Experts have found that spanking kids for bad behavior does not work and may lead to developmental difficulties. Further corporal punishment is banned in 32 countries.
The new Canadian analysis shows that spanking can cause long-term developmental damage and may even lower a child's IQ. The study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, reached its conclusion after examining 20 years of published research on the issue. The authors say the medical finding have been largely overlooked and overshadowed by concerns that parents should have the right to determine how their children are disciplined. No study found physical punishment helped a child develop positively, and a consensus emerged that parents should be helped to learn non-violent and effective methods of discipline. Among those methods are clear communication with the child and applying consequences for misbehavior.
That point of view highlights the difficulty in changing hearts and minds on the issue, despite a mountain of accumulated evidence showing the damage physical punishment can have on a child, says Joan Durant, a professor at University of Manitoba and one of the authors of the study. “We're really past the point of calling this a controversy. That's a word that's used and I don't know why, because in the research there really is no controversy,” she said in an interview. “If we had this level of consistency in findings in any other area of health, we would be acting on it. We'd be pulling out all the stops to work on the issue.”
Durant and co-author Ron Ensom, with the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, cite research showing that physical punishment makes children more aggressive and antisocial, and can cause cognitive impairment and developmental difficulties. Recent studies suggest it may reduce the brain's grey matter in areas relevant to intelligence testing. “What people have realized is that physical punishment doesn't only predict aggression consistently, it also predicts internalizing kinds of difficulties, like depression and substance use,” said Durant. “There are no studies that show any long term positive outcomes from physical punishment.”
While banned in 32 countries, corporal punishment of children retains at least partial social acceptance in much of the world. Debates on the issue typically revolve around the ethics of using violence to enforce discipline. With the study, Durant hopes parents will start to look at the issue from a medical perspective.
“What we're hoping is that physicians will take that message and do more to counsel parents around this and to help them understand that physical punishment isn't getting them where they want to go,” she said.
Examples of physical punishment cited were spanking, yelling, slapping or shaking.