If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.

Dr. Benjamin Spock  

Spanking: Does it help or harm? A fact sheet for parents

The use of corporal punishment with children has shown a long-term decline among American parents during the last 50 years. In the 1950’s over 90% of American parents favored the use of spanking and other forms of corporal punishment with their children. Today, roughly 50% of parents still support the use of spanking as a means of punishment for their children. Some other countries have even gone as far as to ban corporal punishment of children by making it illegal.

Given that a large percentage of parents in America are still using spanking and other forms of corporal punishment, what do the facts tell us about its effectiveness and long-term consequences? Is spanking a harmless means of improving a child’s behavior, or, does it instead do more harm than good?

Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Spanking, as a means of controlling behavior, is effective in stopping behavior temporarily. This is basic human nature. If someone hits us while we are doing a certain activity, chances are we are going to stop that activity, at least for a short time. However, research shows that hitting is ineffective as a long-term solution for behavior problems and may actually increase misbehavior in the long run. There is an ample body of research that suggests that the more a child is spanked for bad behavior, the more the bad behavior increases. To put it simply, the more children are hit, the more they are likely to hit others including peers and siblings and, as adults they are more likely to hit their spouses. Bottom line, spanking (hitting) teaches a child one main thing: that it is ok to hit. Verbal correction, reasoning, and time-outs work just as well and do not have the potential for injury and long-term ill-effects that hitting does.

  2. Spanking is not an effective means for teaching. Think about it, if as an adult, you were trying to learn a second language, and were subjected to hitting when you mispronounce a word, your odds of learning quickly would be decreased, not increased. Children are no different. Although it may seem logical that spanking teaches a child “a lesson”. The fact is that the primary lesson that a child learns from spanking, is fearfulness and to avoid being caught. Making sure your child knows the rules ahead of time, and using consistent, logical consequences for misbehavior, while rewarding good behaviors, is a much more effective method for the teaching of positive behaviors.

  3. “I was spanked as a child and I turned out OK.” You have probably heard this phrase once or twice or even uttered it yourself. To some extent, at least in the “big picture”, this may be true for many adults. That is, being spanked as a child may not lead directly to major problems as an adult. However, hitting is an emotional event and many adults look back on the physical punishment they experienced as children with anger, sadness, and resentment. One large study, published in the Psychological Bulletin in 2002, showed that corporal punishment of children was associated with increased delinquent and violent behavior, as well as increased risks of child and spousal abuse and mental health problems as adults. Children who are spanked have more trouble with mental health problems, have more trouble with peer relationships, experience more sleep difficulties, and have more behavior problems. Adults who had been spanked as children showed higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Although most of us who were spanked as children “turned out OK” in the long run, it is likely that not being spanked would have helped us to be even healthier.

In summary, spanking, although once almost universally accepted as an appropriate punishment for children, has diminished in the last several years. The facts based on research simply do not support spanking or any means of corporal punishment as an effective way to help a child learn good behavior. Rather, spanking can actually increase poor behavior and result in long-term physical and mental health problems.

To learn more about corporal punishment, and more effective ways to teach a child good behavior, please feel free to contact your school psychologist, or visit these websites: