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April 13th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Is spanking counterproductive?

(CNN) – Spanking is most certainly a hot-button issue. Many parents still believe in it, but the American Academy of Pediatrics does not.

A new study shows spanking your kids may not only be ineffective, but it can backfire. Researchers at Tulane University found children who were spanked frequently at 3-years-old were 50 percent more likely to become aggressive by the age of five.

Catherine Taylor co-authored the study published in the Journal of Pediatrics and she joined us on Tuesday's American Morning to discuss its findings.


Filed under: Controversy
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Cara

    Very well said, P'Gell. Particularly with respect to the "I was spanked and I'm fine" group – who aren't fine at all; I've also found them to be all too often, rigid, unimaginative, hostile, mean and to lack problem solving skills. Their skills in this area generally revolve around shouting that they are right and calling anyone else an idiot. Not exactly skills.

    I won't take a parent to task who out of fear or terror for the life of his child, swats the child on a well-cushioned rear when the child runs into the street, but short of life-threatening danger, I am in agreement with you.

    And very glad you didn't let your FIL overpower your better judgment. You might offer some of you methods for parenting without violence to those who feel that spanking often – or as one poster said "if the spanking didn't work they weren't spanked hard enough" (oh boy) is the way to go.

    Or blog and offer them there – not every parent has your ability and many will continue doing what they've always done if they aren't given lots of alternate ideas easily and quickly – most people are indeed lazy, and since "everyone says it's fine" won't trouble themselves to find other ways – but MIGHT if those ways are easily accessible.

    April 17, 2010 at 5:33 am |
  2. mimi

    if the child is getting spanked, maybe it was because they were aggressive and loud to begin with and other disciplinary actions did not work???

    April 16, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  3. I'm A Mom

    How about Michael Buchanan we raise our children to be productive members in society. That know right from wrong. I agree with Lucian in that children are learing and it is up to us as parents to teach them. Why don't we just reward everyone for bad behavior. How about we reward criminals who steal or kill because they felt like defying society. Thats sounds about as crazy as telling me not to spank my child when he defies my authority.

    April 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  4. Michael Buchanan

    How about not having kids? Would it be so awful if the human race went the way of the do-do?

    April 14, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  5. P'Gell

    I do not believe in hitting children. Let's REMOVE the word "spank" from our vocabulary. Call it what is is: HITTING!

    A good, intelligent, imaginative and empathetic parents can parent well without HITTING. If many of us can have good, well behaved, happy children without HITTING, than why can't the rest of you?

    I HATE when people say "I was spanked and I'm fine." I find most of these people are rigid, unimaginative, hostile, mean and lack problem solving skills. They are NOT "fine." They are damaged, as are all children who were hit.

    I also hear "I respected my dad for spanking me." I find when THESE people talk, they are actually saying "I was scared to death of my father." My husband is one of these men, and NO ONE cried when his father died, NO ONE. Not his sons, not his wife, certainly not his daughters in law (both of whom had been reprimanded by this man for not hitting our own children.) his grandchildren didn't cry either, as he had threatend to HIT THEM. (Which ENDED and any all "babysitting" from this household. When my MIL asked "why cant' I babysit?" I made it clear, my children will NOT be hit, and they will NOT be threatened.) My dh and his brother got into drink and drugs, they got into LOTS of trouble, they got arrested the ONLY thing the hitting did was to make them make sure they didn't get caught by their dad. Their behavior was worse than most people who were NEVER hit.

    My four children have never been into drugs, they do well in school, they are respectful and they KNOW how to show other people empathy (which is more than I can say for my abusive FIL.)

    The thing is NO ONE can agree on the difference between "abuse" and "spanking." WHY? Because it differs depending on whether YOU are a HITTING parent or not. IMO, ANY HITTING IS ABUSE.

    Children CAN be raised well without hitting. It has been proven. It is just MORE WORK. Only LAZY PARENTS feel they need to resort to physical violence.

