 infants showed that, "Spanking during infancy predicted slightly more severe conduct problems, but the prediction was moderated by infant fussiness and positive affect. Thus, individual differences in risk for mother-rated conduct problems across childhood are already partly evident in maternal ratings of temperament during the first year of life and are predicted by early parenting and parenting-by-temperament interactions."

2010 (11) - This study re-analyzed a 1988 study of 785 children born between 1979 and 1982. The original study only analyzed the effect of spanking on antisocial behavior. This study looked at the effects of grounding, privilege removal, sending children to their room, and psychotherapy. The study found that, "[a] similar pattern of adverse effects was shown for grounding and psychotherapy and partially for the other two disciplinary tactics. All of these effects [including spanking] became non-significant after controlling for latent comprehensive measures of externalizing behavior problems."

Related Posts:

2 have poured out their souls in electronic text:

  • Sherry

    Very impressed with all of your research. You would get an A in a Masters research class! You are so right, both sides are biased. The way I go at this is that God says to do it, so it is right to spank. But there are good ways to do it & bad & we should always be seeking the good way to do it. That is challenging, though! I heartily agree that the sweet spot is 2-6. But done right, spanking before 2 does work as you demonstrate in your closing arguments.

  • scphotomom

    God NEVER said spank your child. A phrase in the bible said "spare thy rod and spoil thy child." Shepards used rods to gently guide their sheep, not spank them.