Behavioral and Long-Term Effect of Spanking

Behavioral and Long-Term Effects of Spanking

Behavioral and Long-Term Effect of Spanking

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Many of the studies pointed out that violence of adult are traced in the pattern of violence at home, and mostly in the experience of spanking during childhood. Despite the information and advocacy available in almost all media these days, there are still parents who thought that spanking their children to emphasize discipline is still beneficial. The benefits cited by those supporting spanking as acceptable method of discipline varied across culture and race. Generally, there are three views or positions about spanking as a form of discipline (Benject C. & Kazdin A, 2003). Pro-corporal punishment, anti-corporal punishment, and conditional corporal punishment, which will be discussed in this paper. I shall outline the two differing arguments (pro-corporal and anti-corporal punishment) and conclude with the conditional corporal punishment which also reflect my own view, and which for me, is a neutral ground for both arguments to be accepted.


Disciplining the children is part of parental responsibility. Discipline is the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using techniques and provides system of rules of conduct to change, improve, control or correct behavior (Oxford Dictionary, 2012) There are various parenting styles that every parent is comfortable implementing at home, and that includes the manner by which they discipline their children. Some forms of discipline vary by family, culture and race. However, in all culture, corporal punishment of children seemed to be accepted, perpetuated and was passed from generation to the next since time immemorial. Corporal punishment is the uses of forces-which is physical, but not hazardous or injure the child- with the aim or intention to inflict pain for the purpose of discipline, to correct or control a child’s behavior (Straus, MA and Gelles RJ, 1990). Spanking should not include injury to a child or any harm brought by or due to physical abuses such as kicking, punching, burning, and other forms of violence which are clearly abusive in nature. Baumrind (2001) defined spanking as “striking the child on the buttocks or extremities with an open hand without inflicting physical injury, with the intent to modify behavior” (p.1). Spanking children had been practiced by many parents across culture and across time. Spanking or hitting the child is mostly the convenient disciplining measures of some parents to stop the children from misbehaving. However, in recent studies and researches, it is argued that spanking has long-term, negative effect on behavior of children. Some studies suggests that short-term response of children to spanking may gradually turn into a long-term response that could manifest into their adult life, which includes but not limited to aggressiveness, violence and abusive behaviors, and lack of emotional control.

1. Pro-Corporal Punishment: Spanking has beneficial and positive effect on the behavior of children

Many parents found it easier to use corporal punishment such as spanking to correct the child’s unwanted and unacceptable behavior. Many pro-spanking advocates defend the use of spanking as a method of disciplining the child which is differentiated to physical abuse. Spanking is hitting the child in the bottom using hand; it is a series of smacks with an open hand in the lower extremities (bottom, feet, legs) of the child (Baumrind, Does Causally relevant research support a blanket injunction against disciplinary spanking by parents?, 2001). It is never hitting the face or other sensitive body parts of the child using the hand or other things which may leave marks or welts and bruises. Corporal punishment such as spanking entails pain, but according to supporters to this argument, all kinds of punishments are painful in nature; this is needed to effect change, if the purpose of such action is modification of behavior or instilling a lesson to a child. Some advocates of this argument uses the bible quotation “Spare the rod and spoil a child” (Proverbs, 13:24, New International Version). Although this quote is considered “misconstrued” and incomplete by many scholars when applied to some context, many parents accept this quote as basis for corporal punishment which is believed to be significant in teaching children to learn respect to authority, adherence to rules of good behavior, and socialization. There are few authoritative opinion, study and write-ups that fully support the effectiveness of spanking as corporal punishment. To date, opinions that are favorable to corporal punishment are all based on criticial inferences and interpretations on the studies done by authors and institutions who and which are mostly inclined to support anti-corporal punishment (American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Humane Association, American Medical, American Public Health Association and other related organizations). In viewing the researches and studies produced by these institutions, The League of Women Voters of Sourth Carolina (Kimbrough R. & Melton, JD, 2011) summed up that:

It cannot be concluded that all children who are spanked will turn out to be aggressive, delinquent or have mental problems. But there is also no reason to believe that corporal punishment by itself teaches children right from wrong or that it deters them from misbehaving over the longer term. (pp. 1).

