Pediatrics Group Gives Stark Warning Against Parents Spanking Children

Pediatricians argue that the corporal method of discipline harms mental health, and isn't effective in changing undesired behaviors.

Two parents have a heated discussion as a child clings to a stuffed animal in the foreground.
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Pediatricians argue that the corporal method of discipline harms mental health, and isn't effective in changing undesired behaviors.

The debate is an ongoing one that parents have had for many years now: is spanking your kid wrong?

An ABC News poll from last November suggests that most parents in America are fine with the practice of physical discipline. Sixty-five percent of Americans approve of spanking children as a means of discipline in their home.

That same poll seems to suggest people are not fine when someone else does the disciplining: only 26 percent said that teachers should be allowed to use physical punishment for kids in schools, while 72 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of parents) said that shouldn’t happen.

Most parents said within that poll that they do occasionally spank their parents, with 50 percent admitting they do and 45 percent saying they don’t. Corporal punishment of children isn’t illegal in the United States, but a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics says the practice should stop if they care one iota about their kids’ mental health. The group is also urging parents who do so to cease verbally abusing their children as well.

“Aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term,” the article abstract, published in Pediatrics, stated. “With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children.”

Dr. Robert Sege, the first author on the new policy statement for the organization, explained how the policy against spanking children has changed in the past two decades, according to reporting from CNN.

“In the 20 years since that policy was first published, there’s been a great deal of additional research, and we’re now much stronger in saying that parents should never hit their child and never use verbal insults that would humiliate or shame the child.”

“This is much stronger than the previous advice,” Sege added. “The new policy encourages pediatricians to discuss the data about different kinds of discipline with parents so, of course, they can make their own decisions in how they chose to raise their children.”

Spanking doesn’t have the outcomes that parents want it to have, the study suggested, adding that spanking especially aggressive children can lead to dire outcomes, including depression in adolescence. Corporal punishment is even linked to children having less gray matter in their brains.

That’s a very important aspect that cannot go overlooked. In addition to aiding children with motor skills and other important life functions, additional studies have concluded that a person’s intelligence might be directly related to the amount of gray matter that’s floating around in their brain, according to the publication Nature. A depletion of gray matter could adversely affect how well kids are able to problem solve, for example, creating much greater problems as they grow older.

Spanking is deemed by the pediatricians in this most recent study as being detrimental to a kid’s well-being, damaging their relationships with their parents, which are important to their future ability to forge relationships with others in the future, according to reporting from the New York Times. But does corporal punishment work at all?

Hardly. “Certainly you can get a child’s attention, but it’s not an effective strategy to teach right from wrong,” Sege added.