The scientific consensus is spanking causes long-term damage to a child over the course of his or her life. While the effects are not on the same level as full physical abuse, scientists found the socially-accepted form of spanking to have negative effects. In fact, spanking often leads to outcomes that are the exact opposite parents want to avoid.
“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” Gershoff said in the news release. “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.”
Added Grogan-Kaylor, “Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”
While spanking is still largely supported in the United States, many countries like Germany, Spain, Kenya and others have banned corporal punishment. Spanking critics say there's little difference between spanking and child abuse. If psychologists and researchers are in agreement that it's a bad practice, then spanking should be considered abuse and banned. Full stop.
"Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects," the American Academy of Pediatrics has said in a policy statement. A 2002 analysis of studies, published in the Psychological Bulletin, concluded that although corporal punishment can make a child obey in the short run, it also is linked with a number of long-term problems, including mental disorders and behavioral difficulties. Spanking in childhood also has been related to criminality.
Conclusions drawn from a subset of studies comparing spanking to physical abuse were particularly troubling, with the researchers finding that both were linked to detrimental outcomes “that are similar in magnitude and identical in direction,” they wrote.
Proponents of spanking say the method is a legitimate way to discipline children. Countless generations were spanked and the world didn't end. They believe spanking, when being used judiciously and clearly, can be an essential tool for parents to teach their children right from wrong.
For parents who do choose to spank, the proper philosophy and approach is extremely important. Too begin with, as with all forms of correction, the concepts of punishment and discipline are absolute opposites. Punishment is motivated by anger, focuses on the past, and results in either compliance (due to fear) or rebellion and feelings of shame, guilt and/or hostility. On the other hand, discipline is motivated by love for the child, focuses on the future, and results in obedience and feelings of security.
Other studies have shown the outlook for children who are spanked is not all doom and gloom. Some researchers have found spanking associated with higher levels of success and happiness. The caveat here is that the findings are only true for children who were spanked up until the age of 11.
“If it’s done judiciously by a parent who is normally affectionate and sensitive to their child, our society should not be up in arms about that. Parents should be trusted to distinguish this from a punch in the face.”
The key is how and why parents spank their child. If it's done in a manner that genuinely teaches the child, and does not cause physical harm, then it can work. If it's done to vent frustration and anger, and is done to cause the child harm, then it's abuse. As with all things, a healthy dose of common sense is required, but spanking is not the demon advocacy groups make it out to be.