New research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found children who are spanked by their parents are at a higher risk of developing aggressive behaviors and are more susceptible to mental health disorders.
In the new policy, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the group of pediatricians encouraged parents caring for young children to use “healthy forms of discipline” — like positive reinforcement, defining expectations and setting limits — rather than corporal punishment.
The statement is an update to a policy first released in 1998, when the same group recommended parents employ “methods other than spanking in response to undesired behavior.”
“In the 20 years since that policy was first published, there’s been a great deal of additional research, and we’re now much stronger in saying that parents should never hit their child and never use verbal insults that would humiliate or shame the child,” said Dr. Robert Sege, the study’s lead author and a pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts University in Boston, according to CNN.
He went on to say the new research is “much stronger” in its opposition to spanking.
The data reveals a tie between corporal punishment and an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional outcomes for kids. The paper defines spanking as “non-injurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.”
Furthermore, the analysis cited a 2014 study that showed corporal punishment just isn’t that effective. It described spanking as “transient,” because within 10 minutes of being punished, 73 percent of children had started misbehaving in the same way for which they were just punished.
Developmental psychologist Rebecca Ryan, who teaches at Georgetown University, has studied corporal punishment and said the recent study’s findings are somewhat nuanced. While a correlational relationship is there, she said, it hasn’t been proven to be causal.
“Nobody has randomly assigned children to receive different types of parenting or different types of discipline strategies, per se,” she told CNN. “So it’s difficult for anybody to say spanking a child causes that child later on to be more aggressive, even though there are theories to suggest that could be why the correlation exists.”
She did, however, cede that spanking generally doesn’t work, noting there’s “little correlational evidence that it’s an effective strategy, and if it were effective, you should see correlational evidence.”
“If it were an effective strategy,” Ryan continued, “you would either see no correlation between spanking and child behavior, or you would see a correlation that’s the opposite of what you do see. What you see is a positive correlation between spanking and higher levels of behavior problems. If it were effective, you should see the opposite.”