Anda di halaman 1dari 9

Social Science and Public Policy

NEW EVIDENCE FOR


THE BENEFITS OF
NEVER SPANKING
Murray A. Straus
a revolution has o c c u r r e d in the last effective w i t h o u t c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t . T h e i r
ur years in the state of scientific knowledge goal is to i n f o r m p a r e n t s a b o u t t h e s e m o r e ef-
about the long-term effects of corporal punish- fective d i s c i p l i n a r y strategies, as e x e m p l i f i e d
ment. This article summarizes the results of that in the very name of one such o r g a n i z a t i o n - - t h e
r e s e a r c h and explains w h y the n e w r e s e a r c h Center For Effective Discipline (see their web site:
shows, more clearly than ever before, the benefits http.'//www.stophitting.com; see also the web site
of avoiding corporal punishment. of Positive Parenting p r o g r a m bttp://
Somewhat ironically, at the same time as these parenting, umn. edu).
n e w studies were a p p e a r i n g , v o i c e s arose in state
legislatures, the mass media, and in social science Previous Research o n Corporal P u n i s h m e n t
journals to defend corporal punishment. Conse- In order to grasp the i m p o r t a n c e of the n e w
quently, a s e c o n d p u r p o s e is to put these recent research, the limitations of the previous 45 years
defenses of corporal p u n i s h m e n t in perspective. of research need to be understood. These 45 years
This is followed by a section explaining a para- saw the publication of more than 80 studies link-
dox c o n c e r n i n g trends in corporal punishment. ing corporal p u n i s h m e n t to child behavior prob-
Public belief in the necessity of corporal punish- lems such as physical violence. A meta-analysis
ment and the percentage of parents w h o hit teen- of these studies by Gershoff (in press) found that
agers is about half of what it was only 30 years almost all s h o w e d that the more corporal punish-
ago. Despite these dramatic changes, 94 p e r c e n t ment a child had experienced, the w o r s e the be-
of parents of toddlers in a recent national survey havior of the child. Gershoff's review reveals a
r e p o r t e d spanking, w h i c h is about the same as it consistency of findings that is rare in social sci-
was in 1975 (Straus and Stewart, 1999). e n c e research. T h o m p s o n c o n c l u d e d that "Al-
The article concludes with an estimate of the t h o u g h ... c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t d o e s s e c u r e
benefits to children, to parents, and to society as children's immediate compliance,it also increases
a w h o l e that could o c c u r if corporal p u n i s h m e n t the likelihood of eleven [types of] negative out-
were to cease. comes [such as increased physical aggression by the
Defenders of corporal p u n i s h m e n t say or im- child and depression later in life]. Moreover, even
ply that no-corporal p u n i s h m e n t is the same as studies c o n d u c t e d by defenders of corporal pun-
no-discipline or"permissiveness." Consequently, ishment s h o w that, even w h e n the criterion is im-
before discussing the n e w research, it is impor- mediate compliance, non-corporal disciplinc strat-
tant to e m p h a s i z e that n o - c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t egies work just as well as corporal punishment.
d o e s n o t m e a n no-discipline. Writers and orga- The studies in my b o o k Beating the Devil Out
n i z a t i o n s l e a d i n g the m o v e m e n t a w a y f r o m of Them are examples of the type of negative out-
c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t believe that rules and disci- c o m e reviewed by Thompson. For example, the
pline are necessary, but that they will be more m o r e c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t e x p e r i e n c e d , the

