Features, Social Science

The Spanking Debate is Over

Many years ago, during one of the first college classes I ever taught, I asked my students to raise their hands if they were spanked as children.

I was quite new to America at the time, and knew little about the lives of American families. On the Israeli kibbutz where I grew up, spanking children was practically unheard of. My own parents had never so much as raised their voices at me (except for that one time when I called my mother ‘whore,’ not knowing the meaning of the word but realizing it was forbidden. She slapped me, and then proceeded to apologize tearfully).

What’s more, growing up in Israel in the 1960s and ’70s, we got our ideas about America from music and movies and the young volunteers who showed up after the Six Days War to help the then-fashionable Israeli cause. The America we imagined was therefore a liberal haven of wealth, freedom, and opportunity, where people got high, made love, and could pursue their dreams unbounded. Little wonder I wanted to go there.

Little wonder too, then, that I was stunned to see virtually all hands in my classroom go up.

This was one of the first times I realized that my wishful ideas about what America was had little to do with what America actually was (a more recent time was after the last election).

I have taken that same ‘spanking poll’ ever since then in every developmental class I’ve taught. The results, by my eyeball test, have not changed much. And official data back up this conclusion: Most American parents hit their little children. And most believe that they are doing something both effective and right.

But they are wrong.

The scientific case against spanking is one of those rare occasions in which, over a span of 50 years or so, a scientific controversy actually gets resolved, as various programs of increasingly rigorous research converge upon a consensus conclusion.

True, the issue has not been 100% mapped out. Waiting for social science to map any issue out 100% is like waiting for the perfect spouse. You’ll wait forever, pointlessly. Spanking, like any socio-behavioral phenomenon, is bound to have somewhat differing implications depending on multiple variables such as culture, timing, dose, gender, what definition of spanking is used, etc. Local skirmishes about this will continue.

Another hindrance to an air-tight resolution concerns the fact that, due to ethical constraints (you can’t randomly assign parents to spanking and non spanking groups or assign children randomly to parents), true experimentation in this area is all but impossible. In the absence of experimental evidence, causal relations are difficult to establish with certainty. Finding, as we have, that spanking strongly and consistently predicts negative developmental outcome does not in itself settle the question of whether spanking has caused the outcome.

The spanking literature, however, has addressed itself to this problem in several ways. First, in the absence of true experimentation, an argument for causality can still be supported indirectly if three conditions are met: first, there’s a link between behavior A and outcome B. Second, behavior A appears before outcome B in the timeline (which can be documented using longitudinal studies following the same kids over time). Third, other explanations for the A-B link are ruled out (for example stress, which may cause parents to spank and children to deteriorate).

Spanking research has by now produced robust evidence for all three propositions. Spanking is correlated strongly and quite exclusively with multiple negative outcomes for children. The negative outcomes often appear only after the spanking has begun, and the effects of spanking remain significant and sizable even after controlling for the influence of other variables such as parental age, child age, sex, race, family structure, poverty, emotional support, cognitive stimulation, etc.

Another way to address the causality conundrum is by testing alternative hypotheses. Within the spanking literature, two such alternative explanations have been proposed. One of those, the ‘child effects’ hypothesis from way back in the 1960s, argues that problematic child behaviors elicit, rather than result from, parental spanking. In other words, difficult children cause parents to spank. If spanking is found to be associated with child aggression (it is), perhaps it was the child’s aggression that elicited the spanking in the first place.

Studies examining this hypothesis (in part by controlling for levels of aggression before the onset of spanking) found that while child effects did exist, the effects of spanking (parent effects) were still more predictive of later misbehavior than child characteristics. In other words, difficult children (by which we mean, children who are difficult for their parents to manage) are more likely to elicit spanking. But a history of spanking makes for worse, not better, child outcome for those difficult children.

The ‘child effects’ hypothesis is further weakened by its failure to explain the link between spanking and other types of negative outcomes, such as anxiety. Parents most often spank children for aggressive or dangerous behavior, not for being anxious, quiet, or timid. Research has indicated that anxious children elicit less, not more, power assertive behaviors from parents. How, then, could the ‘child effects’ hypothesis explain the link between increased spanking and increased anxiety?

Another more recent alternative explanation, the genetic argument, holds that the same genes that make the parent volatile and likely to spank also make their children aggressive and headed for trouble. Again here, while the genetic hypothesis has found support, twin studies of parents have shown that the twin who decided not to spank his kids had better adjusted children. In addition, parenting training studies (in which random assignment to treatment and control groups is possible) have shown that when parents who spank are taught alternatives, their children’s developmental outcomes improve. In other words, spanking hurts children over and above the children’s genetic vulnerabilities.

On the other hand, additional evidence against spanking has emerged from the child abuse and maltreatment literature, in which spanking and physical abuse are often found to exist on a similar continuum: both occur in the explicit context of disciplining children, of parents trying to ‘teach the kid a lesson’ by inflicting pain, and the line between them is easily crossed and quite arbitrary, delineated mostly by the amount of visible damage caused.

Indeed, research has identified mild spanking as a risk factor for more severe spanking, as well as a dose–response pattern for spanking whereby negative effects are more likely to appear as spanking becomes more frequent and severe. Abusive parents also spank their children at much higher rates than non-abusive parents.

Overall, the empirical case against spanking is strong, and made stronger by the absence of any empirical case in support of spanking. There is not one well designed study I have seen that links spanking to long term positive outcome.

This convergence of empirical results on the negative effects of spanking should not surprise those versed in developmental theory. One would be hard pressed to find any theoretical framework addressing itself to child development from which positive predictions about the effects of spanking can be drawn. Developmental theory by and large would predict that spanking effects – to the extent they are found – will indeed be negative.

For example, Social Learning Theory, embodied by Bandura’s iconic Bobo Doll experiments, predicts that children learn by imitating role models. Children who see aggression practiced by their role models will imitate the behavior. Indeed, it is an ironic aspect of the prevalence of spanking that the practice, employed most often to reduce child aggression, per the evidence actually increases it.

From a Psychoanalytic Theory perspective, being spanked is bound to elicit feelings of resentment, hostility, fear, and shame in children. Such feelings may be suppressed due to fears of retaliation or rejection on part of the parent, but are bound to emerge later in the form of neurosis or chaotic emotional expression.

According to John Bowlby’s well researched Attachment Theory, children form an “internal working model” of the world and other people through the constant give and take of daily parent-child interactions. This working model sets the child’s expectations about world, self, and others, and is used to guide behavior in new situations and into the future. A child who is routinely spanked when she is in need of comforting and support may internalize a view of the parent as rejecting and herself as unworthy of love, which in time may lead to eroded intimacy with the parent as well as depression and low self esteem. (Research has indeed documented consistent link between a history of spanking and less close parent-child relations, as well as higher risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety).

The currently ascendant Ecobiodevelopmental Theory argues that severe childhood stressors (known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs) affect children’s genetic predispositions, brain processes, and neuro-functioning in ways that lead to long-term health and emotional problems in adulthood. Indeed a vast literature exists to show how the cognitive functioning and health profiles of maltreated children differ from that of their non-maltreated peers well into adulthood. To the extent that spanking is stressful for children, this framework will predict that it may facilitate the development of later problems.

And, you’ve guessed it, research has shown that spanking does in fact increase children’s stress levels, as well as their risk for a host of future psychological problems. These findings have prompted some researchers to propose that spanking be added to the accepted list of ACEs known to predict adult adjustment and health problems, and that we begin to consider spanking a public health concern.

American psychologist B.F. Skinner, circa 1950

One may propose that BF Skinner’s Behaviorist Theory, which predicts that punishment will reduce the behavior it follows, could supply a theoretical grounding for spanking. Yet parents — busy, distracted, and humane as they are — are unlikely to fulfill the conditions under which punishment is effective according to behaviorist theory, namely that the adverse consequence be delivered immediately and consistently following every instance of the problem behavior.

Using behaviorist theory to justify spanking also betrays a misreading of Skinner himself, who had noted (in his book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity): “A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.” And, “punished behavior is likely to reappear after the punitive contingencies are withdrawn.”