    April 14, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  6. Scott

    I'm not an advocate for spanking, however, I think that this particular person (Catherine Taylor) was the wrong one to speak about this researcher. Researchers should come across as non-biased, but when she started naming off websites that advocated a position and giving directions to other sites about how "Time Outs" work I just assumed that she was an advocate for one opinion who taylored her research to match her already formed opinion.

    April 14, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  7. Greg

    Children who continue to misbehave after a spanking are probably not being spanked hard enough to get the point across. Growing up in the late 70s/early 80s to non-hippy parents, I received a few spankings during my developmental years. I am far from aggressive. In fact, I tend to avoid conflict at all costs. In my personal opinion, the aggressive nature seen today in children has more to do with "Time Out" and lack of parenting than it does the occasional butt-whooping.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  8. Kevin

    I agree with both Judy and Darrell. I'll add that some kids respond to spankings, others do not. We use a combination fo spanking, time outs, and limitation of priviledges.

    Spanking is a last resort for us and used only if one or the other is being repetitively willful or endangers the his or her sibling or playmates in some way.

    I think it's the height of foolishness to rule out spanking altogther, and believe the converse is also true – it should not be the initial nor the only punishment used.

    The problem with these "studies" is that many times you simply have a researcher who is overly invested in the result. Here, it is evident that the reserchers were anti-spanking before they even began the research.

    Also, I'd like for these researchers to come study my two nephews who were never spanked. Of all the nephews and nieces in my family, they are the worst behaved and show the least respect for not only their elder, but their playmates and peers. Their parents are an attorney and a doctor...so naturally they knew better how to raise their kids than we did, right? So, they never spanked and their kids are complete insolents. I hold that a couple of whacks along the way would have done both of them some good.

    April 13, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  9. CJB122

    Believing these studies cause parental guilt trips.

    April 13, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  10. Lucian

    The study puts the cart before the horse.
    Unless the study is about dysfunctional, violent families, children are spanked only for bad behavior.
    The fact that problem children at age 3 are 50% more likely to be problem children at age 5 is a no brainer.
    To me this study says that spanking is very effective, improving behavior from age 3 to age 5 for 50% of the cases.
    There are few 3 year olds you can reason with and coercion and rewarding are often the only corrective methods available.
    If your child follows you blindly and does not require corrective action then you are a lucky minority.
    The so called bad behavior in children is often a show of independence, self confidence and parents authority rejection.
    Because of the authority rejection element, for the vast majority of children, coercion is the only practical way to fix bad behavior.
    One would ask, how about rewarding instead of coercing. Well, if rewarding means for example to give the child candy then you run into possible health issues like diabetes, obesity tooth decay etc.

    April 13, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  11. Nicole

    Spankings or whippings as my mother would call them work. I was spanked when I got out of a line as a child and as I got older they were rare. I have a friend with a 2 year old daughter and she gets spanked when she does wrong and she understands and you best believe she doesn't do it again and is teaching her to mature and to grow. The only children that become aggressive after spankings are the ones whose parents are not consistent in their teachings. If you say no one minute and then the next minute you're too tired to say no or to chastise then they grow up knowing that it's wrong, but you won't care if they do it. Eventually it may become ok. Consistency is key.

    April 13, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  12. Greg

    People aren't paying attention to the study:

    1) A baseline was done to account for the level of aggressiveness of the children at age 3. This takes it out as a variable.

    2) CNN has a terrible title for this. It should be "Frequent spanking leads to more aggressive behavior". If you're spanking you're child less than once a month, the AAP doesn't consider that an issue. When you're spanking your child multiple times a month, it demonstrates that you aren't using an effective tactic.

    3) There are also studies linking having a low IQ to being spanked frequently as a child. Maybe that is why some people don't understand? The irony.

    April 13, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  13. W. J.

    I don't think that you can narrow behavior down to spanking. That is completely absurd. There are entirely too many inputs that can have an affect on a child's personality and higher than normal aggression.

