Caring for You and Your Family

Spanking your kids could lead to mental health problems

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Scientists in the USA are warning that spanking your children could cause long-term damage to your children, with research linking it to aggression and an increased risk of mental health problems

The research, conducted by a team of scientists at the University of Texas and the University of Michigan analysing data collated over five decades on more than 160 000 children, suggests that spanking has adverse long-term unintended consequences on a child’s mental health, their social behaviour and their cognitive ability later on in life.

“Spanking children to correct misbehavior is a widespread practice, yet one shrouded in debate about its effectiveness and even its appropriateness. The meta-analyses presented here found no evidence that spanking is associated with improved child behaviour and rather found spanking to be associated with increased risk of 13 developmental outcomes,” the researchers say.

Some of the negative developmental outcomes include increased aggression, heightened anti-social behaviour, lower cognitive ability, a more negative relationship with parents, increased internalising as well as externalising of problems and lower self-esteem.

“Parents who use spanking, practitioners who recommend it, and policymakers who allow it might reconsider doing so, given that there is no evidence that spanking does any good for children and all evidence points to the risk of it doing harm,” the researchers say.

Unicef research indicates that around 80% of parents across the globe use spanking as a form of disciplining their children, but Dr Elizabeth Gershoff, one of the lead study authors, warns that while parents may have the best intentions and believe that spanking their children is in their best interest, they need to take into account that the outcomes are negative.

“Given our findings that smacking does no good for children and instead puts them at risk for harm, I hope the parents will reconsider using physical punishment with their children in the future and seek out positive disciplinary methods,” Gershoff was quoted saying a news.com.au article.

“As with parenting itself, we need to teach parents what to do instead, not just tell them not to do something. Smacking is never necessary and is almost always counter-productive.”

Sandton-based clinical psychologist Candice Cowen, however, doesn’t believe that disciplining your children is necessarily a bad thing, but warns that it should be done within the context of teaching your children about boundaries, stability and the consequences of their actions.

“If spanking is part of your discipline and it is done on a consistent basis and the child can predict it, then it is good. If the child knows that if they break a window or lie, their parents will spank them because they’ve done so before, that is good,” Cowen said in a precious interview with DESTINY.

She says it’s also vital to make it clear to your child why you are spanking them.

“If the child doesn’t understand why they are getting a spanking, they might rebel,” she warns.

“Kids are born with their own temperaments. You can have a very difficult temperament, which is a very high-maintenance child, or an easy-going temperament in a very happy-go-lucky child. If a child is more prone to needing external reinforcement, they might react better to spanking than one who needs internal motivation. Maybe with them, you can reason a little bit more.”

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