What Does Research on Spanking Tell Us?

This is a difficult post to write, but I feel like it is essential to reach as many people as possible with the latest research on spanking.

To spank or not to spank?

The statistics indicate that the vast majority of parents in this country and all across the world believe that spanking is okay, and that every now and then children need a “good hard spanking.” Some see it as a faith-based mandate and an important and necessary way to parent in order to produce respectful, obedient children. Others as a parent’s right and duty.

Spanking Makes Children More Defiant, Studies Suggest” published on April 28, 2016 on the website Livescience.com states, “… new analysis of more than 50 years’ worth of studies suggests that spanking may backfire. In fact, kids who were spanked were more likely to defy their parents, have mental health problems and be anti-social, the research finds.”

This is an analysis of over 160,000 children over a span of five decades. From what I understand of research, this makes the results irrefutable.

And this is research not focused on beating children, but on those openhanded swats to the behind or to the extremities–including slapping hands for touching things.

The article goes on to say In particular, children who were spanked were likelier to have more mental health problems and to be more anti-social. Those results fit with past research, which found that spanking is associated with lower IQs, higher levels of aggression, depression, anxiety and paranoia.”

I don’t think there is a parent in the world who would want to intentionally be responsible for such results in their children.

Yet, it is enticing because children usually become contrite and submissive when they are spanked. They will do pretty much anything to get back into their parent’s good graces. The bad behavior stops and it seems as if children understand that they broke rules, which required punishment.

Some research is difficult to accept

This all makes me think of how naïve and resistant we were back in the 1950s and 60s when it came to the dangers of cigarette smoking. There was a time when doctors even recommended smoking as a way to calm one’s nerves. Then the research emerged that was irrefutable about the long-term negative effects of smoking.

It took decades for people to really accept the reality that many cancers and other health issues were directly connected to smoking. It seemed harmless to light a cigarette and take five minutes to enjoy the sensations tobacco produced. How could something so simple be so dangerous later in life?

I ache for parents who read this research and realize the harm that spanking may have already done to their children. I ache even more for parents who refuse to believe the research and hang onto their deeply-held beliefs that spanking couldn’t be all that bad and in fact is necessary to keep kids in line. I ache for those parents when they face some of the consequences the research indicates may occur – teenagers and young adults who struggle with things like depression, anxiety and/or issues around managing their own anger and aggression.

How important is it for parents to read and absorb this research?

I think it is equally as important as learning about the negative impact of smoking on our health because these effects are imprinted deep into a child’s psyche. Many cancers can be successfully treated with chemo, radiation and surgery. We don’t have those options for kids who struggle with depression, anxiety, paranoia, unmanageable anger and any of the other issues that are now linked to spanking.

And what about us as adults who were spanked as children? The statistical probability is very high and most of us don’t need that research to recall those times when we were spanked. How many of us have IQs that were lowered, how many of us have struggled with issues like depression, anxiety or anger management? Could these be related to being spanked as children by well-meaning, loving parents trying to raise us to be obedient and respectful?

These are difficult questions.

This research is irrefutable, serious and critical for us all to appreciate and hopefully will motivate all parents to end spanking now.

Invitation to Reflect

  1. Consider your beliefs around the subject of spanking. If you believe spanking is acceptable, analyze some of those beliefs in terms of the sources of information you used to come to that conclusion and how well they are researched.
  2. Consider how it makes you feel to hear that spanking could have these long-term negative effects on your children. What are the implications for you, your children and your family?
  3. If you want to learn more, below are some embedded links that I highly recommend referenced below.

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network

Referenced links:



http://www.motheringbygrace.com/blog/2011/03/21/tedd-tripps-shepherding-a-childs-heart/ http://www.cnn.com/2014/07/23/health/effects-spanking-brain/index.html  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/january/editorial-spanking-abuse.html?paging=off  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/03/05/millennials-like-to-spank-their-kids-just-as-much-as-their-parents-did/stopspanking.org  http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/spanking.aspx