    I am pretty sure that society as a hole has taken a turn for the worse, and this will just help add to it. Seriously, you people are completely shut off from the rest of normal society. Get out of your bubbles and your gated neighborhoods to see society for how it really is, instead of behind numbers and books.

    I am 28 years old and my father handcrafted my own paddle when I was a child. I have yet to ever felt the need to become physically violent with another person.

    The sad part about this, is that those who blindly follow the media will believe that this is true.

    April 13, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  14. Marcus Walton

    The real issue is that people need to take notice of how most analysts and a lot of scientific research seems to take God's word out of most of life's circumstances. We must be careful when trying to implement scientific study or anything else to over run , or to over ride God's commandments. Spanking is necessary and also effective when used the right way. It's supposed to be used when correction is needed, but not for parents to take their frustrations out on their children when life is hard for them. If God is for it, then I am for it. We are not God and who are we to blot out his commandments because of our own personal analysis. I know plenty of parents who spank when needed and their children are better for it.

    April 13, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  15. Darrel

    The parents answered their survey about how many times they spanked their kids in the last month. What does this lady think that parents are randomly spanking their kids. You spank when a child is out of line. Has anyone thought about the fact that the children were obviously more aggressive from the gate, that's why they got spanked more! I have 3 children, one has been spanked more times than I can count, the other two I could probably count on both hands how many times they have been spanked. That's the difference between children and their personalities.

    April 13, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  16. James

    Was the aggression level of the children documented at age 3 to create a baseline or were all the children assumed to have normal aggression levels? The children that were spanked more may have already exhibited high aggression levels at age 3, 4 and 5. I haven't seen any information on this aspect of the study.

    April 13, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  17. Judy

    First off – I did spank my children when they were small. There were certain lines that they could not cross – certain actions were absolutely forbidden. Like playing too close to the road, getting in the medicine cabinet or under the kitchen sink. Sometimes we do not get a second chance as parents. Usually by the age of 5 my children knew who the parent was – and I ment it when I said no. Are my children aggressive? My children are the most loving – kindest adults you would want to meet. In their childhood I was never before a juvinelle judge, their grades were always great, they were respectful to their teachers, they were not and are not bullies, never contacted by a teacher for bad behavior. Each has a favorite charity as adults and very active. I have 3 children – and if my memory is correct – I never spanked over 5 times in all their lives. Spanking was the exception not the rule – but it was needed from time to time. Perhaps the person who put the report together on spanking and aggression. Maybe that person should look at the movies, games and even TV commercials are children are exposed to when they are growing up.

    April 13, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  18. Jim

    I'd love to know what these ' Experts" are smoking – I was spanked as a child & I am not aggressive – opinionated yes, but aggressive no. In 47 years I have yet to hit anyone – there have been a few that I have thought about hitting, the worst they got was a very stern reprimand. According to the "Experts", I should be in jail with a rap sheet as long as I am tall for physical abuse of others. I know of kids that have Not been spanked & should have been, They are little monsters & think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want to whomever they want because they know they will only get a "Time Out" If My Dad or GrandFather , Teachers were alive today they would be Thrown in Jail for "Child abuse"

    April 13, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
  19. William

    Another pseudostudy which claims to have controls in place. In fact, no controls were in place. This study reveals absolutely no insight on whether or not spanking is counter productive. It is the same type of study that falsely claimed that vacine caused autism. And the dribble put out by the interviewers is just as bad. Where were real questions on how she conducted the study or how she verified the quality of responses? Anecdotal responses rarely withstand scrutiny. Was there any surveillance to get some sense of the validity of statement being made?

    April 13, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  20. D T

    If you are spanking your kid frequently, it obviously isn't working.