The argument was based on the criticism and analysis of the study done by Gershoff (2002, pp. 128-579) which, according to the critique of this argument, lacks the establishment of a solid basis on the negative long-term effect of physical punishment on children. It in fact showed that corporal punishment is beneficial since it allows a short interval of punishment which the child can also bear and respond to, in a short period. Corporal punishment or spanking, immediately result to desired behavior sought by the parents from the child, for example, compliance. The argument also criticizes the research as “vague” in establishing solid facts and data which lead to the conclusion that physical corporal punishment is detrimental and has long-term negative effect on children across culture, race, parenting styles, and other factors. Pro-corporal punishment supporters argues that Gershoff (2008) research, which attempts to establish physical and verbal aggression and anti-social behavior as product of physical corporal punishment, cannot be generalized to be the only cause of negative behaviors among children such as defiance which promotes aggressiveness. The supporters argued further that it is not the punishment that causes children to be defiant, instead, it is the defiance observed in children that provoked punishment.Studies of Gershoff also need to be reviewed since it considered acts of physical abuses such as hitting the child with object and slapping, under the spanking or corporal punishment category. In another review of a study done by Larzelere (2000), the result of the analysis showed that mild spanking used to support mild disciplinary aim is not detrimental to children and infact, effective enough to reduce non-compliance and violent behavior among children. While there is evidence that harsh punishment produced changes in the brain resulting to dysfunctional behavior, there is no strong support or evidence that spanking and other mild corporal punishment has the same effect. The distinction of effects in biochemical, functional and structural changes happening in the brain between the act of child abuse and spanking is not clearly established in many studies (Baumrind, D. Larzelere, R.E. & Cowan, P.A., 2002) . Therefore, the pro-corporal punishment advocates insist that spanking is an effective method to discipline children.

2. Anti-Corporal Punishment: Spanking has negative behavioral long-term effect on children

Survey of parents from various cities in the United States showed that children who are spanked frequently displayed defiant behaviors that are carried on to their adult life. Gershoff (2002) presented and examined relationship among variables that correlates to corporal punishment: compliance of the child, anti-social behavior, aggression, moral internalization, mental health and kinds of affect that children develop. Other studies showed that apart from violent behavior, children who are frequently spanked displays impatient behavior, demand immediate gratification of their wants and needs, has low tolerance for frustration and usually decide out of temper, moods and tantrums, escape or avoidance of settings, people and object related to corporal punishment (Hutchinson, 1977; Kazdin, 2001). According to Psychologists, spanking sets up a cycle of bad behavior. It is fear rather than respect and understanding which predominates the responses in corporal punishment. Responses to spanking become an established pattern or way of reacting of children later in life, which reactions include but not limited to apprehension, aggressiveness, fear and defiance. The act of spanking itself produces feelings of anxiety, self-criticism, and self-doubt (Niolon, 2010). From various studies of Gershoff (2002 & 2008), a more likely change of behavior are observed in children who were spanked, compared to those who are not. Children who are frequently spanked displayed aggressive, angry and stressed reaction. Variables associated with Corporal Punishment includes the following:

1. Immediacy of Compliance by children is observable and evident in the event of spanking or using corporal punishment, which affect immediate reflexes, varying from the need to avoid, defend self, or assert self from impending harm.

2. The immediate reaction of children in response to corporal punishment decreases internalization of moral rules. Parents assume that an erring child violates rules of conduct and need to be punish as soon as possible. This urgency or act that spanking or corporal punishment demands diminish the value of internalization and understanding of the moral lesson that children should learn. Children usually defend themselves from the violent act therefore, loses the chance on reflecting the inappropriate behavior.

3. Increased of aggression consistently appeared as behavioral manifestation of children associated with frequent corporal punishment. What is troubling is that parents use aggression to end agression. This does not seemed logical or proper. There is also an observed increased in misbehavior among children spanked or punished, suggesting that corporal punishment perpetuate misbehavior other than decreasing its tendencies.

4. Antisocial behaviors are higher in children with increased exposure to corporal punishment or spanking.

5. Spanking decreases quality parent-child relationship, since, the act is commonly done during those critical times when parents and children should be bonding (after school, after work). This may also led to inappropriate thought process of children regarding protection and love of parents which always requires agression of some kind. Children may grow up with the belief that agression is normal in a relationship. It also increased the possibility that the child perpetuate abusive behavior in the future, or subscribe to the thoughts that being a victim of agression is normal in an adult relationship.

6. Children ages five to eight years old are commonly at risk for severe corporal punishment. This age range is crucial in establishing significant emotional, social and cognitive development, and mental health is determined in these age. Mental health outcomes are compramised in the use of frequent and harsh corporal punishment.

7. Abusive behavior among adult who participated the survey was associated with experiences in childhood when they experience corporal punishment. The study showed that the intention to correct behaviour of children usually led to frequent physical hurt and become more common as the children grew up and the grown up child used the same method to their own children.

It is inferred that corporal punishment is likely to have short-term and long-term harmful effect. Social learning theory of modelling is also cited in the act of corporal punishment which posit that violence seen in adult begets violence that can be learned by the children or transmitted from one generation to the next (Straus M., 1994).

