A longitudinal investigation conducted in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect reveals compelling evidence that spanking is harmful to children's social development. Children who were exposed to spanking had higher externalizing behavior, lower self-control, and lower interpersonal abilities than children who had never been spanked.
Many researchers have found that spanking is harmful for children's development, causing them to display aggressive behavior, erode parent-child attachment, and harmed children's self-regulation abilities.
"My previous training in'sociology of child welfare' led me to investigate this important topic of violence against children," according to study author Jeehye Kang, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University.
"I had a strong research interest in children's well-being, but I had never taken a course or conducted research on child maltreatment during my training in sociology and psychology." "It's my desire to expand my knowledge about spanking and other forms of violence in education."
Kang wanted to expand on existing research by looking deeper at causality. Kang used matching to reduce selection bias. She also examined the effects of excessive spanking (vs. occasional spanking).
The study focused on four waves of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative survey of US children who were followed from kindergarten through elementary school.
Dependent measures included social competence, externalizing behaviors, self-control, and interpersonal abilities. Independent measures included a parent's lifetime spanking experience (i.e., if the parent had ever spanked the child in the past week) and recent spanking experience (i.e., if the parent had spanked the child in the past week).
On several covariates, a technique called matching was used to make the control and treatment groups (spanked vs. not spanked) as similar as possible. Child characteristics (e.g., gender, age) and parental characteristics (e.g., race, employment status).
According to the findings, 61% of children had been spanked at some point in their lives, and 28% had been spanked in the past week. At age 6, children who had been spanked had higher externalizing behaviors, lower interpersonal abilities, and decreased self-control.
These findings demonstrate that spanking has an influence on children's prosocial abilities, and that measures have been taken to reduce selection bias and prevent excessive spanking are beneficial. However, Kang cautions that spanking may be "counterproductive" to children's prosocial abilities.
Kang said: "We agree that spanking is somehow instructive for children." "Many parents believe that spanking will improve 'bad' behaviors and characterize good characters in children. However, my research suggests that frequent use of spanking may inhibit children's self-control and interpersonal skills and even increase externalizing behaviors."
The significant effect of lifetime spanking suggests that parental spanking has an adverse influence on children's social development over a long period. Further, the findings demonstrate that even occasional spanking has an influence on undesirable child outcomes.
"I was surprised that even life-time spanking experience can be linked to diminished self-control and interpersonal abilities a year later," Kang said. "It was still surprising to see the pattern confirmed in empirical evidence."
The research was notably limited due to it being unable to anticipate every possible cofounder, such as parents' social support networks and community violence. Measures of spanking type and severity were also not included in the data.
"Due to the limitations of the study, I was unable to consider neither the severity nor the frequency of spanking," Kang said. "It may be important to identify where children are struck (e.g., face, buttocks, extremities), or other punishment methods (e.g., washing a child's mouth out with soap."
“Another caveat is that my research might have underestimated the impact of spanking because only one parent used the technique.”
"I personally was hurt as a kid, and I know my parents had the best intentions," the researcher said. "They wish they could have known better and earlier that they did not have to teach their children a lesson."
Jeehye Kang co-authored the paper titled "Spanking and children's social competence: Evidence from a US kindergarten cohort study."