52 SOCIETY 9 SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2001


g r e a t e r the p r o b a b i l i t y of hitting a wife or hus- of the n e w studies t o o k into a c c o u n t the child's
b a n d later in life. A n o t h e r study of k i n d e r g a r t e n behavior atTime 1, and all five were based on large
c h i l d r e n used data on c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t ob- and nationally representative samples of A m e r i c a n
t a i n e d by i n t e r v i e w s w i t h the m o t h e r s of the chil- children. None of t h e m d e p e n d e d on adults re-
dren. Six m o n t h s later the children w e r e o b s e r v e d calling w h a t h a p p e n e d w h e n t h e y w e r e children.
in school. I n s t a n c e s of p h y s i c a l aggression w e r e
tallied for each child. The c h i l d r e n of m o t h e r s Study 1: Corporal Punishment and Subsequent
who used corporal punishment attacked other Antisocial Behavior
c h i l d r e n t w i c e as o f t e n as the c h i l d r e n w h o s e This r e s e a r c h s t u d i e d o v e r 3,000 c h i l d r e n in
m o t h e r s did not. The c h i l d r e n of m o t h e r s w h o tile National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (Straus,
w e n t b e y o n d o r d i n a r y c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t had et al., 1997). T h e c h i l d r e n w e r e in t h r e e age
four times the rate of a t t a c k i n g o t h e r c h i l d r e n . groups: 3-5,6-9,and 10-14. The m o t h e r s of all three
This illustrates a n o t h e r p r i n c i p l e : that the psycho- g r o u p s of c h i l d r e n w e r e i n t e r v i e w e d at the start
logically harmful effects of c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t of the study in 1988, and t h e n again in 1990 and
are p a r a l l e l to t h e h a r m f u l e f f e c t s of p h y s i c a l 1992. The findings w e r e v e r y similar for all t h r e e
abuse, e x c e p t that the m a g n i t u d e of the effect is age g r o u p s and for c h a n g e after two years and
less. four years. To avoid e x c e s s detail only the results
D e s p i t e the unusually high c o n s t a n c y in the for the 6-9 year old c h i l d r e n and for the c h a n g e in
f i n d i n g s of r e s e a r c h on c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t , antisocial b e h a v i o r t w o years after the first inter-
t h e r e is a s e r i o u s p r o b l e m with all the p r e v i o u s v i e w will be d e s c r i b e d here.
r e s e a r c h , t h e s e studies do not i n d i c a t e w h i c h is Measure of corporal punishment. To m e a s u r e
cause and w h i c h is effect. That is, t h e y do not corporal punishment, the mothers were told
take into a c c o u n t the fact that a g g r e s s i o n and "Sometimes kids mind p r e t t y well and s o m e t i m e s
o t h e r b e h a v i o r p r o b l e m s of the child lead p a r e n t s t h e y don't," and asked "About h o w many times, if
to spank. Consequently, a l t h o u g h t h e r e is clear any, have you had to spank y o u r child in the past
e v i d e n c e that the m o r e c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t , the week?"
g r e a t e r the p r o b a b i l i t y of hitting a s p o u s e later in Measure of Antisocial Behavior. To m e a s u r e
life, that finding c o u l d simply i n d i c a t e that the Antisocial Behavior the mothers were asked
p a r e n t s w e r e r e s p o n d i n g to a high level of aggres- w h e t h e r , in the past t h r e e m o n t h s , the child fre-
sion by the child at Time 1. For e x a m p l e , t h e y q u e n t l y "cheats or tells lies," "bullies or is c r u e l /
might have s p a n k e d b e c a u s e the child r e p e a t e d l y m e a n to o t h e r s , " " d o e s not feel sorry after misbe-
g r a b b e d toys from or hit a b r o t h e r or sister. Since having,""breaks things deliberately,""is d i s o b e d i -
a g g r e s s i o n is a relatively stable trait, it is not sur- e n t at school," "has t r o u b l e g e t t i n g along w i t h
prising that the most aggressive c h i l d r e n at Time teachers." This was u s e d to c r e a t e a m e a s u r e of
1 are still the most aggressive at Time 2 and are the n u m b e r of a n t i s o c i a l b e h a v i o r s f r e q u e n t l y
n o w hitting their wives or husbands. To deal with e n g a g e d in by the child.
that p r o b l e m , the r e s e a r c h n e e d s to take into ac- Other Variables. We also t o o k into a c c o u n t
c o u n t the child's a g g r e s s i o n or o t h e r antisocial several o t h e r variables that c o u l d affect antiso-
b e h a v i o r at Time 1 (the time of the spanking). cial b e h a v i o r by the child. These i n c l u d e the sex
Studies using that design can e x a m i n e w h e t h e r , of child, c o g n i t i v e s t i m u l a t i o n p r o v i d e d by the
in the m o n t h s or years following, the b e h a v i o r of p a r e n t s , e m o t i o n a l s u p p o r t by the mother, e t h n i c
c h i l d r e n w h o w e r e s p a n k e d i m p r o v e s (as most g r o u p of the mother, and s o c i o e c o n o m i c status
p e o p l e in the USA think will be the case) or gets of the family.
w o r s e . T h e r e are finally n e w studies that use this Findings. The m o r e c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t used
d e s i g n and p r o v i d e i n f o r m a t i o n on long t e r m d u r i n g the first year of thc study, the g r e a t e r the
c h a n g e in the child's behavior. t e n d e n c y f o r A n t i s o c i a l Behavior to increase sub-
sequent to the corporal p u n i s h m e n t . It also shows
Five New Landmark Studies that this effect a p p l i e d to b o t h Euro A m e r i c a n
In the t h r e e - y e a r p e r i o d 1997-1999 five stud- c h i l d r e n and c h i l d r e n of o t h e r e t h n i c groups. Of
ies b e c a m e available that can be c o n s i d e r e d "land- course, o t h e r things also i n f l u e n c e Antisocial Be-
mark" studies b e c a u s e t h e y o v e r c a m e this serious havior. For e x a m p l e , girls have l o w e r rates of An-
d e f e c t in 45 years of p r e v i o u s r e s e a r c h on the tisocial Behavior than boys, and c h i l d r e n w h o s e
long-term effects of c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t . All five m o t h e r s are w a r m and s u p p o r t i v e are less likely