    April 13, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  21. Kevin, NY

    I'm totally against spanking your kids in almost every situation, but the way this is presented, the study sounds seriously flawed... if they don't define a difference between beating your kid with a stick (!) and a very light slap, and don't delve into otherwise treating your children aggressively: dragging, forcing them to sit, etc. Also, it seems like a chicken-and-egg study because if a child is inherently overactive, attention deficit or just plain wild, their parents are more likely to go a little bit too far in punishment... so which came first, aggressive kid or aggressive parent. Finally, the accounts in the report are coming from parents not independent observers, right? Well obviously a parent is going to say yeah the child is misbehaving, being bratty, or a bully, because it JUSTIFIES the reason for spanking in the first place.

    Maybe I'm wrong though, and the person presenting the study is just not a very good spokesperson!

    April 13, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  22. Kelly Burris, PhD

    If you spank your child you have begun the process of making the equivalent of a junk yard dog. The only reason one would have for spanking a child is there is simply not an alternative.

    There is not only an alternative but one that is incredibly simple and produces a long list of benefits for the child as opposed to long list of negatives which is what spanking does.

    The question you need to ask as a parent is do I want to make a junk yard dog or do I want to produce a loving happy child/adult? If you want to produce a junk yard dog spank your child.

    Kelly Burris, PhD

    April 13, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  23. Doug

    If one defines spanking as physical discipline by a parent who is _in_control_of_their_own_emotions_ – then I believe spanking can,be beneficial. Talking to a three year old about not touching the hot stove is not going to be effective - a controlled slap on the hand, or even a spanking - can teach the child not to do that behavior in a way that is less damaging than actually touching the stove. Same applies to other situations where the child could put themselves in danger.

    (and yes, the parents should do everything they can to prevent this – but in the real world, parents do get distracted )

    But - the key variable that never seems to be controlled for in these studies is something I'd call the Hugs-to-spanks ratio. If parents are primarily using hugs and positive reinforcement, then an occasional spanking is 1) going to be very effective in getting the child's attention and changing their behavior – and 2) it is not going to do them any lasting harm – because it is not the predominant environment the child is living in.

    On the other hand – if spanking and negative reinforcement are the primary tools a parent is using – then yes, this is going to be harmful for the reasons given in the study.

    Bumper sticker version - It's not about spanking, it's all about how often the child is hugged instead of spanked.

    ON the other hand – a parent who's striking a child when they are not in control of themselves is (arguably) committing assault.

    April 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  24. lisa

    This is ambiguous. How were the children spanked? Why? Were they spanked because they ticked off their parents? Were they spanked while the parent was screaming and yelling at them? Did talking and teaching acompany the spanking? Were the children that were more aggressive that way because they had been spanked often or is it possible that they are naturally rebelious and aggressive therefore they get spanked more often than others? Spanking as a tool accompanying teaching is not equal to a parent who can't control their emotions and use spanking in leau of teaching their children.

    April 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  25. blahblasted

    I would like to see more information on the so called studies. I could study a tree for 10 years but that doesn't make me an expert on that tree by any means. Spanking a child requirers more than a study at the age of 5 behavior. How did the child react to different punishments? Was the child too spoiled. Was the child from a large or small family. Come on, there are way too many things that effect a childs behavior and way too many things that would need to be studied for many many years to make it accurate. Let the parent's be on their choice of punishment even spanking. Don't we have enough people telling us how, when, where etc... Too many laws already on personal issues. Stay out of it already.

    April 13, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  26. David

    Well of course, this study is conducted by someone who is avowedly opposed to spanking. When scientists take a postion before gathering the evidence, then the results should be discarded as unreliable. When several such studies independently produced all give the same result – THEN you'll have something that is news-worthy.

    April 13, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  27. Charles

    This story is a bunch of contrived BS. I was spanked several times as a young boy and I never got aggressive. Nor did any of my neighbor friends that also got spanked. The bible says "Spare the rod and Spoil the child."
    while I don't believe in using a switch or rod I do fully believe that the round of the hand on the round of the buttocks will do the job properly.