Moreover, the crucial question we must ask when educating children is not, “How do we suppress their bad behavior?” Rather, it is, “How do we teach them to forego bad behavior in favor of behaving well?” Punishment is notoriously ineffective as a tool for teaching new behaviors. And even when it works, it doesn’t work as well as reinforcement. What children are more likely to learn from the experience of being spanked is that physical might makes right; that violence is an acceptable means of imposing one’s will on others. The data indeed show that children who are spanked do not internalize a notion that their behavior was wrong. They do, however, become more likely to endorse aggression and physical means as acceptable forms of resolving conflicts.

And still, even in the absence of empirical and theoretical justifications, a majority of Americans continue to approve of spanking their children and practice it. Infants as young as 10-months-old are being hit, routinely, for the purpose of causing them pain, by their normative and well meaning parents. Given this, one is justified in wondering: If spanking doesn’t work, then why is it so popular?

No doubt some of it has to do with the American cultural ethos. With spanking as with guns, football, the military, and comic book super heroes: America, born in war, has an ongoing romance with violence. The trenchant Christian dogma viewing children as wild sinful creatures whose will must be broken into obedience through instilling fear is undoubtedly another culprit. However, several psychological reasons can also be offered for the practice’s continued popularity.

First, in the parent-child equation, the parents have the power. The powerful in a given situation seldom see their behavior in that situation as the problem. It’s not easy for those whose solution is to inflict pain to see pain as a problem. The axe forgets, goes the proverb, only the tree remembers.

Second, spanking often looks like it’s working. Indeed, according to research, parents who rely on spanking do it mostly because they believe it works, not due to impulse or momentary frustration. In part, spanking appears to work because it often does, in the short term, halt the behavior it follows. Alas, three problems with that:

  1. Short term solutions often become long term problems. Heroin, for example, works really well in the short term, as does junk food. Short term solutions are not what we should aim for in parenting children, particularly if they beget long-term problems.
  2. Much of the seeming effectiveness of spanking is due to regression to the mean, a known statistical phenomenon whereby extreme behavior tends to return toward baseline in short order. Children are most often spanked for extreme ‘out of line’ behaviors, from which they would regress back to normal even without the spanking.
  3. Parents think spanking works because one consequence of spanking is to train the spanked to elude the spanker. It may seem like your child has curbed her naughty behavior after the spanking, but more likely she has learned (from you) how to hide or lie about it better.

Spanking also persists because it is a quick and readily available tool for most any parent. Spanking is the equivalent of taking a pill to quickly numb your knee pain rather than engage in the long tedious process of figuring out what the pain is trying to tell you about the way you’re mistreating your knees.

Finally, we all tend to keep to our tribal traditions, and we are resistant to change. For good reasons. Tribal alliances protect us, and change begets instability. Thus, it is rare for parents who were not spanked as children to begin to spank their children. Spanking, like other behaviors and customs, is readily transmitted from one generation to the next absent a strong counter-current. Research has shown that, particularly when we are under duress, we tend to fall back on our primary responses — those that are well learned; those we grew up with. Parenting is stressful, so parents will often fall back on primary responses, those learned early, from their role models for parenting — their own parents.

And so spanking persists, even though it can neither be defended on the basis of the available empirical data nor on the basis of sound psychological theorizing. Could an additional line of argument help strengthen the case against it, perhaps helping to finally turn the cultural tide toward more effective, fair, and humane ways of parenting?

Why, funny you should ask. Because beyond science, the question of spanking children inherently also engages a moral debate.

From a moral perspective, even if we find evidence that a certain practice has material, personal, or social benefits we may still opt to abandon the practice because it violates what we understand to be basic human rights (and vice versa). A slave labor force may be economically efficient, and a slave owner may treat some slaves with kindness, and may protect his slaves from some forms of harm and form the hardships entailed in living free; yet these facts do not undermine the moral case against slavery. And it is the moral case upon which our current anti-slavery consciousness, laws, habits, and norms are based.

Here again, a coherent moral case for spanking is awfully difficult to make. Proponents of spanking usually argue from tradition (“this is how I was brought up”), which is shaky ground from which to mount a serious moral argument. Another defense of the practice fields the famous ‘spare the rod spoil the child’ argument, which is often framed as biblical. Yet the Bible’s discussion of physically punishing children as a way of caring for them is brief and open to multiple interpretations — briefer and more ambiguous, in fact, than the Bible’s lengthy discussion on how to care for, ahem, slaves. Enough said.

On the other hand, the moral case against spanking is robust and intuitive. Even a casual look into the idea of spanking as principled behavior reveals untenable contradictions. For one, in the United States it is against the law to hit multiple categories of people, including prisoners, criminals, the aged, spouses, bureaucrats. Even Wall Street investment bankers are protected. The right to protection from physical assault, in other words, is extended to the whole range of humanity, all the way to the murky edges — yet somehow not to children, who happen to be the most innocent and vulnerable, and whom we are charged with loving and protecting.

Further difficulties emerge when we look at the actual practice of spanking. For example, spanking rarely continues into the child’s adolescence. The main reason for that is not that the method had somehow lost its inherent mojo. Pain is as punishing a consequence to the 16-years-old as it is to the 6-years-old. And a 16-years-old is still a child requiring parental supervision. Rather, most parents stop hitting their adolescent child because he’s big and strong enough to hit back or to run away, or is mature enough to be reasoned with. In essence, then, the underlying reason parents spank their kids is because they can; because young kids are physically weak and lacking in emotional and cognitive maturity. Yet we somehow manage to refrain from spanking other physically weak and emotionally/cognitively immature persons. Were that allowed, you’d be regularly slapping your drunken uncle or your doddering aunt dealing with dementia.

In sum, the informed debate over spanking has been resolved. The practice is a relic of the past and best left there. Granted, old ways die hard. But the fact remains that when parents finally give up spanking, they will not be giving up a sound educational practice but a violent habit that is ineffective, risky, and immoral.

And we haven’t even mentioned spanking in schools…

 

Noam Shpancer is a professor of psychology at Otterbein University in Westerville Ohio and a clinical psychologist with the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy in Columbus, Ohio. Read more of his work at Psychology Today.

 

Selected References

Afifi, T. O., Ford, D., Gershoff, E. T., Merrick, M., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Ports, K. A., MacMillan, H. L., Holden, G. W., Taylor, C. A., Lee, S. J., & Peters Bennett, R., (2017). Spanking and adult mental health impairment: The case for the designation of spanking as an adverse childhood experience. Child Abuse & Neglect, 71, 24-31

Benjeta, C., & Kazdin, A. E., (2003). Spanking children: the controversies, findings, and new directions. Clinical Psychology Review, 23, 197–224.

Durrant, J., & Ensom, R. (2012). Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal, 184(12), 1373–1377. http://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.101314

Gershoff, E. T., (2002). Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review. Psychological Bulletin,128(4), 539–579. DOI: 10.1037//0033-2909.128.4.539

Gershoff, E. T. (2013), Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children. Child Development Perspectives, 7, 133–137. DOI:10.1111/cdep.12038

Gershoff, E. T., & Bitensky, S. H. (2007). The case against corporal punishment of children: Converging evidence from social science research and international human rights law and implications for U.S. public policy. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 13(4), 231-272. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1076-8971.13.4.231

Grogan-Kaylor, A., Ma, J., & Graham-Bermann, S. A., (2018). The case against physical punishment. Current Opinion in Psychology, 19, 22-27 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.03.022

Lansford, J. E., Wager, L. B., Bates, J. E., Pettit, G. S., & Dodge, K. A. (2012). Forms of Spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behaviors. Family Relations, 61(2), 224–236. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2011.00700.x

Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care, Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1). Retrieved from: www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/:e232

 

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Noam Shpancer is a professor of psychology at Otterbein University in Westerville Ohio and a clinical psychologist with the Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy in Columbus, Ohio. Read more of his work at Psychology Today.

83 Comments

  1. You wrote a lot here when the whole matter could have been simplified by two facts.

    The first fact is what behavioral genetic evidence has shown. The simple reality is that, beyond the genetic effect, there are potential “shared environment” effects: the forces that makes children growing up together more similar than those who didn’t. Here the result is clear: there are no shared environment effects on adult behavioral traits. Since this includes variation in use of corporal punishment, clearly there is no long term impact.