NEW EVIDENCE FOR THE BENEFITS OF NEVER SPANKING 55


to behave in antisocial ways. M t h o u g h these other on the relation of corporal p u n i s h m e n t toAntiso-
variables do lessen the effect of corporal punish- cial Behavior s h o w that the more corporal pun-
ment, w e found that the t e n d e n c y for corporal ishment e x p e r i e n c e d by the children in Year 1,
p u n i s h m e n t to make things worse over the long the higher the level of Antisocial Behavior five
run applies regardless of race, s o c i o e c o n o m i c sta- years later. Moreover, they found that the harm-
tus, gender of the child, and regardless of the ex- ful effect of corporal p u n i s h m e n t applies to all
tent to w h i c h the m o t h e r p r o v i d e s c o g n i t i v e the categories of children they s t u d i e d - - t h a t is,
stimulation and emotional support. to children in each age group, to all races, and to
both boys and girls. Thus, both of these major
Study 2: A Second Study of Corporal Punishment long-term prospective studies resulted in evidence
and Antisocial Behavior that, although corporal p u n i s h m e n t may w o r k in
Sample and Measures. G u n n o e and Mariner the short run, in the long run it tends to boomer-
(1997) analyzed data from a n o t h e r large and rep- ang and make things worse.
resentative sample of American c h i l d r e n - - t h e Na- An important sidelight of the Gunnoe and Mari-
tional Survey of Families and Households. They ner study is that it illustrates the way inconve-
studied 1,112 children in two age groups: 4-7 and nient findings can be ignored to give a desired
8-11. In half of the cases the m o t h e r was inter- "spin." The findings section includes one brief
viewed and in the o t h e r half the father provided sentence acknowledging that their study "repli-
the information. The parents were first inter- cates the Straus et al. findings." This crucial find-
v i e w e d in 1987-88, and t h e n five years later. ing is never again mentioned. The extensive dis-
G u n n o e and Mariner's measure of corporal pun- cussion and conclusion sections omit mentioning
ishment was the same as in the Straus et al. study the results showing that corporal p u n i s h m e n t at
just d e s c r i b e d ; that is, h o w o f t e n the p a r e n t Time 1 was associated with more antisocial be-
spanked in the previous week. havior subsequently for children of all ages and
G u n n o e and Mariner examined the effect of all ethnic groups. Marjorie G u n n o e told me that
corporal punishment on two aspects of the child's she is o p p o s e d to spanking and has never spanked
behavior: fighting at school and antisocial behav- her o w n children. So the spin she put on the find-
ior. Their Antisocial Behavior measure was also ings is not a reflection of personal values or be-
the same as in the Straus et al. study. havior. Perhaps it reflects teaching at a college
Findings on Fighting. G u n n o e and Mariner affiliated with a c h u r c h w h i c h teaches that God
found that the more corporal punishment in 1987- expects parents to spank.
88, the greater the a m o u n t of fighting at school
five years later. This is consistent with the t h e o r y Study 3: Corporal Punishment and Child-to-Parent
that in the long r u n c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t is Violence
counter-productive. However, for toddlers and for Timothy Brezina (1999) analyzed data on a na-
African-American children, they found the oppo- tionally representative sample of 1,519 adolescent
site, i.e. that corporal p u n i s h m e n t is associated boys w h o participated in the Youth in Transition
with less fighting 5 years later. G u n n o e and Mari- study. This is a three-wave panel study that was
ner suggest that this occurs because y o u n g e r chil- b e g u n in 1966. Although the data refer to a pre-
dren andAfrican-American children tend to regard vious generation of high school students, there is
corporal p u n i s h m e n t as a legitimate parental be- no reason to think that the relationship b e t w e e n
havior rather than as an aggressive act. However, corporal p u n i s h m e n t and children hitting parents
corporal punishment by parents of young children is different n o w that it was then, e x c e p t that the
and byAfrican-American parents is so nearly uni- rate may have decreased because fewer parents
versal (for example, 94 p e r c e n t of parents of tod- n o w slap teen-agers.
dlers) that it suggests an alternative explanation: Measure of Corporal Punishment. Corporal
that no-corporal punishment means no-discipline. p u n i s h m e n t was measured by asking the boys
If that is the case, it is no w o n d e r that children "How often do your parents actually slap you?"
w h o s e parents exercise no-discipline are less well The response categories ranged from 1 (never)
behaved. Corporal p u n i s h m e n t may not be g o o d to 5 (always). Twenty eight p e r c e n t of the boys
for children, but failure to properly supervise and r e p o r t e d being slapped by their parents during
control is even worse. the year of the first wave of the study w h e n their
Findings on Antisocial Behavior. The findings

