A new study led by Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas has shown that using physical force to “discipline” children actually causes them to be more aggressive and antisocial in the future. This is the latest in a long line of studies showing that corporal punishment has a damaging impact on children and that it is not an effective method of instruction either.
In this most recent study, which was published in Psychological Science, researchers divided over 12 thousand children into two different groups based on their family history, since smacking kids around for the purpose of the study would not be ethical.
” The question of whether parents’ spanking causes children’s externalizing behavior problems poses such a challenge because randomized experiments of spanking are unethical, and correlational studies cannot rule out potential selection factors. This study used propensity score matching based on the lifetime prevalence and recent incidence of spanking in a large and nationally representative sample ( N = 12,112) as well as lagged dependent variables to get as close to causal estimates outside an experiment as possible,” the abstract of the study said.
The study concluded that “Whether children were spanked at the age of 5 years predicted increases in externalizing behavior problems by ages 6 and 8, even after the groups based on spanking prevalence or incidence were matched on a range of sociodemographic, family, and cultural characteristics and children’s initial behavior problems. These statistically rigorous methods yield the conclusion that spanking predicts a deterioration of children’s externalizing behavior over time.”
Speaking in an interview with The Independent, Gershoff explained her findings more in depth, saying that, “It affected how often they argue with other children, fight, act impulsively and disturb activities in the classroom. What smacking teaches them is that when the parent is around, they should behave, otherwise they will be hit. The child does not learn how to manage themselves when the parent is not around.”
“All of us get frustrated when things don’t go our way. Our job as parents is to teach children how to handle that. Smacking isn’t teaching those things,” Dr. Gershoff added.
For the most part, every generation treats their children with just a little bit more respect then they saw from their parents, especially since the 20th century. Physical child abuse, infanticide, and child slavery have been extremely common throughout history. However, in the past century society has become more conscious of the value of human life and those horrors are much less common. Physical child abuse still takes place today, but it is more isolated due to the fear of legal punishment and its recent taboo nature.
However, there is still a great deal of emotional and psychological abuse that is dished out to most children, even by the most well-intentioned adults. Children are a minority group who remain second-class citizens in the eyes of most of the world. Their actions are scrutinized, their opinions are ignored and their existence is seen as not much more than a burden. Many adults fear and envy children, even if they don’t realize it. This is because the child is a free spirit that represents change, which the adult has been trained to fear. They suppress their fear by attempting to tame and train the child, just as they themselves were tamed and trained. This process sadly results in a world filled with confused and frustrated adults who are quick to resort to aggression.