    This was discussed here on Quilette by Brian Boutwell:

    Why parenting may not matter and why most social science is wrong

    As well as my own Behavioral Genetics Page:

    The Behavioral Genetics Page, by JayMan – The Unz Review

    And as for this:

    while the genetic hypothesis has found support, twin studies of parents have shown that the twin who decided not to spank his kids had better adjusted children

    Children-of-twin studies can’t be used this way. That is, they can’t be used to show the presence of an effect (only the absence of one). The reason is that they suffer from other-parent confounding (not mention rater bias, child-to-parent effects, etc.).

    So you may not like spanking (and I don’t spank my own kids), but let’s not confuse that with it leaving lasting harm, as it doesn’t.

    • noam shpancer says

      JayMan: Thanks for engaging with my piece. Two points in reply:

      First, it is incorrect to state, as you do, that shared environment has no effects on adult outcome. Granted, as Judith Harris and others since have argued well, the effect does not extend to all or even most outcomes, and its contribution, when found, usually accounts for a small chunk of outcome variance. And yet it persists. One of many examples: here’s a quote from the most exhaustive recent meta-analysis of heritability of human traits which looked at virtually all published twin studies of complex traits over the past 50 years (Polderman et al., 2015):

      “Of the top 20 most investigated specific traits, we found that for 12 traits the majority of individual studies were consistent with a model where variance was solely due to additive genetic variance and non-shared environmental variance, while the pattern of MZ and DZ twin correlations was inconsistent with this model for eight traits, suggesting that apart from additive genetic influences and non-shared environmental influences, either or both non-additive genetic influences and shared environmental influences are needed to explain the observed pattern of twin correlations. These eight traits were Conduct disorders, Height, Higher Level Cognitive Functions, Hyperkinetic disorder, Mental and Behavioral Disorders due to the use of Alcohol, Mental and Behavioral Disorders due to the use of Tobacco, Other Anxiety Disorders, and Weight Maintenance Functions. For all eight traits, meta-analyses on reported variance components resulted in a weighted estimate of reported shared environmental influences that was statistically different from zero.”

      Second, shared environment effects, while weak and uncommon in adulthood, are (as I’m sure you know) quite robust and abundant in children and adolescents. The quality of the childhood and adolescent years is important in and of itself, regardless of what transpires in adulthood. Harm that lasts from, say, age 2 to age 12 is, in a non-trivial sense, ‘lasting harm’ indeed.

      (And there always remains Steve Jones’s famous point about why—if early environment doesn’t matter for adult outcome—do rich people insist on sending their kids to good schools?)

      • while the pattern of MZ and DZ twin correlations was inconsistent with this model for eight traits, suggesting that apart from additive genetic influences and non-shared environmental influences, either or both non-additive genetic influences and shared environmental influences are needed to explain the observed pattern of twin correlations.

        The shared environment contribution is in fact zero for all those things:

        The Son Becomes The Father, by JayMan – The Unz Review

        You can’t talk the results of meta analyses at face value, because methodology is important. Shared environment is confounded with assortative mating in MZ-DZ together twin studies (and then ther’s subject age, since shared environment effects are often present in childhood and disappear by adulthood).

        Second, shared environment effects, while weak and uncommon in adulthood, are (as I’m sure you know) quite robust and abundant in children and adolescents. The quality of the childhood and adolescent years is important in and of itself, regardless of what transpires in adulthood. Harm that lasts from, say, age 2 to age 12 is, in a non-trivial sense, ‘lasting harm’ indeed.

        This is like arguing for educational interventions (like Head Start, for example), because they boost children’s performance while they’re young, even though the effects will inevitably fade away. If so, what’s the point? I think myself personally that it’s better not to spank, but it’s disengenious to tell people that they shouldn’t do it because it will lead to lasting trouble. It won’t.

        (And there always remains Steve Jones’s famous point about why—if early environment doesn’t matter for adult outcome—do rich people insist on sending their kids to good schools?)

        Signaling.

        • Noam Shpancer says

          Enjoyable discussion. Two questions: do you think most parents who spank would continue to do so if they learned that the practice causes harm to their kids throughout childhood that doesn’t linger into adulthood? And are there good data on the contribution of signaling motivation to parents’ school choice?

          • Ron Jackson says

            I was spanked. My brothers were spanked. My cousins were spanked. Most of my friends were spanked. Some of us were spanked by church workers. Some of us were spanked by school officials. I married a girl that never was spanked, nor her sisters or brothers. She is a sociologist. She instructed me. Our children were not spanked. My wife and I had much less difficulty in raising our kids than did my parents or aunt and uncles. Many of my cousins clearly suffer from the effects of acute childhood experiences. Some have died. Same for many of my friends. Two of my brothers spanked their kids — each has a dead son, one to suicide and one to drugs. To all those who were spanked and boast of it not affecting them, I say, “Sure it did, you believe in beating a child”.

    • Christine Avery says

      Spanking does cause lasting psychological harm – maybe not for all children but certainly for some. It was experienced by me as a degree of rape. Rape involves losing control of your own body, having an extremely invasive experience, and erogenous zones being the focus of attention. So spanking is indeed a form of rape – and can leave a wound that suppurates even 70 years afterwards – as in my case. If you want to bring up a confident child, who does not distrust other human beings deeply and incurably, don’t attack vulnerable little children in this way!

    • Robert M Darling says

      Well, my friend, you are wrong. It does leave lasting, life long effects. One can see it every day by opening their eyes.

  2. David Turnbull says

    “even after controlling for the influence of other variables such as parental age, child age, sex, race, family structure, poverty, emotional support, cognitive stimulation, etc.”

    This is where most social science falls off the rails; the delusion that this can be done successfully.

  3. SamsaPDX says

    Thank you, Jay and David, for pointing out the logical fallacies in the article’s argument. Scientific inquiry is never “over”–especially in social sciences where the reproducibility crisis is so strong.

    What is the obsession nowadays with dismissing inquiry, dropping mics, and declaring things over? Could it be a symptom that indulgence and permissiveness have eclipsed diligence and discipline as personal characteristics to be desired in our children?

    Oh, I forgot. I’m not allowed to ask any more questions. Case closed. Release the hounds.

    • The problem with the studies, in my opinion, is that the model oversimplifies the problem it tries to solve in the same manner as climate science. In climate science, for example, there are hundreds if not thousands of variables but the models reduce to a mere handful due to computational complexity. Those handful may “appear” to create a mathematical model that fits, as we’ve now seen for a decade it fails when compared to reality.

      This debate holds the same situation. Take for example the spanking leads to negative outcomes case. There is no way to control for the case that the negative behavior preceded the spanking and that was what led to the spanking — chicken & egg. I know this because my wife and I, both spanked, went the “consensus science, no spanking” rule and one of our 2 children had constant and consistent negative behavior while the 2nd responded instantly to positive reinforcement. We paid thousands of dollars on psych and now hundreds of dollars per year on meds — and the end result? The psych’s have actually told us to spank because the negative behaviors are becoming socially unacceptable negative behaviors.

      A large part of the anti-spanking bias is the skew of viewpoint that spanking => beating & physical abuse. That isn’t true in the animal kingdom in general where parents often nip their young as negative reinforcement and behavior adjustment. Dogs, for example, when they rough house and bit “too hard” an older dog will nip. Mother dogs nip the ears, other dogs in packs will clamp down until they cry, etc. The rambunctious pup learns through this mechanism that they can bite but just how hard is “too hard.”

      Does this mean spanking can be over used? Absolutely, no different than the homeowner using a hammer to put in a screw — it works, but it is far from the most effective approach. That is far different than “you should never use negative reinforcement.” I would challenge that premise by noting that since I grew up in the 1970s/80s there has been a social stigma attached to spanking so that its use has significantly dropped. The youth of today are producing far more negative outcomes than before with violence and disrespect towards teachers and the property of others, just two examples. I posit that those are two negative consequences from the LACK of adequate negative reinforcement during child development of the 1990s/2000s. In an ad-hoc poll of my generation, ask them would they have ever struck one of their primary school teachers and the answer is “no.” If you ask the followup question, “why?” the answer is almost universally that “Mom/Dad would have kicked my butt” That isn’t the case now where children will confront their parents with “i’ll call the cops on you” and even falsely accusing parents of abuse in order to seek rewards (the neighbor kids of my late father made these threats and acted on them right in front of my father in the yard once).