54 SOCIETY 9 SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2001


average age was 15, and 19 p e r c e n t w e r e s l a p p e d Measure of Delinquency at Time 1. As ex-
d u r i n g t h e w a v e 2 year (a year and half later). p l a i n e d earlier, it is critical to take into a c c o u n t
Measure of Child Aggression. The boys w e r e the m i s b e h a v i o r that leads p a r e n t s to use c o r p o -
asked similar q u e s t i o n s a b o u t h o w often t h e y hit ral p u n i s h m e n t . In this study, that was d o n e by
t h e i r father and t h e i r mother. Eleven p e r c e n t re- asking the b o y s at Time 1 h o w often t h e y had
p o r t e d hitting a p a r e n t the first year, and 7 per- e n g a g e d in each of 24 d e l i n q u e n t acts such as
c e n t r e p o r t e d hitting a p a r e n t at Time 2 of the s k i p p i n g school, stealing, and physically attack-
study. ing s o m e o n e w i t h a w e a p o n ; and also h o w often
Findings. Brezina found that c o r p o r a l punish- they had used drugs and alcohol.
m e n t a t T i m c 1 was a s s o c i a t e d with an increased Parental involvement and support. Finally the
p r o b a b i l i t y of a child assaulting the p a r e n t a year study also t o o k into a c c o u n t the e x t e n t to w h i c h
and a half later. Thus, while it is true that c o r p o - the p a r e n t s s h o w e d w a r m t h and affection, w e r e
ral p u n i s h m e n t t e a c h e s the child a lesson, it is c o n s i s t e n t in t h e i r discipline, m o n i t o r e d and su-
c e r t a i n l y n o t the l e s s o n i n t e n d e d by the parents. p e r v i s e d the child, and e x p l a i n e d rules and ex-
As w i t h the o t h e r four studies, the data analy- p e c t a t i o n s . In a d d i t i o n , it also c o n t r o l l e d for wit-
sis t o o k into a c c o u n t s o m e of the many o t h e r fac- nessing p a r e n t a l v i o l e n c e .
tors that affect the p r o b a b i l i t y of c h i l d - t o - p a r e n t Findings. Simons and his colleagues fotmd that
v i o l e n c e . T h e s e i n c l u d e t h e s o c i o e c o n o m i c sta- the m o r e c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t e x p e r i e n c e d by
tus a n d r a c e of t h e family, t h e age of t h e par- these boys, the g r e a t e r the p r o b a b i l i t y of t h e i r
ents, the child's a t t a c h m e n t to the p a r e n t , c h i l d ' s physically assaulting a girlfriend. Moreover, like
a t t i t u d e t o w a r d aggression, and child's physical the o t h e r p r o s p e c t i v e studies, the analysis t o o k
size. into a c c o u n t the m i s b e h a v i o r that led p a r e n t s to
use c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t , and also the quality of
Study 4: Corporal Punishment and Dating p a r e n t i n g This means that the relation of c o r p o -
Violence ral p u n i s h m e n t to v i o l e n c e against a girlfriend is
Simons, Lin, a n d G o r d o n ( 1 9 9 8 ) t e s t e d t h e very unlikely to be due to p o o r p a r e n t i n g . Rather,
t h e o r y that c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t by the p a r e n t s it is a n o t h e r study s h o w i n g that the long r u n ef-
i n c r e a s e s the p r o b a b i l i t y of later hitting a part- fect of c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t is to e n g e n d e r m o r e
n e r in a dating relationship. They studied 113 boys r a t h e r than less misbehavior. In short, s p a n k i n g
in a rural area of the state of Iowa, b e g i n n i n g w h e n boomerangs.
t h e y w e r e in the 7th grade or a b o u t age 13.
Measure of Corporal Punishment. The moth- Study 5: Corporal Punishment and Child's
ers and the fathers of these b o y s w e r e asked h o w Cognitive Development
often t h e y s p a n k e d or s l a p p e d the child w h e n he T h e last of t h e s e five s t u d i e s ( S t r a u s a n d
did s o m e t h i n g w r o n g , and h o w often t h e y used a Paschall, 1999) was p r o m p t e d by studies show-
belt or p a d d l e for c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t . These ing that talking to c h i l d r e n ( i n c l u d i n g p r e - s p e e c h
q u e s t i o n s w e r e r e p e a t e d in waves 2 and 3 of this infants) is a s s o c i a t e d w i t h an increase in neural
5-year study. The s c o r e s for the m o t h e r and the c o n n e c t i o n s in the brain anti in c o g n i t i v e p e r f o r -
father for each of the t h r e e years w e r e c o m b i n e d m a n c e . T h o s e f i n d i n g s led us to t h e o r i z e t h a t
to c r e a t e an o v e r a l l m e a s u r e of c o r p o r a l pun- if p a r e n t s aw)id c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t , t h e y are
i s h m e n t . More t h a n h a l f of t h e b o y s e x p e r i - m n r e l i k e l y to e n g a g e in v e r b a l m e t h o d s of be-
e n c e d c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t d u r i n g t h o s e years. h a v i o r c o n t r o l s u c h as e x p l a i n i n g to t h e child,
Consequently, the findings about corporal pun- and that the i n c r e a s e d verbal i n t e r a c t i o n with the
i s h m e n t a p p l y to the majority of boys in that child will in turn e n h a n c e the c h i l d ' s c o g n i t i v e
c o m m u n i t y , n o t just to the c h i l d r e n of a small ability.
g r o u p of v i o l e n t parents. This t h e o r y w a s t e s t e d on 806 c h i l d r e n of
Measure of Dating Violence. The i n f o r m a t i o n m o t h e r s in the N a t i o n a l L o n g i t u d i n a l Study of
on dating v i o l e n c e c a m e from the boys, so it is Youth w h o w e r e age 2 to 4 in the first year of our
n o t i n f l u e n c e d by w h e t h e r the p a r e n t s v i e w e d analysis, and the tests w e r e r e p e a t e d for an addi-
t h e b o y as a g g r e s s i v e . T h e b o y s w e r e a s k e d tional 7{)4 c h i l d r e n w h o w e r e age 5 to 9 in the
w h e t h e r , in the last y e a r , " W h e n you had a dis- first year. C o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t was m e a s u r e d by
a g r e e m e n t w i t h your girlfriend, h o w often did you w h e t h e r the m o t h e r was o b s e r v e d h i t t i n g the
hit, push, shove her?" child d u r i n g the i n t e r v i e w and by a q u e s t i o n on

