Spanking really young kids appears to make them aggressive toddlers who underperform on cognitive tests. So says a study published in Child Development this month.
Though the findings were modest — the kids weren’t that mean or that dumb — it adds to a growing body of scientific research that says spanking really doesn’t have a long-term positive effect on child behaviors and has negative consequences to boot.
The study observed the interaction between parents and their child and compared that to how many times per week the parents reported their children had been spanked by a caregiver. They did this for the subjects at one year, two years and three years.
Being spanked at 1 was associated with aggressive behaviors at 2 and not doing well on cognitive tests at 3. Being spanked more frequently at 2 (three times per week as opposed to 2.6 times per week for the younger ones) didn’t compound the aggressiveness or poor testing.
(It’s hard to believe is that people spank one-year-olds!)
Verbal punishment didn’t have the same effect, even if the caregiver yelled, scolded or said mean things to the kids, as long as the caregiver was otherwise loving and attentive.
The 2,500 research subjects were all low-income and white, Hispanic or black. Researchers focused on low-income families, a demographic where spanking is “cultural normative,” to detect a lesser effect of spanking on the child, which they did not find.
What’s your take on spanking? If you look at the research, there’s just nothing there to support it as a long-term behavior modifier. So why do people still do it? At the same time, if parents were spanked as kids and never experienced other ways to solve problems or deal with conflict, of course spanking is their discipline of choice.