Op-Ed on Spanking by Yamileth Hernandez, 4th Year Med. Student
University of Texas Medical Branch
Most of us probably grew up or know someone who grew up that got spanked at home. Many support it and say “Hey, I turned out fine!” or “There’s a huge difference between spanking and abuse!” I myself grew up in a home where all 5 kids got their share of spankings, and always assumed I would probably spank my children as that’s what everyone does from time to time. But even in just my family, with such different personalities, I wondered how spanking has had an impact now that we’re all adults.
Historically about 90% of parents said they used spanking as a way to discipline their children, currently about 50% of parents still spank their kids. Why has there been a movement against spanking, and should we as a society do away with physical punishment?
The practice of spanking appears to be widespread across many cultures and yet in recent years 30 countries have outlawed spanking. A study conducted by Frank Elgar from The Institute for Health and Social Policy (2018) showed that there is 31% less fighting among males, and 42% less fighting among females in countries where spanking is outlawed in all settings. A 2011 study of over 11,000 U.S children showed that spanking is not limited to one race or ethnic group, they found that at least 70% of White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian parents reported the use of spanking. In present day, the use of corporal punishment to discipline a child can be seen across multiple religious groups, political parties, regions and socioeconomic levels.
Studies as early as 1975 suggested a correlation between rates of aggressive behavior seen in children who had been exposed to physical punishment. In the study, elementary school boys that watched a one-minute video of a boy being yelled at and spanked for misbehaving, showed more aggression while playing with dolls than boys who watched a one-minute video of a non-violent response to misbehavior.
In recent years, a study designed to help parents decrease their use of physical punishment, showed a surprising decrease in difficult behavior of the children as well. This suggests that physical punishment may increase the behaviors parents are punishing and cause even more aggressive behaviors! Researches are also finding that physical punishment is related to slower cognitive development and can in fact lower the amount of grey matter in the brain needed for higher learning. Physical punishment can also result in increased health and emotional problems in adults.
Research also shows that physical punishment is not more effective than other forms of discipline. So, what are the other options for parents? Other ways to discipline include setting boundaries, using logical consequences or removal of privileges, and focusing on preventing bad behavior by nurturing a loving and respectful relationship. Each child is different, therefore the strategies that work need to be tailored for that child. Our parents may not have had this information, but now we do. It is up to us, to learn from this and make healthier choices in the future.
By Yamileth Hernandez, MS4
University of Texas Medical Branch
Trish Beach, MD
Professor, UTMB Dept. of Pediatrics
Co-Director, Division of General Academic Pediatrics
Director UTMB ABC Child Safety and Protection Team
Emeritus Scholar, John P. McGovern Academy of Oslerian Medicine
** Yamileth Hernandez is a fourth-year medical student at UTMB. She recently completed an elective rotation on Child Advocacy and plans to pursue a career in Pediatrics. Dr. Beach directs the Child Safety and Protection Team and supervised Ms. Hernandez during this rotation. **
10 Healthy Discipline Strategies That Work
The AAP Parenting Website
UTMB Health Primary Care Pediatrics
Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) - DFPS Child Protection Home Page
Elgar FJ, et al. Corporal Punishment Bans and Physical Fighting in Adolescents: An Ecological Study of 83 Countries. BMJ Open 2018 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-021616.
Durrant J and Ensom R. Physical Punishment of Children: Lessons from 20 Years of Research. CMAJ, September 2012, p. 1373.