NEW EVIDENCE FOR THE BENEFITS (.)F NEVER SPANKING 55


f r e q u e n c y of spanking in the past week. A corpo- tion was made by the American Academy of Pedi-
ral p u n i s h m e n t scale was created by adding the atrics, w h i c h in 1998 published "Guidelines for
n u m b e r o f times the p a r e n t s p a n k e d in t w o Effective Discipline" (Pediatrics I 01:723-728) that
sample weeks. Cognitive ability was measured in advises parents to avoid spanking.
Year 1 and two years later by tests appropriate
for the age of the child at the time of testing such Is There a Backlash?
as the Peabody Picture VocabularyTest. It is ironic that during the same period as the
The study took into a c c o u n t the m o t h e r ' s age new and more definitive research was appearing,
and education, w h e t h e r the father was present in there were hostile or ridiculing articles in news-
the household, n u m b e r of children in the family, papers and magazines on the idea of never spank-
m o t h e r ' s supportiveness and cognitive stimula- ing a child. In 1999,Arizona and Arkansas passed
tion, ethnic group, and the child's age, gender, and laws to remind parents and teachers that they
child's birth weight. have the right to use corporal p u n i s h m e n t and to
The less corporal p u n i s h m e n t parents use on urge them to do so. There has also been a con-
toddlers, the greater the probability that the child tentious debate in scientific journals on the ap-
will have an above average cognitive growth. The propriateness of corporal punishment. These de-
greater benefit of avoiding corporal p u n i s h m e n t v e l o p m e n t s made some advocates for children
for the y o u n g e r children is consistent with the c o n c e r n e d that there is a backlash against the idea
research showing the most rapid g r o w t h of neu- of no-spanking. However, there are several rea-
ral c o n n e c t i o n s in the brain at early ages. It is sons for doubting the existence of a backlash in
also consistent with the theory that what the child the sense of a reversal in the trend of decreasing
learns as an infant and toddler is crucial because public s u p p o r t for corporal punishment, or in the
it provides the necessary basis for s u b s e q u e n t sense of non-spanking parents reverting to using
cognitive d e v e l o p m e n t . The greater adverse ef- corporal punishment.
fect on cognitive d e v e l o p m e n t for toddlers has One reason for d o u b t i n g the existence of a
an extremely important practical implication be- backlash is that, each year, a larger and larger pro-
cause the defenders of corporal p u n i s h m e n t have p o r t i o n of the American p o p u l a t i o n o p p o s e s cor-
n o w retreated to limiting their advocacy to tod- poral p u n i s h m e n t . In 1968, w h i c h was only a
dlers. Their r e c o m m e n d a t i o n is not based on g e n e r a t i o n ago, almost e v e r y o n e (94 p e r c e n t )
empirical evidence. The evidence from this study believed that corporal p u n i s h m e n t is sometimes
suggests that, at least in so far as cognitive devel- necessary. But in the last 30 years public s u p p o r t
o p m e n t is c o n c e r n e d , supporters of corporal pun- for corporal p u n i s h m e n t has been decreasing. By
ishment have unwittingly advised parents to use 1999, almost half of US adults rejected the idea
corporal punishment at the ages w h e n it will have that spanking is necessary.
the most adverse effect.
The Advocates Are Long-Time Supporters
The Message Of The Five Studies:"Don't Spank" In 1968, those w h o favored corporal punish-
Each of the five studies I briefly summarized is ment did not need to speak out to defend their
far from perfect. They can be picked apart one view because, as just indicated, almost everyone
by one, as can just about every epidemiological believed it was necessary. The dramatic decrease
study. This is what the t o b a c c o industry did for in s u p p o r t for corporal p u n i s h m e n t means that
many years. The Surgeon General's c o m m i t t e e on long time adw)cates of corporal p u n i s h m e n t n o w
smoking did the opposite. Their review of the have reason to be worried, and they are speaking
research acknowledged the limitations of the stud- out. Consequently, their recent publications do
ies w h e n taken one-by-one. But they c o n c l u d e d not indicate a backlash in the sense of a change
that despite the defects of the individual studies, from being o p p o s e d to corporal p u n i s h m e n t to
the cumulative evidence indicated that smoking favoring it. I suggest that it is more like dying
does cause lung c a n c e r and other diseases, and gasps of s u p p o r t for an ancient mode of bringing
they called for an end to smoking. With respect up children that is heading towards extinction.
to spanking, I believe that the cumulative weight The efforts of those w h o favor corporal pun-
of the evidence, and especially the five prospec- ishment have also been spurred on by tim increase
tive studies provides sufficient evidence for a new in crime in many countries. The rise in y o u t h
Surgeon General's warning. A start in that direc- crime in the United States, although recently re-

