Or actually, don’t. But more on that later. I recently read a short article in TIME. (For the blog diehards out there: Reading a short article is a bit like reading 100 consecutive tweets, but more coherent.) This particular article was about research conducted by Tulane University where they found that spanking children makes them more likely to act out more in the long run.
The leader of this research, professor Catherine Taylor, was the first researcher who could control for other factors that would lead to increased acting out of children such as: alcohol and drug abuse, spousal abuse and ‘whether the mother considered an abortion while pregnant’. After cancelling these effects out professor Taylor found that “The odds of a child being more aggressive at the age of 5 increased by 50% if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began.”
What I did not find in the article, nor in the original publication in Pediatrics was whether or not the spanking parents were tested for (communicational) parental skills. Physical aggression, such as spanking, usually takes place when the aggressor feels impotent to handle the situation otherwise. In that light; spanking could be seen as weakness. The parent who feels the need to spank to be able to ‘correct’ their child’s behavior could therefor be labelled as ‘a weak parent’.
Cause and effect
Researchers, TIME and also the AAP all conclude from this study that spanking has a purely negative effect on children’s behavior. That’s a plausible hypothesis, but it very much remains unproven. Both the spanking and the increased acting out of the children may both be effects from the same cause; the parent does not have sufficient parental skills. If a parent is good at parenting there wouldn’t be any need for spanking anyway, would there?
Teach what they should rather than what they shouldn’t
There are many western countries (specifically in Europe) where it is forbidden by law to spank you children. Conclusions such as the ones drawn from the Tulane University Study are a basis for such legislation. however, it may be possible that when you take away (criminalize) the only means a weak parent has for correcting a child, this child will act out even more in the future. It is still unproven whether or not spanking is the lesser of two evils, the alternative being that a child grows up without ever having been set any boundaries at all. As we all will have seen in reality tv programs, it’s possible to learn certain tricks tot quickly improve on parental skills. We should focus on teaching those weaker parents on what they should do rather than on what they should not do.