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Comprehensive Analysis Reveals Profound Impact of Spanking on Children’s Development

Researching the effects of spanking children has always been a contentious issue, given the array of personal biases individuals bring to the subject. Notably, many studies often fail to differentiate between spanking and other forms of physical punishment, creating a gray area that makes it challenging to isolate the impacts of spanking specifically. In light of these difficulties, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff of The University of Texas at Austin conducted a groundbreaking study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, examining the consequences of spanking on children.

Spanking Defined and Methodology Explained

The study by Dr. Gershoff presents a cumulative analysis of the impacts of spanking involving a staggering number of 160,927 children. The investigation narrows down the focus on what is commonly recognized as spanking, excluding other potentially abusive behaviors. Spanking, for the purpose of this study, was explicitly defined as an open-handed hit on the buttocks or limbs.

Findings: The Detrimental Outcomes Associated with Spanking

Drawing from her extensive research, Dr. Gershoff concluded that there is a significant association between spanking and 13 of the 17 detrimental outcomes that they evaluated. The results are alarming, showing that spanking is often counterproductive to the parents’ goals of eliciting compliance from their children.

“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 said.

Impact on Adult Behavior and Mental Health

The study challenges the traditional notion that spanking “never did me any harm.” It shows that adults who were spanked as children are more likely to experience mental health issues and exhibit anti-social behavior.

Worldwide Prevalence of Spanking

According to a UNICEF report, in most countries, over 70% of children had been spanked in the month leading up to the study. This data suggests that the impacts of spanking aren’t universally disastrous, unless one holds a pessimistic view of humanity’s state. However, Dr. Gershoff’s study implies that the frequency of spanking may be as crucial as whether it happens at all. The research indicates a correlation between the number of spankings a child receives and the likelihood of exhibiting negative effects.

Spanking vs. Physical Abuse: A Controversial Comparison

One of the most controversial aspects of Gershoff’s study lies in her comparison between spanking and physical abuse. “We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” she said. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

Evolution of Spanking Laws Globally

Despite the fact that the studies Dr. Gershoff used date back to the 1960s, comparing spanking to abuse always triggers heated debates, even though some psychologists argue they are fundamentally the same. Sweden was the first country to ban spanking in 1979. Meanwhile, recent attempts to pass similar legislation in Canada have sparked intense public debate.

In New Zealand, legislation to ban smacking, which is still in force, was met with opposition from over 88% majority in a non-binding referendum after critics of the ban claimed that “no decent research shows smacking by a loving parent breeds violence.” (source)

Contradictory Views and Controversies

The highly controversial stance on spanking in New Zealand showcases the global divide over spanking’s impacts and appropriateness. Critics argue that a smack from a loving parent does not promote violent behavior. However, they often reference a lack of substantial research supporting their claim, emphasizing the need for continued academic investigation into the issue.

Beyond Immediate Impacts: Spanking and Long-Term Development

The aforementioned Journal of Family Psychology publication adds to the growing body of research showing the negative impacts of spanking, both in the immediate context and long-term developmental consequences. The study’s findings challenge the commonly held belief that spanking is a harmless, effective discipline method and underscore the need for alternative approaches.

The Long-Term Impacts:

  1. Mental Health: Spanked children are more likely to experience mental health problems as adults, such as anxiety, depression, and mood disorders.
  2. Antisocial Behavior: There’s a significant association between spanking in childhood and increased antisocial behavior in adulthood, suggesting a potential risk for community safety.
  3. Aggression: Spanking can stimulate aggressive behavior in children, affecting their interactions with peers and adults alike.
  4. Educational Impact: Frequent spanking can lead to reduced cognitive ability and lower academic performance, ultimately affecting career prospects.
  5. Parent-child relationship: Spanking can damage the parent-child bond, creating a culture of fear and reducing the sense of security and comfort at home.

Rethinking Discipline: Alternatives to Spanking

Given the evidence demonstrating the negative outcomes associated with spanking, it’s imperative for parents, caregivers, and educators to explore alternative methods of discipline that foster respect, self-control, and positive behavior.

  1. Positive reinforcement: Highlight and reward good behavior to encourage its repetition.
  2. Time-outs: A short period of quiet time or isolation can help children calm down and reflect on their actions.
  3. Natural consequences: Allow children to understand the natural consequences of their actions (as long as it doesn’t compromise their safety).
  4. Logical consequences: Create a consequence that logically follows the child’s action. For instance, if a child refuses to eat dinner, they might not get dessert.
  5. Communication and understanding: Engage in open dialogues to understand the child’s perspective and explain the consequences of their actions in terms they understand.


Dr. Gershoff’s study shines a light on the controversial topic of spanking, highlighting its potential harm and ineffectiveness as a disciplinary method. As societies worldwide grapple with the legality and morality of spanking, the research provides essential data underscoring the necessity to shift parenting norms and legal practices towards non-violent discipline methods. While the road to global consensus is long, such comprehensive studies pave the way for informed discussions and conscious choices. Spanking, as the research suggests, might be a tradition worth rethinking for the sake of our children’s future.

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