56 SOCIETY 9 SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2001


versed, is a very d i s t u r b i n g trend, and it has all,focusing almost exclusively on a so-called "posi-
p r o m p t e d a search for causes and corrective steps. tive approach," unwittingly c o n t r i b u t e s to per-
It should be no surprise that p e o p l e w h o have petuating corporal p u n i s h m e n t and helps explain
always believed in the use of corporal punishment the first paradox.
believe that a return to their favored mode of Paradox 1: Contradictory Trends. Some as-
bringing up children will help cure the crime pects of corporal p u n i s h m e n t have changed in
problem. They argue that children need "disci- major ways. A smaller and smaller p e r c e n t of the
pline," w h i c h is correct. However, they equate public favors spanking (Straus and Mathur, 1996).
discipline with corporal p u n i s h m e n t , w h i c h is not Fewer parents n o w use belts, hairbrushes and
correct. No-corporal p u n i s h m e n t does not mean paddles. The p e r c e n t of parents w h o hit adoles-
no-discipline. Delinquency prevention does re- cents has d r o p p e d by half since 1975. Neverthe-
quire, a m o n g o t h e r things, discipline in the sense less, other aspects of corporal p u n i s h m e n t con-
of clear rules and standards for behavior and pa- tinue to be prevalent, chronic, and severe. The
rental supervision and monitoring and enforce- 1995 (}allup national survey of parents (Straus and
ment. To the extent that part of the explanation Stewart, 1999) found that:
for crime, especially crime by youth, is the lack
9 Almost all parents of toddlers (94 p e r c e n t )
of discipline, the appropriate step is not a return
used corporal p u n i s h m e n t that year
to corporal p u n i s h m e n t but parental standards,
monitoring, and enforcement by non-violent meth-
9 Parents w h o spanked a toddler, did it an av-
ods. In fact, as the studies reviewed here indi-
erage of about three times a week
cate, if discipline takes the form of more corporal
p u n i s h m e n t , the p r o b l e m will be e x a c e r b a t e d
9 28 p e r c e n t of parents of children age 5-12
because, while corporal p u n i s h m e n t does work
used an object such as a belt or hairbrush
with some children, more typically it b o o m e r a n g s
and increases the level of juvenile delinquency
9 Over a third of parents of 13-year-old chil-
and other behavior problems.
dren hit them that year
The criticism in scientific journals of research
on corporal p u n i s h m e n t is also not a backlash. It The myths about corporal p u n i s h m e n t in Beat-
has to be viewed in the light of the n o r m s of sci- ing The Devil Out Of Them provide important
ence. A standard aspect of science is to examine clues to understanding w h y parents w h o "don't
research critically, to raise questions, and to sug- believe in spanking" c o n t i n u e to do so. These
gest alternative interpretations of findings. This myths also u n d e r m i n e the ability of professionals
results in a s o m e w h a t paradoxical tendency 6)r w h o advise parents to do what is needed to end
criticism to increase as the amount of research goes corporal punishment.
up. There has recently been an increase in research Paradox 2: Opposing S p a n k i n g Out Failing
showing long-term harmful effects of corporal pun- to Sale Don't ,Spank. Many pediatricians, devel-
ishment. Given the critical ethos of science, it is opmental psychologists, and parent educators are
only to be expected that the i n c r e a s e d research n o w o p p o s e d to corporal punishment, at least m
has elicited m o r e c o m m e n t a r y and criticism, principle. But most also c o n t i n u e to believe that
e s p e c i a l l y on the part of t h o s e w h o believed there may be a situation w h e r e spanking by par-
in c o r p o r a l p u n i s h m e n t in the first place. ents is necessary or acceptable (Schenck, 2000).
This is based on cultural myths. One myth is that
Three Paradoxes About Corporal P u n i s h m e n t spanking works w h e n other things do not. An-
Three paradoxical aspects of the m o v e m e n t o t h e r is that "mild" corporal p u n i s h m e n t is harm-
away from corporal p u n i s h m e n t are w o r t h not- less. All but a small minority of parents and pro-
ing. The first is that, although approval of corpo- fessionals continue to believe these myths despite
ral p u n i s h m e n t had declined precipitously in the the experimental and o t h e r e v i d e n c e s h o w i n g
last generation, almost all parents c o n t i n u e to that other disciplinary strategies work just as well
spank toddlers. The s e c o n d p a r a d o x is that pro- as spanking, even in the short run and are more
fessionals advising parents, including those w h o effective in the long run as s h o w n by the first
are o p p o s e d to spanking, generally fail to tell par- R)ur of the studies described earlier in this article.
ents not to spank. They call this aw)iding a"nega- Consequently, w h e n I suggest to pediatricians,
tive approach." Finally, anti most paradoxically of parent educators, or social scientists that it is es-

NEW EVIDENCE FOR THE BENEFITS OF NEVER SPANKING ~7


sential to tell parents that they should never spank apply equally to corporal punishment and to other
or use any other type of corporal punishment, disciplinary strategies (Larzelere, et al., 1996).
with rare exception, that idea has been rejected. Consequently, on any given day, a parent is almost
Some, like one of America's leading developmen- certain to find that so-called alternative disciplin-
tal psychologists, object because of the u n p r o v e n ary strategies such as explaining, deprivation of
belief that it w o u l d turn off parents. Some object privileges and time out,"do not work." W h e n that
on the false belief that it could be harmful be- happens, they turn to spanking. So, as pointed
cause parents do not k n o w what else to do. They out previously, just about everyone (at least 94
argue for a "positive approach" by w h i c h they percent) spanks toddlers.
mean teaching parents alternative disciplinary The difference b e t w e e n spanking and o t h e r
strategies, as c o m p a r e d to w h a t t h e y call the disciplinary strategies is that, w h e n spanking does
"negative approach" of advising to never spank. not work, parents do not question its effective-
As a result, the typical pattern is to say nothing ness. The idea that spanking works w h e n o t h e r
about spanking. Fortunately, that is slowly chang- m e t h o d s do not is so ingrained in American cul-
ing. Although they are still the exception, an in- ture that, w h e n the child repeats the misbehav-
creasing n u m b e r of books for parents, parent edu- ior an h o u r or two later (or sometimes a few min-
cation programs, and guidelines for professionals utes later) parents fail to perceive that spanking
advise never-spanking. has the same high failure rate as o t h e r modes of
Both the m o v e m e n t away from spanking, and discipline. So they spank again, and for as many
an important limitation of that m o v e m e n t are il- times as it takes to ultimately secure compliance.
lustrated by publication of the "Guidelines For Ef- That is the c o r r e c t strategy because, with consis-
fective Discipline" o f the American Academy of tency and perseverance, the child will eventually
Pediatrics. This was an important step forward, learn. What so many parents miss is that it is also
but it also reflects the same problem. It recom- the c o r r e c t strategy for non-spanking methods.
mends that parents avoid corporal punishment. Thus, unless there is an absolute prohibition on
However, it also carefully avoids saying that par- spanking, parents will "see with their o w n eyes"
ents should never spank. This may seem like split- that alternatives do not work and continue to find
ting hairs, but because of the typical sequence of it is necessary to spank.
parent-child interaction that eventuates in corpo-
ral p u n i s h m e n t described in the next paragraph, "Never-Spank" Must Be The Message
it is a major obstacle to ending corporal punish- Because of the typical behavior of toddlers and
ment. Omitting a never-spank message is a seri- the almost inevitable information p r o c e s s i n g er-
ous obstacle because, in the absence of a com- rors just described, teaching alternative disciplin-
mitment to never-spank, even parents w h o are ary techniques by itself is not sufficient. There
against spanking c o n t i n u e to spank. It is impor- must also be an u n a m b i g u o u s "never-spank" mes-
tant to u n d e r s t a n d what underlies the paradox of sage, which is needed to increase the chances that
parents w h o are o p p o s e d to spanking, nonethe- parents w h o disapprove of spanking will act on
less spanking. their beliefs. Consequently, it is essential for pe-
Paradox 3: Failing To Be Explicit A g a i n s t diatricians and others w h o advise parents to aban-
Spanking Results in More Spanking. The para- d o n their r e l u c t a n c e to say "never-spank." To
dox that fewer and fewer parents are in favor of achieve this, parent-educators must themselves be
spanking, but almost all spank toddlers reflects a educated. They need to understand why, w h a t
c o m b i n a t i o n of needing to c o p e with the typical they n o w consider a "negative approach," is such
behavior of toddlers and perceiving those behav- an important part of ending the use of corporal
iors through the lens of the myth that spanking punishment. Moreover, because they believe that
works w h e n o t h e r things do not. a "negative approach" does not work, they also
W h e n toddlers are c o r r e c t e d for misbehavior need to k n o w about the e x p e r i e n c e of Sweden.
(such as hitting a n o t h e r child or disobeying), the The Swedish experience shows that, c o n t r a r y to
"recidivism" rate is about 80 p e r c e n t within the the currently prevailing opinion, a never-spank
same day and about 50 p e r c e n t within two hours. a p p r o a c h has w o r k e d (Durrant, 1999).
For some children it is within two minutes. One In short, the first priority step to end or reduce
researcher ( w h o is a defender of corporal pun- spanking may be to educate professionals w h o
ishment) found that these "time to failure" rates advise parents. Once professionals are ready to