      • Alistair says

        Thank you Bill,

        That post was unnerving because my wife and I had exactly the same experience. Educated, middle class parents with one full-time mum, we resolved “no spanking” for our two kids. One responded fine to naughty spots and positive reinforcement. The other went off the rails into severely negative anti-social behaviour. No passive exclusion or loss of privileges stopped him, indeed, it only enraged him to further acts of destruction. He was excluded from school. Eventually, managing his anti-social behaviour required physically restraining him for 30-45 minutes at a stretch to prevent damage to the house. His behaviour was now adversely affecting my wife’s health.

        The “no spanking” strategy had become completely, laughably, unworkable.

        The only difference with yourself is we didn’t burn through quite as much money before I prevailed upon my wife to change strategy. So we spanked. And our sons behaviour immediately improved. After a while, I didn’t need to spank any more. I just had to threaten it in order to gain compliant behaviour. The situation is now stable and he is recovering at school. Win.

        So I read this kind of article with a kind of “what planet are the Psych guys from” attitude. Their moral posturing and conflating spanking with abuse also sets my teeth on edge and makes me suspect their entire “science” is poisoned by mood affiliation.

        • Robert M Darling says

          You substitute brutality for parenting and love and congratulate yourself. Can’t wait to see the sociopath you’ve created unleashed on society.

    • Quite agree. What I really hate is when people say the argument is settled, the case is closed and it is nearly always social scientists who say it. Nothing is ever closed and done with no matter how much people of a certain political persuasion wish it were true. Everything in life is constantly evolving including political opinions, ideology and social mores, often swinging backwards and forwards with the tide. What very many people believe is that more discipline is needed in homes and schools and very occasionally when all else has failed a quick sharp slap is appropriate and if administered fairly and without malice the recipient will actually appreciate the boundaries you are setting and also will learn to understand the emotion of tough love which is a far more useful and meaningful concept than “tolerance for everything”

  4. jjbees says

    Unless there are randomized controlled trials on spanking, we can’t actually draw any real conclusions. This is all so much statistical legerdemain.

  5. Quentin Tarantino says

    Thank you for writing this, it really meant a lot to me.

    Please ignore the trolls who seem to have written all the other comments up until now. I think many people have a very strong defense mechanism where they try to deny that painful experiences they went through were really harmful. Well, and there are those you try to deny that their own actions are harmful. I hope everyone finds their peace.

    • Describing people who have a (well written) different opinion as “trolls” automatically disqualify yourself. Besides, using a nick like that, who’s the troll here?

  6. As someone unfamiliar with the literature, I’m curious whether children’s mental anguish at being picked up or otherwise physically prevented (without hitting) from carrying out anti-social, dangerous (e.g., charging toward a street), or simply inconvenient (e.g., resisting leaving the park) behavior is often considered by researchers.

    It’s interesting to me that we consider physically restraining adults to be violent, assault, or false imprisonment, but we don’t seem to apply the same terminology or significance to a parent picking up or restraining a child. Is this double standard justified because we see no other option for dealing with children in certain situations? If we shouldn’t switch terminology when talking about hitting/spanking adults/children, why should we do so when talking about other types of physical intervention? Or are certain forceful physical interventions that are rightly considered unacceptable when directed at non-consenting adults (excluding those under arrest, incarcerated, etc.) sometimes acceptable when directed at children?

    • It’s interesting that we consider physically restraining adults and undressing them to be violent, sexual assault, or sadistic, but we don’t seem to apply the same terminology or significance to a parent picking up or changing the nappy (diaper) of a child. As for slathering their nether regions in baby oil?!?!? Is this double standard justified because we see no other option for dealing with children in certain situations? If we shouldn’t switch terminology when talking about restraining/undressing/oiling adults/children, why should we do so when talking about other types of physical intervention? Or are certain forceful physical interventions that are rightly considered unacceptable when directed at non-consenting adults (excluding those under arrest, incarcerated, etc.) sometimes acceptable when directed at children?!?!

  7. masharpe says

    Nice article. A couple thoughts:

    The point about regression to the mean seems important by analogy to medicine. Human intuition is utter garbage at guessing which treatments are effective, so without careful experiments, people often end up using treatments that make things worse instead of better. If misbehavior is loosely viewed as a symptom, it makes sense that spanking could appear to help it even if the opposite is true.

    I also wonder if at some points in the past, spanking could have been useful, by teaching children to solve problems with violence. That’s generally not a lesson we want to be teaching today.

    • Peterson's Ghost says

      It’s absolutely appropriate to solve SOME problems with violence. Criminals bent on harming innocent people in Everytown, USA are solved with violence. Your local police are paid by your tax dollars to commit violence against people who refuse to play by the rules. Would you tell a woman who is being raped not to use violence to stop her attacker? Of course not.

      Violence has it’s place. It doesn’t solve everything, but is necessary and useful when applied appropriately. I raise my children to practice virtue and teach them to identify the appropriate times to use violence so they can be good and virtuous people committing violence to stop people who are hurting others.

  8. Feena says

    Spanking is a complex issue that is over simplified by social scientists. Maybe spanking is not the most appropriate method of discipline, however, not all parents have the apt or motivation to learn other methods. Take the example of a single mother with three children, working two part time jobs, who was traditionally raised to spank their child, and lives in a community with a high crime rate. If the state intervenes and removes the right of parents to use spanking as a form of discipline, parents like this and many others fall into the trap of permissive parenting which has even worse consequences.

  9. Shugtastic says

    Too many people argue over spanking when the real danger is people’s attitudes towards spanking. When used rarely and only in highly exceptional circumstances spanking can be effective. The problem is people who grew up in a household where physical punishments were the norm often have the notion that, “It didn’t do me any harm” and then use that as justification for beating their children. Many people, especially in the USA, misinterpret the Old Testament logic of ‘Spare the rod and spare the child’ and use it as justification for thrashing their kids for even innocuous transgressions. The rod, of course, means discipline not corporal punishment.

    The real issue is how to challenge preconceptions that spanking is an acceptable first resort in admonishing children. My mother was particularly domineering and often physically abusive which meant punishment was always given whilst my mother was in a fit of rage. I suspect that the overwhelming majority of parents mete out spanking as a punishment whilst they are momentarily angry too. As a parent I made a conscious decision to never use physical punishment and it has served me and my daughter very well. She is well-balanced, inquisitive and unafraid.

    • Alistair says

      I wonder if this research conflates occasional spankings with heavy abusive behaviour. Given the sloppy definitions the author invokes, I’m not so sure.

      It’s like saying “drinking water is really bad for you, because when we give people a ton of it, they invariably die”.

  10. If you eliminate the clear abusers (about 15-25%) from the spank/don’t spank data, nearly all of the negative effect goes away. I spanked my children. I wish I had spanked them less, and perhaps not at all. But you simply have to be able to see the statistics for what they are, not what your confirmation bias tells you they should be.

    • Alistair says

      And….that’s exactly what I was starting to suspect from the way Noam danced about reporting the data. That and the lack of actual, you know, numbers.

      Now I’m angry. I feel Noam is misrepresenting the results.

  11. Ellen says

    As a parent who is far from perfect, but did manage to avoid hitting ( because that’s what it is) her kids, i just can’t fathom why people think it’s ok. Research study or not, I have never heard a valid argument for it. As far as animals go, I’m a veterinarian and have observed plenty of animal interactions. Anything that lasts longer than a few seconds or draws blood likely has some behavioral pathology behind it. Be better people!

    • Alistair says

      > i just can’t fathom why people think it’s ok.

      You lack the intellectual resources for modelling other minds, beliefs, and ethics,?

      > I have never heard a valid argument for it

      You don’t bother to research opposing positions and steel-man them?

      Seriously, if intelligent, educated, people politely disagree with you, and you don’t understand them, perhaps you should consider that the problem is with your receiver not their transmitter.

      Good at virtue signalling though! You’re such a better person!

