What About The Research That Shows Spanking Decreases Mental Illness?

Before I get started on the spanking issue again, I must provide a disclaimer so everyone is very clear about the most important thing for me in this entire debate.

I do not support, advocate, or condone physical abuse against children. Ever.

For those of you who may be new to this blog, you might not know that I have a specialization in working with trauma and children. So this issue is actually very close to my heart.

I know. I know. Some of you are reeling and silently screaming- “But spanking your child is physical abuse!” I get it. I completely understand where you are coming from.

Here’s where I am coming from.

For the last ten years my focus has been on studying children: their development, behavior, personality, discipline, mental illness, treatment, trauma, learning, social skills, and I could increase the list ad infinitum. Most of you know that I’m a scientist. I’m sure it’s partly what draws you here in the first place. I don’t get swayed easily by passing trends or by the media’s interpretations of research. I approach my decisions in parenting much like I approach working with children in a clinical setting.

This means that I do my research. All of it. And all sides of it. I wouldn’t be a very good scientist if I only researched the studies that supported my own views and philosophies. In academics, we would call this biased research. Whenever you embark on any sort of study, you have to examine the bulk of the research in the area.

So, back to spanking. Yes, there are studies that show the detrimental effects of physical punishment. Numerous ones, in fact. However, the issues with almost all of these studies are the same issues that I mentioned previously. Namely, spanking is not clearly defined within the context of the study. It’s unclear and vague.

For example, there is a difference between being spanked three times throughout your entire childhood and being spanked three times day for your entire childhood. Some kids are spanked with an object on a bare bottom which leaves abrasions whereas others are spanked with a hand on a bottom covered in a diaper. Some kids are spanked only for safety reasons whereas others are spanked for any type of misbehavior. Some spankings result in rage filled beatings. Others do not.

But if the study question asks: Were you spanked as a child? All of the above individuals would answer the same, but it is clear they have had very different experiences.

Believe it or not, there is just as much research on the side of the spectrum that demonstrates spanking can be an effective form of discipline when applied correctly. In one of the largest long term studies conducted, Baumrind at UC Berkeley examined over 100 families over a ten year period. She followed them from childhood through adolescence. Her results showed that there were “no detrimental effects for normative physical punishment.” Unlike most studies, hers was one that separated kids according to severity and frequency of spanking.

Other studies have showed that kids were who spanked received better grades and had more positive outlooks in life, developed a more altruistic attitude, and well adjusted. In addition, there’s quite a few showing children who were spanked as toddlers report being happier, less instances of depression and drug use, and more likely to attend college.

My point in this is to show that there is scientific evidence that supports spanking as well as scientific evidence that does not support it. And yes, the same issues I mentioned above about defining spanking apply to these studies as well.

Here’s what it comes down to. For me. And hopefully for you. We look at what is out there. We look at what others have said or not said. And then ultimately, we do what feels best for us. We go with our own heart in our parenting decisions. This is why the comments section from the previous post is loaded with emotion and debate. Did you notice that no one is debating the science? Everyone is debating from an emotional standpoint.

The reason for this is because we make informed decisions that are a combination of what we know, what we’ve learned, and our heart. I’ll be back soon to tell you how I arrived at my informed decision about spanking Gus. I planned on getting to it here, but this post has gotten entirely too long.

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