58 SOCIETY 9 SEPTEMBER/ OCTOBER 2001


move, the key steps are relatively easy to imple- associated with no-corporal punishment. An in-
ment and inexpensive, crease of that size w o u l d hardly be noticed in an
individual case. However, it is a well e s t a b l i s h e d
Parent-education programs, such as STEP,
p r i n c i p l e in p u b l i c h e a l t h and e p i d e m i o l o g y
w h i c h are n o w silent on spanking, can be
that a w i d e l y p r e v a l e n t risk f a c t o r w i t h small
revised to include the evidence that spank-
effect size, for e x a m p l e spanking, can have a
ing does n o t work better than other disci-
m u c h g r e a t e r i m p a c t on public health t h a n a
plinary tactics, even in the short run; and to
risk f a c t o r w i t h a large e f f e c t size, but l o w
specifically say "never spank."
prevalence, for example, physical abuse. For ex-
ample, assume that: (1) 50 million US children
The Public Health Service can follow the
e x p e r i e n c e d CP and 1 million e x p e r i e n c e d physi-
Swedish m o d e l and s p o n s o r no-spanking
cal abuse. ( 2 ) T h e probability of being depressed
public service a n n o u n c e m e n t s onTV and on
as an adult is increased by 2 percent for children
milk cartons.
w h o e x p e r i e n c e d CP and by 25 p e r c e n t for chil-
There can be a "No-Spanking" p o s t e r and dren w h o e x p e r i e n c e d physical abuse. Given
pamphlets in every pediatrician's office and these assumptions, the additional cases of depres-
every maternity ward. sion caused by CP is 1.02 times 50 million, or 1
million. The additional cases of depression caused
There could be a notice on birth certificates by p h y s i c a l a b u s e is 1.25 time 1 m i l l i o n or
such as: 250,000. Thus CP is associated with a four times
greater increase in depression than is physical
WARNING: SPANKING HAS BEEN DETER-
abuse.
MINED TO BE DANGEROUS TO THE HEALTH
Another example of a major benefit resulting
AND WELL BEING OF YOUR C H I L D - - D O
from reducing a risk factor that has a small effect,
N O T EVER, U N D E R A N Y CIRCUM-
but for a large p r o p o r t i o n of the population, might
STANCES, SPANK OR HIT YOUR CHILD
be the increase in scores on intelligence tests that
Until professionals w h o advise parents start has been o c c u r r i n g worldwide. Corporal punish-
advising parents to n e v e r spank, the paradox of ment has also been decreasing worldwide. The
parents b e c o m i n g less and less favorable to spank- decrease in use of corporal p u n i s h m e n t and the
ing while at the same continuing to spank tod- increase in scores on IQ tests could be just a co-
dlers will continue. Fortunately, that is starting incidence. However, the results of the study de-
to happen. scribed earlier in this article w h i c h s h o w e d that
The benefits of avoiding corporal p u n i s h m e n t less spanking is associated with faster cognitive
are many, but they are virtually impossible for d e v e l o p m e n t suggest that the trend away from
parents to perceive by observing their children, corporal p u n i s h m e n t may be one of a n u m b e r of
The situation with spanking is parallel to that of social changes (especially, better e d u c a t e d par-
smoking. Smokers could perceive the short run ents) that explain the increase in IQ scores in so
satisfaction from a cigarette, but had no way to many nations.
see the adverse health c o n s e q u e n c e s d o w n the The other four prospective studies reviewed
road. Similarly, parents can perceive the benefi- in this article and the studies in B e a t i n g the Devil
cial effects of a slap (and, for the reasons explained Out o f T h e m s h o w that ending corporal punish-
in the previous section, fail to see the equal ef- ment is likely to also reduce juvenile violence,
fectiveness of alternatives), they have no way of wife-beating, and masochistic sex, and increase the
looking a year or more into the future to see if probability of c o m p l e t i n g higher education, hold-
there is a harmful side effect of having hit their ing a high i n c o m e job, and lower rates of depres-
child to correct misbehavior. The only way par- sion and alcohol abuse. Those are not only hu-
ents can k n o w this w o u l d be if there were a pub- manitarian benefits, they can also result in huge
lic policy to publicize the results of research such m o n e t a r y savings in public and private costs for
as the studies summarized in this article. dealing with mental health problems, school prob-
Another reason the benefits of avoiding spank- lems, marital and family problems, and crime.
ing are difficult to see is that they are not dra- I c o n c l u d e d the first edition of B e a t i n g the
matic in any one case. This is illustrated by the Devil Out o f T h e m in 1994 by suggesting that
average increase of 3 or 4 points in mental ability ending corporal punishment by parents "portends