      • Emblem14 says

        I don’t know about a lack or resources – more like a lack of interest. Yours is the appropriate rejoinder to the routine dismissiveness of others’ beliefs or behavior that conflict with our own. How often do people even attempt to steel-man an argument and restate it to see if it passes the ideological turing test as judged by those who hold it sincerely?

        If that standard of discourse became the norm, we’d very very quickly find out who’s actually interested in learning, listening, understanding and resolving, and who just wants to hear themselves talk or signal their tribal allegiances.

      • Robert M Darling says

        Politely disagree? Maybe you’d like to spank those who disagree with you?

  12. Inanna says

    How about case studies? i did not bond with my mother because of spanking. Before my first spanking at four years old I tried to reason with my mother that hitting me for misunderstanding something was wrong. I cringed in terror hearing my brother spanked many times. I argued with my parents that hitting us was wrong all my life, and received contempt in response, including from my spanked brother. I am not remotely a snowflake, but that first spanking for me was a break between past and future, definitive, and about which I was very conscious even as it happened. I’m not sure it is morally sound for those who did not feel like it damaged them to promote it as harmless because they personally weren’t harmed.

    • Gregory Lorriman says

      That could be an unloving parent or a child nursing a resentment. It doesn’t prove anything. And I would suggest that had your parent not smacked for ideological or legal reasons, you would not have bonded in any case.

      What would you rather have, a loving parent who loses it from time to time, or an unloving parent who ideologically never smacks?

      I think the latter will end with genuine trauma, passive though it is.

      Or what of the parent who won’t punish properly because of the pain it causes themselves? I think much anti-smacking is in fact self-justification. But really it’s a mother who loves her own heart more than the child.

      This is not the simple issue that the averaging of statistics (which are dubious enough in the hands of psychotherapy ideologues) purports to prove.

      • Robert M Darling says

        How much do you want to bet that “unloving parent” was beaten as a child?

    • Peterson's Ghost says

      Spanking requires pairing with tenderness and reconciliation. Stern chastisement coupled with emotional neglect and coldness is terribly harmful. It sounds from your description that it wasn’t the simple act of spanking alone, but the core of your relationship with your parents.

    • Wow, just WOW! BEFORE your first spanking at FOUR years old you tried to REASON with your MOTHER that hitting you for misunderstanding something was wrong?! I take it then that you think the age of criminal responsibility, in fact, the age of majority, should be reduced to three, or even younger, kindergarten kids have that level of intelligence and communication skills?!

  13. pamir says

    There’s a lot of grey area in the value-based conclusions, though.

    Sometimes it’s better to be resentful, fearful, aggressive and anti-social compared to a naive and trusting flower child. The whole “Anti-Social Behavior” as evil is largely a definition born out of western values.

  14. Tom Aaron says

    I travel extensively in my job and experience many cultures.

    Hint…100% of parents spanked their children until 100 years ago. 95% still do. Nothing is ‘closed’ about spanking because of an ‘opinion’ (not science) of a handful of westerners in the 21st century. Mommy dogs are not ‘bad’ when they deter their pups with a small bite and mommy gorillas are not ‘bad’ when they give little brother a swipe for taking the baby’s food. Humans are a social animal like any other…. in a nutshell, I never ran out in the road again after that first spank on the backside.

    • The Commandment- “Thou Shalt NOT Hit Girls” was Cold-Forged into my backside by my Dad when I was 8 years old; worst ass-whuppin’ he ever gave me, before or since. It was not not so much the whuppin’ that impressed me, but his Towering Anger; which was Terrifying!
      And let me tell you; that lesson STUCK!

      My own thoughts on spanking- One should not rule out its use, That said, it should be employed SPARINGLY, only at extreme provocation; sometimes it takes a stiff dose of the strap to get the little so-and-so;s undivided attention and impart the sure knowledge that he REALLY screwed up THIS time.

      Noam Shpancer got off EASY in only getting slapped for calling him Mom a “whore”. If I had been insane enough to do that, the Big Wooden Spoon would have come out. And when DAD found out…. well…we don’t even want to THINK about that……

  15. One more note-
    Show me a child that is not afraid of getting in trouble at School,
    And I’ll show you some Parents who are not doing their Jobs.

    • Geary says

      Exactly. I like how sociologists pretend that kids are just short-little reasonable adults.

  16. Geary says

    You know, if you really want to get into the Biology of the issue examine the Executive Decision making portion of Juvenile brains that has NOT developed. Hence, youth cannot biologically make thoughtful decisions with regard to the future ramifications of their actions– in other words, reasoning with children doesnt work most of the time (see the famous cookie experiment). Since we are just animals, I think positive and negative reinforcement has merits and corporal punishment works with unreasonable children minds.

    • People who think you can reason with young children need to explain from what age, and then explain why the age of criminal responsibility shouldn’t be lowered to that age!

  17. Your readers may have been be more likely to approach your article with an open mind had you not taken a snide, political cheap shot toward half the U.S. voting population at the beginning.

    • RE: ..snide, political cheap shot toward half the U.S. voting population at the beginning.

      No kidding. It’s especially head scratching coming from an Israeli. You’d think the threat of a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv – so greatly increased by the perfidy of the previous election winner and his pallets of cash – would clear the mind.

  18. Gregory Lorriman says

    I had to think for a brief moment on whether this was the 1st April.

    “The scientific case against spanking is one of those rare occasions in which…a scientific controversy actually gets resolved, ….increasingly rigorous research…consensus conclusion.”

    There’s already a bunch of problems with that statement, including the issue of a ‘consensus conclusion’.

    But it carries on…

    “True, the issue has not been 100% mapped out. ”

    oh!

    “Another hindrance to an air-tight resolution…..”

    uh oh!

    “The negative outcomes often appear only after the spanking has begun, and the effects of spanking remain significant and sizable even after controlling for the influence of other variables ”

    uh huh.

    But what is a “negative outcome”? A lot of science based on stats is a moving target, not just because of the problem that it is impossible to fully account for bias (of which there are so many kinds, including the ideological but also the politically correct) due to the impossibility to control for unknown biases (which includes twin studies resulting in false causation), but then one has to deal with definitions.

    Happiness studies on countries, for instance, generally follow one methodology: draw up a list of markers that together fulfilll the scientists’ idea of happiness. The result is quite a few countries near the top that have oddly high rates of suicide. And when people are simply asked the question “Are you happy?” you get a very different list.

    And what is properly administered spanking? I’ve seen parents spank in such a way as to amplify a tantrum, because it wasn’t painful enough. Whereas done properly the child will, within two minutes, stop their tantrum and crying and either go to sleep or carry on happily playing. “Stop crying!” “I c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-an’t”.

    I would personally say that a positive outcome is that the child grows up to be humble, empathetic and reflective. All things I associate with properly administered punishment. But who is going to define ‘properly administered’ from the spanking-studies, social sciences community?

    Meanwhile, there are parents with natural authority and parents without. How do you test for the specific case of withholding the right to spank from the latter? Who establishes that they do not have natural authority? What is to be their ultimate sanction? To their room with no supper? Which is worse? Given the choice at school between 500 lines and a whacking (as we called it), I would have chosen the whacking simply because it was not the torture of 500 lines.

    Casting my mind about, I really cannot think of any parents with happy families and successful children (if success is to be our ‘positive outcome’; successfully working on a till or stacking shelves?) that didn’t spank their children, but I see endless modern parents who don’t spank and have brats for children. Those brats may well end up successful, but I don’t believe the outcome to be positive.

    And what is more traumatic, by-the-politically-correct-book unloving parents who don’t spank, or loving parents who lose it now and then? Which ones do you think the kids will love and forgive?

  19. Gregory Lorriman says

    So the most ‘successful’ country on earth, by some measures, the USA, has widespread spanking. hmmm.

    Science, and especially the soft-science of statistics-based studies, is fragile and prone to human hubris and ideology. There have been far too many scientific reversals in the last 30 years to support any coercive laws based on stats. Yet there has lately been a proliferation of such laws.

    But there is an overriding issue which is: who are the parents of the children?