3. Conclusion and Personal Opinion: Conditional Corporal Punishment

In my opinion, corporal punishment may both be beneficial or detrimental to children, and spanking may have long-term negative or positive effect depending on the frequency, the context in which the punishment was done, the intensity of the punishment, and the quality of relationship between a parent and a child (Baumrind, 1996). Spanking a child is a type of punishment that can be regulated by various factors including how the parent delivers the punishment and how it impact to the child’s perception, reaction and emotion (Slade, 2012). Communication between the parent and the child is very crucial in the course of giving corporal punishment and I personally believe that spanking should be used sparingly, to be done in dialogue with the child, and only when the behaviour of a child calls for this kind of disciplinary techniques. The American Academy of Pediatrics (1995) asserts that spanking maybe ineffective because it does not provide or teach alternative behavior, and if used without prior communication on the rules and agreement in punishing behavior between a child and parent, this may lead to adverse effect such as confusion, resentment, humiliation and misunderstanding of the whole process of correcting or controlling behavior. If done on regular and unreasonable basis, spanking may lead to long-term effect such as increased misbehavior, aggression, impaired learning, depression and escalating violence among children (Straus M., 1995). Spanking and its adverse effect to children is still an argument that needs to be clarified through further research, and while this is still controversial for decades now, some countries have already banned the use of corporal punishment to children for the strong conviction that violence should not have placed in a society, especially as means to correct behavior of children. I also believed on such conviction, however, I also see the benefit that comes from spanking as one of the technique of discipline, spanking as described by Baumrind (2001) is the appropriate measure that should be taken by parents, and it should not be abusive in nature. Using the technique to establish the rule of behaviour at home, is quite helpful in regulating family relationship, but should always be used cautiously and should have other alternative which includes time-outs, grounding the child, and suspending privileges enjoyed by the child in a specific period and time following the inappropriate behavior. Pediatricians, Psychologist, and Researchers suggested various alternatives to spanking, and the measures that lessen its frequent or intense use (Bokony P. & Patrick T., 2007). This includes the following:

1. Proper information to children about acceptable behavior at home. The information does not end only at home, but in the school as well; providing access to information about child development and behavior management increase awareness and understanding of behavioral problem in children.

2. Provide a child-friendly atmosphere where children has room for exploration, at the same time provide boundaries and rules, constrictiona limits to what, when and where the child should be. Dialogue is of umost importance here.

3. Provision of schedule, routines, rules and sanctions as consequences to behavior, this may include spanking. Always stress or emphasize the positive aspect of the child in the course of discipline.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (1995). Caring for your School-Age Child: Ages 5-12. New York: Bantam Books.

Baumrind, D. (1996). A Blanket Injunction Against Disciplinary Use of Spanking is Not Warranted by the Data. Pediatrics, 98, 828-831.

____ (2001). Does Causally relevant research support a blanket injunction against disciplinary spanking by parents? 109th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (p. 1). San Francisco, CA: Americal Psychological Association.

Baumrind, D. Larzelere, R.E. & Cowan, P.A. (2002). Ordinary Physical Punishment: Is it Harmful? Comment on Gershoff (2002). Psychological Bulletin, 128, 580-589.

Benject C. & Kazdin A. (2003). Spanking Children: Evidence and Issues. American Psychology Society, 100-103.

Bokony P. & Patrick T. (2007). Spanking. UAMS Division of Health Services Research, 1-17.

Gershoff, E. (2002). Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated childe behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytical and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 128-579.

____(2008). Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research tells us abouts its effects on children. Center for Effective Discipline .

Hutchinson, R. (1977). By-products of Aversive Control . In W.H. (Eds), Handbook of Operant Behavior (pp. 415-431). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kazdin, A. (2001). Behavior Modification in Applied Setting (6th Ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Kimbrough R. & Melton, JD. (2011, June). An Overview of Research on Corporal Punishment. Retrieved November 25, 2012, from The League of Women Voters in South Carolina:

Larzelere, R. (2000). Child Outcomes of nonabusive and customary physical punishment by parents: An updated literature review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3, 199 — 221.

Niolon, R. (2010, December 15). Corporal Punishment in Children — What Does It Accomplish? Retrieved November 24, 2012, from Pscychpage:

Oxford Dictionary. (2012). Discipline. Retrieved November 26, 2012, from Oxford Dictionary:

Ramsburg, D. (2009, January 26). The Debate over Spanking. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from Kidsource OnLine, Inc.:

Slade, E. (2012). Spanking in Early Childhood and Later Behavior Problems . Retrieved November 24, 2012, from Pediatrics for Parents, Inc.:

Straus, M. (1995). Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families. New York: Lexington Books.

____(1994). Should the Use of Corporal Punishment by Parents be Considered Child Abuse? Yes. In M.M.E., Debating Children’s lives (pp. 195-203; 219-222). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Straus, MA and Gelles RJ. (1990). How violent are American Families? Estimates from the national family violence resurvey and other studies. Physical Violence in American Families. Transaction Publishers, 95.

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