NEW EVIDENCEFOR THE BENEFITS OF NEVER SPANKING 59


p r o f o u n d and far r e a c h i n g benefits fi)r humanity." Schenck, Eliza R., Robert D. Lyman, and S. Douglas
T h e n e w r e s e a r c h s u m m a r i z e d in this a r t i c l e Bodin. 2000. "Ethical beliefs, attitudes, and pro-
makes t h o s e w o r d s even m o r e a p p r o p r i a t e . We fessional practices of psychologists regarding
can look f o r w a r d to the day w h e n c h i l d r e n in al- parental use of corporal punishment:A survey."
m o s t all c o u n t r i e s h a v e t h e b e n e f i t of b e i n g Children's Services:Social Policy, Research, and
b r o u g h t up w i t h o u t b e i n g hit by t h e i r parents; Practice 3:23-38.
and just as i m p o r t a n t , to the day w h e n many na- Simons, Ronald L., Kuei-Hsiu Lin, and Leslie C. Gordon.
tions have the b e n e f i t of the healthier, wealthier, 1998. "Socialization in the Family of origin and
and wiser citizens w h o w e r e b r o u g h t up free from male dating violence:A prospective study."Jour-
the v i o l e n c e that is n o w a part of t h e i r earliest hal of Marriage and the Family 60:467-478.
and m o s t influential life e x p e r i e n c e s . Straus, MurrayA., and Anitia K. Mathur. 1996. "Social
change and change in approval of corporal pun-
ishment by parents from 1968 to 1994." Pp. 91-
SUGGESTED FURTHER READINGS 105 in Family violence against children.'A chal-
lenge f o r society., edited by D. Frehsee,W. Horn,
Brezina,Timothy. 1999. "Teenage violence toward par- and K-D Bussmann. NewYork:Walter deGruyter.
ents as an adaptation to family strain: Evidence Straus,MurrayA.,and MallieJ. Paschall. 1999. "Corpo-
from a national survey of male adolescents." Youth ral punishment by mothers and children's cogni-
& Society 30:416-444. tive development:A logitudinal study of two age
Durrant, Joan E. 1999. "Evaluating the success of cohorts." in 6th International Family Violence
Sweden's corporal punishment ban" ChildAbuse Research Conference. Durham, NH: Family Re-
Neglect 23:435-448. search Laboratory, University of New Hampshire.
Gershoff, ElizabethThompson. In press. "Corporal pun- Straus, Murray A., and Julie H. Stewart. 1999. "Corpo-
ishment by parents and associated child behav- ral punishment by American parents: National
iors and experiences:A meta-analytic and theo- data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and dura-
retical review." Psychological Bulletin, tion, in relation to child, and family characteris-
Gunnoe, Marjorie L., and Carrie L. Mariner. 1997. "To- tics." Clinical Child and Family Psychology Re-
ward a developmental-contextual model of the view 2:55-70.
effects of parental spanking on children's aggres- Straus, Murray A., David B. Sugarman, and Jean Giles-
sion."Archives of Pediatric andAdolescent Medi- Sims. 1997. "Spanking by parents and subsequent
cine 151 :768- 775. antisocial behavior of children."Archives of pe-
Larzelere, Robert E.,William N. Schneider, David B. diatric and adolescent medicine 151:761-767.
Larson, and l~atricia L. Pike. 1996. "The effects of
discipline responses in delaying toddler misbe- M u r r a y A. Straus is professor o f sociology a n d co-
havior recurrences." Child and Family Therapy director o f the Family Research Laboratory at the
18:35-37. University o f N e w Hampshire. He is the author or
Neisser, Ulric. 1997. "Rising scores on intelligence tests: co-author or editor o f 18 books including Stress,
Test scores are certainly gong up all over the Culture, andAggression. This article is adapted f r o m
world, but whether intelligence itself has risen Chapter 12 of Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corpo-
remains controversial." A m e r i c a n Scientist ral Punishment inAmerican Families and Its Effects on
85:440-447. Children, 2 n d edition, published by Transaction.

60 SOCIETY 9 SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2001