    The premise of this article is not only a defacto shutting down of free-speech opposition to the anti-smacking ideology, which is odd to see in Quillette, but also a defacto call to make the State the parents of the children along the lines of the parenting directions of experts. The biological parents end up mere suckling cows and comfort blankets to the Children of the Fatherland being prepared to succeed in a world of consumerism and ‘amazing experiences’ instead of the service and self-sacrifice of the past.

    Just as with welfare undermining personal responsibility and community and family bonds, so such coercions undermine the responsibility of the biological parents. I would rather trust the natural love of parents to the moralising ivory towers of experts.

    But just ask yourself: do you know people who are kind and self-sacrificing and who came from a background where smacking was the norm? It’s one of the ironies of this issue that it’s often these very people who now oppose smacking.

  20. I was pretty well intrigued by the scientific/theoretical arguments given in this piece, at least enough to investigate them further, until the author demonstrated lack of faith in them by resorting to baseless claims about America’s “romance with violence” and, of course, the obligatory “one more reason we can’t trust religion” (paraphrasing). Using qualifiers like “no doubt/undoubtedly” before giving zero evidence for those claims that supposedly lack doubt – and amount to little more than virtue-signalling – is a hallmark of argumentative ineptitude.

    ^^Brian, I couldn’t agree more.

  21. John C. says

    Spanking sets a clear marker for a child, letting him know that some behavior will not be tolerated. Bullying and physical violence against another weaker child or animal, throwing open ended screaming tantrums to manipulate adults, etc. Extreme anti-social behavior which has not been previously corrected with “time outs” and such. Lacking a clear “stop” sign in a child’s mind which when crossed ensures very swift and uncomfortable consequences, he reasons that the satisfaction he gets from outrageous behavior is easily worth the “punishment” of a few minutes alone in his room or finger wagging by an adult. Particularly when he learns that if ever confronted with anything resembling stern punishment he can threaten to call Dept. of Children’s Services and watch his parent or teacher melt before his eyes

    • Tom Aaron says

      The ‘clear marker’ is the key. If I had ever sworn at my mother, my father would have clocked me…needless to say I never did. If I had hit a girl, I would have been spanked…I never did. If Ihad yelled or screamed in another adult’s house, the store, library, etc. I would have been spanked…I never did.

      We learned our social expectations early in life. We didn’t reason them out, make decisions or debate. The young wolf cubs don’t decide where the hunt is going to be or who eats first. Their only input is among fellow cubs…not negotiating with adults.

      Some in western societies wringky redefine what children are and then study this warped definition and draw ‘garbage out’ conclusions from ‘garbage in’. The studies are flawed in two fundamentals…they downplay humans as social animals and they downplay the difference between adults and children.

  22. When I see the spank/ no spank debate presented in a binary “hit”/”no hit” fashion, I know I’m dealing with someone with an agenda. It’s presented as if all kids are either never spanked or always spanked, their parents following them around with a belt or a 2×4 in constant use, with no discussion of the shades of gray where real people live and real children are raised.

    I’m the youngest of nine, and we were spanked beyond reason. Belts, fist, switches on a bare butt. Criminal stuff, in my opinion. Not a criminal or violence-prone one among us. All productive citizens who play well with our neighbors. And our kids, not one of the 25, received the kind of abuse we did. In my own case, my wife and I spanked. A few times. We made a big production out of counting to three. At one, our daughter could walk away and there were no consequences. At two, there were consequences; time out, etc. At three, the negotiating was over. There was going to be a spanking. Not to hurt (I mean, really, does a single swat on a diapered butt hurt?), but to re-establish who is in charge. We had to do that 2, maybe 3 times. It devastated me each time. For the rest of the years we were raising our daughter, my wife could catch her eye and hold up one finger, and she knew that whatever she was doing needed to stop, and it did. She’s now a college graduate, happily married with kids of her own. Who they will never spank, and the 3 yr old twins have definitely figured that out.

    Looking further outside my family, in most every case where the parents ruled out the use of spanking, the kids figure it out very quickly. The kids know that “No” means, “Scream louder until I get my way”, because they know the parents will do nothing to enforce the “No”. The parents are frazzled and on the edge of a nervous breakdown most of the time, because their kids are monsters and they don’t know what to do about it. The truly sad part is that when those parents finally do snap, and they do, they end up hitting their kids. Really hitting them. To the point of hurting them. I’ve seen it with people who are doctors, attorneys, waitresses. All kinds.

    Spanking is the nuclear deterrent. If your kid knows you will, then you will seldom, if ever, need to use it. And if you’re still spanking past toddler-hood, you’ve lost the battle. Get help.

    Any parent who would start the disciplining process with a beating, or enjoy doing it, is sick. They need help. Or imprisonment. But to give up a tool, effective when used sparingly, is absolutely foolish.

  23. Steve Northrop says

    I am wondering if Shpancer has any children of his own. Oddly, just about any other name subjected to an internet search offers rather quickly, details of that person’s social involvement, marriage, education, family members and so on. These considerations are noticeably absent. Granted, my internet proficiency is not on par with others, but I manage.

    This piece sounds as if the conclusions are drawn by someone who has no practical experience raising children, but seems to know what’s best for those who do. An activity I find common in those that view the world from a Leftist perspective. Admittedly, I do not know, but it corresponds with much I’ve noticed from those that do approach life from that perspective. I may be wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time, but anecdotally, it fits my observations.

    as a child, my siblings and I were spanked. Often. It even occurred at school, though some of us received the “board of education” more than others, but the outcomes were certainly positive in their intent, in that the behavior that prompted that corporal response was seldom repeated. It was an intrinsic lesson in actions having consequences. There were times growing up where ‘spanking’ was a euphemism for severe beatings,. Belts, hair brushes, wooden spoons and Birch switches were used in such a manner as to leave your backside bruised and tender and even the backs of your repeating the lessons, no matter how legs bloody. It was never an enjoyable experience, but it drove home he fact that some actions were never to be tolerated. Respect of elders and consideration of others were ideals that were driven home under the threat of physical pain. At times, reasoning with an 8 year old is is futile. Eight year olds or much of any age for children is not a skill set developed yet. What they do understand is that if you lie, cheat, steal or ‘talk back’ to an elder family member or any adult for that matter, will result in immediate and unpleasant repercussions. Something even the most strong willed child will understand.

    I vowed at a young age, as did I’m sure, most children of my generation, that we would do things differently than those that raised us. The trope that children beaten as youngsters will grow up to beat their children is emphatically untrue. Does it happen? Sure. Some, for whatever reason cannot break the cycle of repeating what their elders engaged in, but it isn’t true in a majority of people. I promised myself that I would never strike my children out of anger, but there were times that the only consequence that would leave a lasting impression on my children was a swat on the ass. I can think of only less than a handful f times in which my belt ever met the behinds of my kids. Honestly, I didn’t want to, but timeouts, restriction of privileges, or extra chores, simply did not suffice in getting the point that their actions could not be tolerated. I’m a Grandfather now and my children do not beat their children and I’m sometimes asked by them what deeds warrant corporal administration. It’s never easy, but it is sometimes necessary, especially, if the rules laid down offer the swats as a result.

    We see today, a complete lack of respect in much of the minor populations. Kids get away with things that would never even been considered by those of my generation, knowing that sitting would be dicey once our Parents taught us why such behavior was not allowed. Does that work for everyone in all cases? No. Not by a long shot. But children are emboldened into behavior most would find wrong, because they know the worst result of their behavior will be nothing more than some harsh words or the loss of television for a day or two. We see every day in schools and in public behavior, children that get away with things those of us of a certain age would never entertain, because we knew the result would be certain and somewhat painful. I’m not advocating beating children in any way, but sometimes, the best, most efficient and longest lasting lesson is red marks on the butt.

  24. M. Jay says

    “The trenchant Christian dogma viewing children as wild sinful creatures whose will must be broken into obedience through instilling fear is undoubtedly another culprit.”

    You totally lost me with that statement.

    Which “Christian dogma” views children as “wild sinful creatures” who have to be “instilled with fear?” And when did Jesus ever advocate striking a child? There may be now, or may have been in the past, some apostate man-made sects and/or individuals that adhere(d) to such practice. But it is wrong to slap that label on the face of all Christianity because of the actions of some, who could hardly be identified as “Christian.” That’s like calling all the Jews “Christ-killers.”

