Spanking can cause lifelong mental deficiencies in children, new study says

For some, spanking has long been a go-to punishment for unruly children.

Spanking can backfire, though, and the more a child is spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents, a new study found.

The study from the University of Texas at Austin and University of Michigan has found data that spanking can also cause lifelong social and developmental problems.

As it applies to the study, spanking is defined as "an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities." 

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As the amount of spanking goes up, so does the probability of increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, the study found.

The study, which was published in the April edition of the Journal of Family Psychology, looked at 50 years of data from more than 160,000 children.

The study only looked at general spanking, not potentially abusive behaviors, said Elizabeth Gershoff, study co-author and associate professor of human development and family sciences at UTA.

“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,” she said.

Basically, spanking doesn’t work, the study asserts.

According to a 2014 UNICEF report, as many as 80 percent of all parents around the world spank their children.

“We, as a society, think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” Gershoff said. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

“We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline,” she said.

Gershoff co-authored the study with Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

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