As we recognize April as “Child Abuse Prevention” month, it seems appropriate to reference a recent article in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) journal that examined the prevalence of parental spanking of children between the ages of three and five and its association with the children’s behavior and vocabulary through the age of nine.
This research was part of a larger longitudinal study called, “The Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study.” Parental reports of spanking, externalizing behavior and receptive vocabulary were assessed at ages five and nine. There were almost 2000 participants in the study group and a much larger and more extensive control group. This kind of research is not new to the AAP. They released an earlier study in 1998 strongly discouraging the use of corporal punishment of children.
The results of the recent study are clear, “Overall, 57% of mothers and 40% of fathers engaged in spanking when children were age 3, and 33% of fathers engaged in spanking at age 5. Maternal spanking at age 5, even at low levels, was associated with higher levels of child externalizing behavior at age 9, even after an array of risks and earlier child behavior were controlled for. Father’s high-frequency spanking at age 5 was associated with lower child receptive vocabulary scores at age 9.” Children do not benefit from any level of spanking, and, as practiced in many American homes, it is associated with increased aggression and defiance at levels comparable to those of children who have suffered more extreme forms of abuse. The science is solid, and pediatricians agree – Do not spank your children under any circumstances. Many years ago, I heard Jerry Lewis ask the well-known pediatrician, Dr. Lee Salk, what was the “right amount” to spank your children. Dr. Salk paused for a moment and then said, “If you tell yourself you will never hit your children that should be about the right amount.”
Once more, research confirms this and most pediatrician’s opinion. This recent rigorous study with a large number of participants should seal the scientific evidence that links between spanking and children’s aggressive behavior and vocabulary are strong. Even prior to this study, however, there was no debate on spanking within the scientific and academic communities. Another substantial indicator of this is the fact that virtually every professional organization in the U.S. and Canada concerned with the care and treatment of children, has taken a public stance against the practice of spanking – UNICEF, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, NASW etc.; and it has been banned by 53 countries, including Albania, Ireland, Honduras, Tunisia, Kenya, the Congo, Turkmenistan, and South Sudan!
We have made some progress. According to the AAP a poll in 1998, more than 90% of American families admitted to using spanking. A 2013 Harris poll indicated that 67 % of American families use spanking as regular form of discipline. Another 2014 poll reported that 70% of American adults still agree that a “good, hard spanking is sometimes necessary to discipline a child.” So, the outlook isn’t that promising for American children, who, despite the evidence against it, are regularly subjected to corporal punishment that often scares, humiliates, and hurts them.
It’s seems strange that we have clear laws about hitting each other (spouses and partners included). We cannot just hit one another if we don’t like something they do. For the most part, we’ve made hitting others against the law. The only group of Americans that we still hit with impunity is made up of people who cannot defend themselves and who are the mostly like suffer harm from it: children.
“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
“There never was a time when a major social problem was solved by beating a child. And there never will be such a time… For centuries adults have injured children and have lied about it, and other adults have heard those lies and then merely turned away,” — Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, 1989.
“As far as the education of children is concerned,” states Natalia Ginzburg in her best-known short essays, “I think they should be taught not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but generosity and an indifference to money; not caution but courage and a contempt for danger; not shrewdness but frankness and a love of truth; not tact but a love of one’s neighbor and self-denial; not a desire for success but a desire to be and to know.”
DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-1227 originally published online October 21, 2013; 2013;132;e1118Pediatrics Michael J. MacKenzie, Eric Nicklas, Jane Waldfogel and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn
|Cathy is currently employed at SRAHEC as the Lead Systems Change Coordinator.