    No. There is no record at all anywhere of Jesus hurting or striking anyone, ever, not even when he used a “whip of cords” to drive the money changers out and cleanse the Temple. Rather, “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He taught the world how to properly view and treat children.

    I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean to smear all Christians.

  25. Laura says

    “For one, in the United States it is against the law to hit multiple categories of people, including prisoners, criminals, the aged, spouses, bureaucrats. Even Wall Street investment bankers are protected. The right to protection from physical assault, in other words, is extended to the whole range of humanity, all the way to the murky edges — yet somehow not to children, who happen to be the most innocent and vulnerable, and whom we are charged with loving and protecting.”

    This is one of those arguments that seems to make sense at first reading, but less if you push it a little. If I see my neighbor speeding in his car and I go in and take his keys away, I’m charged with theft. If my teenager is speeding, and I take their keys away, I’m a good parent. Wait, why does every person in the nation have a right to protection from theft except my vulnerable teenager? Are they less worthy of love and protection?

    It’s really just an emotional appeal. Parents have the authority to make decisions on the discipline of their children so that law enforcement doesn’t have to. I do think there should be protections in place for abuse, and the motivation behind punishment is important, but I think we have to admit that the parent/child authority structure allows for things that other relationships don’t.

    • Indeed, imagine anyone trying to argue that you should never strip a child and slather it’s nether regions with baby oil because if you did that to an adult you’d be charged with not just physical, but sexual, assault!

      • I agree with this, as well as many of these dissenting opinions. This particular one made me laugh though

  26. “one of the first times I realized that my wishful ideas about what America was had little to do with what America actually was”
    Sigh. People like this author were the one who made me vote for Trump against my better judgment. Psychology, sociology, the humanities, climatology…none of these disciplines are viewed by the Left as an objective pursuit of facts, but rather as weapons to co-opt for use in imposing their lunatic pre-conceived notions idealism on those of us trying to function in reality. I was spanked as a child, and fully intend to make judicious use of spanking on my own children–if for no other reason that it’s one of the few ways left for us to thumb our noses at the sanctimonious leftist ideologues who think they are smartest people ever to exist.

  27. You know, this argument would probably benefit from the observation that spanking is not generally _intended_ to teach new behaviors, but rather to deter and eventually eliminate existing undesirable behaviors. I can see arguments both ways, but an undergrad who has taken Psych 101 knows about negative reinforcement.

  28. Mark Bailey says

    I was born just before the baby boomer generation and remember when corporal punishment was considered not only acceptable, but occasionally necessary. It was, when properly used and not abused, the sign of a truly outrages or wrong act or deed. It marked something you did not want to repeat. It also demonstrated, in a way that “time outs” will never have, that actions can have negative consequences.
    I watched as the child psychologists gained influence on parenting. I remember reading that the rise int juvenile delinquency and the influence of child psychology showed similar curves, with psychology cresting first. And I have watched the rise of the perpetually offended, most of whom never look back to see if what they implemented achieved the desired result.
    Raising children is hard work and can not be left to schools, the government, or any other form of in loco parentis. It requires full time effort, self control, knowing when to encourage, when to praise, and when and how to discipline. Corporal punishment fell into disfavor because it was abused by more than a few parents. It was the easy way out. That doesn’t mean it is always wrong.
    Final thought. The measure of success in raising children is not so much the kind of adults the children become, but the kind of adults raised by your children.

    • Indeed. The right-on used to argue that the barbaric beating of schoolboys would turn them into barbarous bullies. Strangely that didn’t happen when corporal punishment was common. Since it was banned not only has there been an explosive growth in bullying, but even the killing of classmates and even teachers, which had never ever happened in the days of the cane!

  29. Lady in Red says

    Heavens! I know many men who crave a spanking, a good hard one at that. (I’ve heard there are women who do as well.) Is that bad? ….smile…. …Lady in Red

  30. Jan Vones says

    What a facile and typical science-free screed from the left whose unfettered SJ warriors shoot cops and burn down college buildings.

    Ever heard of the difference between a smack on the wrist, and a beating? My parents raised me quite well,, and spanked me less than a handful of times. They didn’t beat me. They made the principle explicit.. When a four-year-old bites his three-year old brother, a quick brief shows that force is met with force. You know, like the Six Days War?

    • Peterson's Ghost says

      And the tagline at the base of the webpage is “A platform for free thought” yet the debate is over. Gag me.

  31. 1. If you can’t make your point in a few thousand words on a fairly simple topic, you can’t make your point at all.

    2. Yes. Most of your students raised their hands. Did you bother to then inquire how often, how severely, and whether or not it even hurt? Rear ends are rather fleshy, you know.

    It is part of our family lore that my dad told me repeatedly to not walk home from school along the ocean shore under threat of being spanked if I did. I liked to walk along the ocean so much that a good talking to just wasn’t a sufficient deterrant for avoiding a real danger. Now, I don’t remember exactly how many times I was actually bent over – maybe two or three. I do remember mostly staying on the trail on the way home to avoid it, as well as boundless love from my parents who were genuinely concerned for my safety and the threat the surf posed.

    I never occasioned to spank my own clildren, but I have all daughters. If I had sons it isn’t hard to imagine an ocean incident or two reoccurring. Big whoop.

    So what can be known? Nobody ever grew up damaged from a rare, gentle spanking. Perhaps it does some good; especially if the child is forewarned as a deterrent, and never in anger Adrian Peterson’s kid on the other hand… See? More useful info in a few sentances than in all of your endless, turgid prose.

    • …and never in anger. Adrian Peterson’s kid on the other hand… 

  32. Was never spanked at home, but attended an all-boys Catholic high school where corporal punishment was practiced with a variety of subject-oriented delivery systems: the music teacher used a drumstick, the gym teacher used the extracted sole of a tennis shoe and the Dean of Discipline (true title) used his cassock belt. Being shorter than most boys, I gained the attention of my peers with clownish behavior which often placed me bent over in front of the class. It was valorous to accept the ten to twenty swats without noise or tears, which I did. As a result, and at a low personal cost, I gained an invaluable prize: instant stature and the enduring fellowship of my classmates. I raised two kids and only whacked my son once. Tempora mutantur.

  33. nicky says

    “Social Learning Theory”, “Psychoanalytic Theory”, “Attachment Theory”, “Ecobiodevelopmental Theory”, “Behaviorist Theory” etc. These are not theories, but hypotheses. Ie they have some evidence going for it, but nothing like an overwhelming case.
    That being said, I do believe (yes, it is still a belief, despite your great case) that spanking is wrong, and indeed counterproductive in the longer run.
    (Anecdote alert):
    My first two children went without problems and grew up to be an upright young adult and respectively adolescent.
    My last two are different though. My seven year old is a ‘one man demolition team’, and my four year old is worse, an ‘Angel of Entropy’ (oh yes, he looks angelic all right, but he only looks at a cup and it explodes, cup suicide, I guess, it knows there is no escape). These lovely little naughty Gremlins are the ultimate temptation to spank, something I could resist until now. I doubt if their mother’s untimely death has anything to do with it, they were like that from the beginning.

    My point being is that children are quite different and that some invite spanking, and are in practical terms a great challenge to resist the spanking urge. Maybe, just maybe, they would benefit from a spanking? The temptation is great. 🙁

  34. Hodor says

    Pavlov’s dogs. My parents used spanking as a way of conditioning me not to do wrong. it was never their 1st port of call and was never carried out in anger. Usually punishment was meted out shortly after the incident and only after we had understood what we did was wrong; however if my da was particularly angry at us for our ‘crime’ he would send us to our room until he had calmed down.

    The punishment was short and sharp and minimal just enough to know that you didn’t want it to happen again[Conditioning] i don’t recall getting hit more than 4 times but i was a fast learner Don’t mess up don’t get hit. My brother on the other hand didn’t learn so quick and he received more smacks but eventually it dawned on him too. we are both well adjusted humans with no lasting side effects and no criminal records which from our estate where we grew up was a rarity.

