Spanking by Parents Affects the Mental Health of Children

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
  • Spanking children for misbehavior affects them negatively
  • Children were found to be affected with mental health problems, difficulties in cognition and aggressive behavior.
  • Study performed by researchers from University of Michigan and University of Texas
'Spare the rod and spoil the child' says the age-old adage, implying the significance of spanking a child as a punishment for misbehavior. This could do more harm to the child than good by instilling feeling of fear, or leading to cognitive difficulties as the child grows up. What's worse, the child could develop aggressive behavior that is asserted over fellow mates.
Spanking by Parents Affects the Mental Health of Children
Spanking by Parents Affects the Mental Health of Children

There is considerable debate on the effect of spanking on children and their growth, with many people abhorring it and with some people encouraging it. A study by a group of researchers from The University of Michigan and The University of Texas has shown that there were no positive effects associated with this method of parenting. Furthermore, it leads to harmful effects on the growth and development of the child.

‘Positive parenting leads to a positively happy child.’
The study involved a meta analysis of research papers on spanking that was conducted over a period of 50 years and was published in the Journal of Family Psychology. According to this study, spanking, a form of physical exertion on the child, was carried out as a parenting method to discipline the child or for compliance from the child. This, however, leads to a series of effects that affected the child negatively.

Grogan-Kaylor, one of the co-authors of the study said "The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,"

Spanking was defined by the authors as the method of using the palm of the hand to hit the extremities like hands and legs or hitting the bottom. The negative effects noticed were:
  • Mental health problems
  • Spanking their children when they become parents
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Depression
  • A change in cognitive ability
There has never been any evidence supporting the benefits of spanking but the practice has been in use for centuries. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 80% of parents spank their child.

The recent study by Grogan - Kaylor studied the effect of spanking and physical abuse on children and found that they elicited the same response. This alarming fact should be an indication to parents to stop spanking their children as it is being equated to physical abuse.

Why do Parents Spank their Child?:

A parent spanking a child causes a lot of trauma as the child feels unprotected at home. The child's own flesh and blood, the parent, who should be a protector is now the reason behind the induced physical pain . Here are some of the reasons why parents continue to spank their children.
  • Parents believe that they were spanked by their parents and that they turned out fine
  • The aggression incurred due to spanking in childhood is inturn taken on their children
  • Some parents believe that it makes a 'man' out of their son
  • Irresponsible behavior, when punished by spanking, will defer the child from ever doing it again, for fear of being spanked.
  • Parents watch other parents do it and feel that they should too
  • Maternal depression that leads to aggression exerted on the child
  • Alcoholics who are abusive at home.
Negative Effects of Spanking: A child exposed to spanking at home equates it to physical abuse and it results in a lot of negative effects, which may not be expected by the parent. Children believe that
  • Since parents are bigger and in a position of authority their aggressive behavior is accepted. This leads to such children exerting aggressive behavior on children younger or smaller than them. This could lead to bullying at school.
  • Alternatively, children may grow up to be withdrawn or fearful, with poor self-confidence, especially if they were spanked in front of other people.
  • Children who are spanked by their parents often develop poor cognitive abilities.
  • The child may never be able to open up to the parent about problems faced in life, which leads to dependence on friends.
A study by Arya Ansari and Robert Crosnoe titled "Children's Elicitation of Changes in Parenting during the Early Childhood Years" studied parenting methods that included low monetary input, excessive television watching hours and spanking. This study, conducted in the U.S, showed that more number of African American parents resorted to this method of parenting. Parenting methods improved when the child showed less aggressive behavior and more reading abilities during the first few school years. Such studies show that many parents are unaware of the ill effects of parenting and refrain from spanking if their child shows behavior that they seem fine.

Increased awareness needs to be created to prevent parents from spanking their children and to correct misbehavior by being patient with them. Instead of hitting the child, parents can resort to techniques that infuse the child with positivity rather than negativity.

Tips for Positive Parenting:

1) Go down to the level of the child and look at them in the eye

2) Be firm but stay kind

3) Explain the situation out to the child and let them know how their behavior hurt them

4) Don't put up with disrespectful behavior and tell the child that you will be available in the next room once they decide to speak more respectfully.

5) Give the child enough time before you take them out or prepare them for a relative or a friend's visit home. Children often respond unhappily when they feel that they have no control over a situation or are forced to do something. Include them in preparing for the visit and this inclusion will get them feeling a lot more pleasant.

Children tend to mirror the behavior of parents and when positive attitudes are displayed by parents, children tend to be positive too. The current research reinforces the negative influence of spanking on children which should be done away with to raise a positive generation.


1) Arya Ansari and Robert Crosnoe "Children's Elicitation of Changes in Parenting during the Early Childhood Years", Early Child Res Q. 2015 3rd Quarter; 32: 139-149.

2) Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A. "Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses.", J Fam Psychol. 2016 Apr


Source: Medindia

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