    \But don't ever let me see you hit a child with a clenched fist. You will regret it for life.

    April 13, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  28. Sabrina

    Non-spanking is going to be a very hard sell for most American parents. Mind you, I didn't spank my daughter and she turned out ok, but I've seen kids who definitely need the occasional whap on the rump to be kept in line. Corporal punishment shouldn't be the first thing a parent does, but I don't think it should be always ruled out either. A perfect example of when corporal punishment is effective: 3 y/o kid runs out into the street. "Reasoning" with the kid, time out and taking privileges away won't help. A swat will. Why? Because kid associates swat with the incident and knows if they run in the street there are consequences.

    April 13, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  29. Robert B

    The author of the study states their information comes from the mothers reports. In my opinion this is where this study is very flawed. In my opinion, mothers who are wiling to be honest about spanking their kids are going to be more honest about their kids behavior. Where mothers who don't spank are less likely to be honest about their kids being monsters.

    April 13, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  30. Mamared

    No its not at all. I have 5 children and the oldest I raised determined not to spank is the one I had most difficulty with. I think it depends on how parents use spanking. I have rarely had to spank the others but I will when children purposely disobey me and yes, they are to obey me and do what I ask them to do and behave appropriately. I believe its the lack of spanking has made a great case for the wide range of disfunction; from weak children that cling and are dependent on parents and are totally unprepared for a life of independence to children that have no fear of consequence to children to disrespectful children being raised by parents that feel a need to be their kids' friend. I believe that friendship can be a benefit of the parent-child relationship but is not necessary. Parents have a function and it just seems now that society deems that the whims of a "child" are more productive to running a household than the loving consistency of a responsible parent. Not in my home, no thank you.

    April 13, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  31. Penny

    I work in a children's hospital and see many different situations, some created by this no spanking issue. We have gone from a restrictive society to a permissive society without any real learning of the difference. Some confuse spanking with beating. Keep trying better ways to raise your own kids, you have to live with them. Tell those who are telling you how to raise your kids their way to mind their own business. Unless they want to pay for the legal fines incurred by your out of control child, government intervention included.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  32. I'm A Mom

    I would have to say that it depends on the child. When my child was around 3 he did not understand timeout or 1,2,3 counting. A swat on the bottom he understood. It was not the first thing I would do but if he persisted with the behavior he would get a swat. Now that he is 5 he understands counting and time and it is very effective with him. I don't spank anymore. Is he aggressive, yes, but he is also a boy so I don't know how much of that is biological or from the swats he recieved.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  33. abigail

    spanking itself is a sign of aggressiveness . it follows the child will be more aggressive if it has been subjected to aggressive punishment.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  34. Chris

    I know! When my two-year-old acts in willful defiance, I will take her aside and privately (I don't want to embarrass her) inform her that her actions are undesirable and that if she wants to be a productive member of society then she needs to understand the concept of authority and following directions. Oh, and after I'm done, I will give her praise because of how well she is doing because I know she is trying her hardest to do the right thing.

    April 13, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  35. Marianne

    I'd say it's not about whether spanking a kid is right or wrong, it's more about the conditions in which spanking takes place...
    I got spanked as a kid, and didn't suffer from it at all, I am not aggressive and turned out to be an emotionally balanced adult. I just assume I got spanked (occasionnally) for a good reason and I always knew the reason behind it : unacceptable behaviour ! So yes, I deserved it... and it taught me well !

    April 13, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  36. jmz

    How bout this for a novel idea? How about we let parents actually parent. We have society telling kids they can do what they want and no responsibilities. We have punk baby momma and daddy out there spunkin out brats left and right. And not raising them. Then the idiot libs proceed to tie the hands of parents who have the audacity to actually care enough about their kids to dicipline them. Spanking works in some cases not in others. Quit trying legislate everything and raise your own kids. This nanny state mentality makes me want to puke

    April 13, 2010 at 10:05 am |