    Do i spank my children no – would i ? yes if i thought the situation merited but the use of the naughty step seems to have done its job and now the kids lose their electronic devices if they misbehave. Spanking is a way to condition/elicit good behaviour as is the ‘naughty step’ and confiscation – the latter two are more morally acceptable these days but but i am not convinced that spanking is without its merits when used appropriately.

    By spanking i mean striking of the buttocks sufficiently hard enough to cause a short sharp unpleasant pain but not enough to cause physical harm and never in anger and only administered after child understands why. i don’t believe it is appropriate to smack/punish a child if they do not understand that their actions are wrong.

    Education and rules/routine [parenting!!] should with luck remove the need to punish any child.

    That said each to their own and good luck with whatever method[to spank or not to spank] works for you. As long as you are not abusing your child it is none of my affair how you raise your child

    • ‘naughty step’ and confiscation – or as the do-gooders should be labelling (and banning) them: kidnapping/false imprisonment/unlawful detention and theft!

  35. Chester Draws says

    And yet another article on spanking that fails to define it.

    I never formally punished my children with violence.

    I would slap them, on the leg usually, to stop them doing something when they were too little (or enraged) to reason with. Not to hurt them, as such, but to indicate my displeasure.

    So, should my children put their hands up.

    Evidence that severe punishment affects children is being used here to advocate against any punishment.

    It’s not that the goalposts are being shifted, it’s that they are never even located at all.

  36. By that argument, let’s just do away with prison. Criminals just need TLC and reasoning.

    Sarcasm aside, punishment has some rules in order to be effective:
    – it needs to be comensurate to the wrong doing (no more harsh nor lax)
    – parents need to be engaged and actively tell the child why he/she is being punished (instead of just hitting and walking away)
    – punishment needs to be consistent

    That said, I am not a parent but I was spanked as a child. The rules were simple: Spankings were given if we 1) lied 2) put ourselves in immediate harms way

    The reasoning is that lying leads to making decisions based on asymmetric information and can lead further to dangerous ends. The parents, as leaders, cannot make safe or good decisions without real information.

    One time, I lied about where I was going (to a friend’s house), and I told friend’s mom that I had permission from my parents to sleep over. I was young and had little to none ability to reason other than I wanted to hang out with friend. I got spanked because I lied AND potentially put myself in harm’s way.

    A toddler or young child who runs into a busy street or runs away in crowded shopping areas/malls who does not listen to soft suggestions, does not have the ability to see the danger he/she is in. Parent should absolutely step up the suggestions to “medium” or “harsh” until the child is of age to understand the dangers using words.

    Sure the parent can leave the child at home if they have a care taker or a second parent can stay at home with young children while the other runs errands, but these are privileges that some parents don’t have. Some people just don’t have the resources to have a calm/relaxing household with two parents working, or single parent raising kids, and stressful environment all around. Not all parents can do baby yoga.

    Therefore to say that the spanking debate is over, is a grossly privileged thing to say. Parents do the very best they can, with the time and resources they have, in order to raise their kids to the best of their knowledge.

    • Kevin says

      Thank you!!! I have been trying to make this very point, but people are so closed minded to the idea that spanking can be an effective tool if administered properly.

  37. Rinny says

    I was spanked as a child. My father spanked me too much and with anger. I grew up fearing him most of my life. He died many years ago, and it pains me to say that much of my memories of him had to do with my fear of him. My mother rarely spanked us, but is far more spiteful and cutting with her words. My granny (paternal grandmother) spanked me only when I was being particularly horrid, and that was early in my youth. Once I passed a certain age, she never hit me.

    Decades later, I can say without hesitation that, of the three, my granny I absolutely adore the most. I never harbored any resentment toward her for spanking me. She was a good woman who showered me with love, brought me up with good morals, and disciplined me whenever I got out of line. Every spanking I got from her I totally deserved. But even though I know she spanked me, none of those spankings stick out in my memory.

    My mother’s hurtful words? Oh, yeah. Those stuck. I’ll never forget some of the things she said, not that they were all particularly vicious either. She just seemed to bored with me as her child. She didn’t even like to hug us. The fact that my mother never hugged us when we were kids sticks out in my mind way more than any spanking I ever got, even from my dad.

  38. The author should not have published this piece on a website with such a reactionary audience. This study would not be met with praise, but vehement disagreement. Funny, how a “centrist” website attracts so many alt-light reactionaries.

  39. Steve Thomas says

    The problem is that it’s only the scientific debate about bad parental behavior that’s over, which like it or not, it absolutely is. But with spanking approval rates among American adults still hovering around 80%, the societal one has a long way to go. In the US certainly, but in a good part of the world as well. My impression is that it has barely even begun in the chronically violent, war-torn, oppressive parts.

    “We will have some sure insights, by 2018, into what kind of man we are producing when we beat a child, or pamper him, at the age of two or at the age of twelve…We will know more about what a child carries with him in his genes and what he learns as a result of his parents’ behavior. This progress in genetic psychology will, if course, have a deep impact on adult behavior. Half a century is probably not long enough to effect any dramatic change in the patterns of family life and parental responsibility. But by 2018 child rearing will be the subject of ever more intense debate, because of our heightened consciousness of the consequences of parental behavior.” — Ithiel de Sola Pool, 1968, Behavioral Technology

  40. Spanking should be totally abandoned, and the adult who has been spanked as a child should know how totally awful it is, and therefore not expose anybody to it in turn.

    “If you are in touch with your feelings from your abusive childhood, then you should know what abuse feels like. You should be able to remember how miserable it was to be cut down to nothing, to be put in fear, to be told that the abuse is your own fault. You should be LESS likey to abuse, not more so, from having been through it.”

    You can’t use your past as an excuse to mistreat ANYBODY. Not your own children, or anybody else that is close to you.

  41. No, the debate is far from over, you’ve omitted so many important variables. First operationally define spanking – for instance many studies include slapping a child’s face in the data. Secondly how about frequency and intensity of spanking? How about the context of the parent/child relationship? Is it poorly attached and dysfunctional or close with good communication. This is a surprisingly biased, and poorly investigated article from Quilette.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-science-says-and-doesn-t-about-spanking/

  42. In Denmark, hitting your child, spanking,or whatever you want to call it, is forbidden by law, and quite rightly so!

  43. Kevin says

    My question with these sorts of articles is always the parameters of the studies. Specifically, what constitutes “spanking”? I saw one study that used “The child being struck 5 times or more per week”. To me, that is WAY over the top for any sort of punishment. I totally agree with “reinforcement” as a great motivator. But spanking (when used with GREAT moderation) can also be effective. My wife and I used spanking, which came down to perhaps twice with one child in her entire life, and once per week with the other for about 6 months. The only offense that had spanking as a consequence was “lying”. One stopped after the first time, the other took 6 months. They were also given the choice, “I’ll ask again, if you lie again, spanking, if you tell the truth, no spanking.” Well, one chose truth, the other chose lying, and received the promised outcome. It was very effective and never overused. So a blanket statement “spanking = bad” is wrong. Now, many will say, “you didn’t use it the way other people do.” And you would be correct. And that is EXACTLY my point. These articles never mention the parameters of their studies. If I hit my kid 5 times a week, I EXPECT to have a bad outcome…DUH!!! But when administered “appropriately”, I expect behavioral modification without bad side effects.

    Second point, these sorts of studies arm the CPS with grounds to take children away from their parents. At what point do we stop breaking up families and start educating them on alternatives to spanking? My parents used spanking EXCLUSIVELY, and I suffered great trauma because of it. We had all sorts of reinforcement for my kids, but sometimes punishment is called for. Just because some parents don’t spank, does not mean that their kids turn out ok. Many don’t know how to use the reinforcement choices. So they become “permissive” instead of declaring boundaries within that reinforcement. I think these “one or the other” approaches fail miserably. Sure CPS won’t take a kid that lives in a family that doesn’t spank, but those kids may be damaged by the permissive environment anyway.

    Maybe the studies need to show who does what and how the kids end up later in life. They study “spanking” vs. “effective parenting”. How about we study “spanking” vs “way too permissive”? NOT spanking is the WHOLE solution. A combination of “proper reinforcement and punishment” is the best IMO.

    • Kevin says

      I couldn’t edit my post. The second last sentence should read “NOT spanking is NOT the WHOLE solution.

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