Long-term effects of child spankings

Long-term effects of child spankings

When a child misbehaves, some parents may resort to spanking.  But growing research shows that spanking can have long-term negative effects on a child.

A recent study found that children who are spanked are at greater risk for problems in their behavior and learning ability for years down the line.  The study, conducted by a team from the Columbia University School of Social Work in New York City, was published online October 21 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research focused on nearly 2,000 families in 20 cities in the United States. Mothers and fathers were interviewed shortly after their child was born, and then again at ages 1, 3, 5 and 9.

The researchers discovered that spanking is still pretty common. Results showed that 57 percent of mothers in the study said they spanked their child at age 3, as did 40 percent of the fathers. At age 5, 52 percent of the mothers and 33 percent of the fathers reported spanking.

After controlling for other risk factors, prior levels of behavior and earlier development, the researchers found significant results on the impact of spanking.  They found that children who were spanked at age 3 and 5 had higher levels of rule breaking and aggressive behavior at age 9.

The results also indicated that at age 9, children were more likely to score lower on language-comprehension and vocabulary tests if their fathers spanked them at age 5.

“We found there were impacts not just on the behavioral development that folks normally look at, but also on markers of cognitive development, like the verbal capacity of the child,” co-author of the study Michael Mackenzie said in a statement. “These effects are long-lasting. They aren’t just short-term problems that wash out over time.”

Dr. Rosalind Downing, pediatrician on staff at Advocate Good Samaritan Medical Center in Downers Grove, Ill., says, “Spanking sends the wrong message to a child. It communicates that hitting, or being aggressive, is an appropriate response to a problem.”

“It’s interesting to see the high percentages of parents who are spanking, considering how much research is out there linking spanking to behavior problems,” Dr. Downing says. “While it’s sometimes tough to be patient, children benefit enormously from more constructive, positive discipline techniques.”

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8 Comments

  1. Let me start by saying this, I was spanked but it did not impair my learning abilities in any way. Spanking a child on the soft tissues of the body such as the bottom or thighs, or a slap on the arm, will not and should not impairs a child’s learning abilities unless you’re hitting them in the head and that would be “child abuse”. If a child develops an inability to learn, it’s most likely due to a learning disability which could have been inherited. I’ve also seen other studies that prove that children that are not disciplined are more violent than children that are. The longer I live, I am seeing a society that’s straying more and more from God’s word. The book of Proverbs states, “If you spare the rod, you spoil th child..”, and “…thou shalt beat him, and deliver his soul from hell..” Now, the words “beat” and “rod” are old english words for “spanking” and “belt”.

    • I was spanked as a child and I do think it is harmful. My parents are very loving and caring people and the spanking was not abusive. They discussed why what I did was wrong and why it merited a spanking, and then I received a spanking either on my hand or bottom with a hand or belt. Despite all of the positive framing, I still felt angry every time I got a spanking, and had to swallow that anger. I had to learn how to mute myself when during these times. I don’t think this study is pointing to levels of intelligence or IQ; instead I think it’s saying that spanking teaches kids to circumvent their language skills when dealing with feelings of anger, disappointment, or fear. I believe that bleeds into other areas of a kid’s life (e.g. – if they’re feeling anxious about a test at school they, if they’re faced with a bully, if they’re afraid of a new task, etc…). I have a five-year-old and I don’t spank – although I am tempted sometimes 😉 I think it tells him the wrong things and I want him to know that all emotions -even the hard ones – can be communicated and the best way for him to know that is for me to show him with my own actions.

    • Spanking is harmful to children. In every study across every country and class of people, this is found to be true. I was spanked as a child and I do believe it was harmful. You cannot morally justify using the bible to promote beating children.It is also clear that you do not understand what it is to have a learning disability. Disciplining children should be fair, consistent, non-violent and should focus on teaching and guiding, not punishing and inciting confusion and fear in children.

  2. I completely agree with Sue! My siblings and I were all spanked when we were little when we stepped out of line. We understood that doing something bad would have consequences. And we all turned out fine. I honestly don’t think some kids have enough discipline these days as more and more kids are turning into little brats. I’m scared for the future.

  3. I totally agree with Sue in that a spanking on the behind will not cause learning disabilities. I am a mother of 3 and have raised several nieces and nephews. Lack of proper discicpline is what society is missing today. Ofcourse, one has to know what proper discipline is because there is a thin line between discipline and child abuse. You have to know when to spank a child not every incident has to end with a spanking. Spankings should be a last resort when verbal and punishment doesn’t work. You have to use wisdom and you have to listen to your children to find out why they are misbehaving. Children without discipline can be an embarrassment to you. They talk out of turn and are often violent and rude.

  4. The study does not take into effect the children who were not spanked(at least in this writing). What issues did they have? Also questions why were they spanked. Did they have undelying disorder that should have been treated differently. What severity were the spankings?

  5. I , like Tanya, was spanked as a child. Also in a otherwise loving home. The memories of the spankings are very fresh in my mind and i am now 33. Other happy memories aren’t so fresh.

    I remember feeling so angry and helpless. Even thinking about it now makes me cross. As an adult half of me can at least try to understand why my father did it . Being at the end of his tether . thinking its going to teach us a lesson etc, But as a child you don’t have the ability to see what other factors may be pushing your parents to spank.

    I grew slightly scared and distrusting of my father and even to this day I feel resentment towards him . Id say he only spanked me at the most 4 times but it has had a huge impact on my respect and feelings for him right into adult life .

    He and none of the other family members know i feel this way , and they don’t need to. I know he is a good person and only did what he thought was right , but it deeply affected me as a child and an adult . So smack away if you feel its right , but know that that child will never ever forget and will probably never forgive you . Surely there are a lot better ways to discipline your child

  6. I don’t know how anyone can condone spanking. Is it okay to hit an adult? How can you hit a defenseless child? I don’t spank. I gave time outs. I grounded my kids, and took away privileges.
    Just a parent’s displeasure can be upsetting to a child. Spanking is not necessary. My kids are not brats. They are sensitive, caring, smart, adults. I am a 50 year old woman, and I am still scarred by memories of spankings. I had ADHD, so I lived in fear quite a bit of the time. Fidgeting in church would get me spanked out in the foyer, or a promise of spanking when we got home. Everyday childhood behavior would get threats of spanking (lets say violence, because that is what it is) when my father got home. Children do not deserve physical abuse, no matter what they do. Just STOP the VIOLENCE!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.