Should Parents Spank Their Child?

Children need punishment in order to help them learn what is right and wrong. There are different types of punishments a child can receive, such as timeouts, the taking away of toys or electronics, and spanking. Defined as “hitting a child on the bottom with an open hand,” spanking is something no parent should do to his or her child (Gershoff, 2013, p. 133). Parents should not spank their children, because it does not increase immediate compliance, reduce aggression, nor allow the child to internalize the disciplinary message.

According to Elizabeth Gershoff, (2013), one of the main goals parents hope to achieve when spanking their child is to punish the child’s bad behavior. However, Gershoff (2013) explained that data has shown that spanking is not a more effective tool than timeouts for immediate submission from children, thus parents can achieve the same goal through the non-violent punishment form, timeouts. Another reason research found that shows spanking is not an effective disciplinary measure for children is that when spanked, children have many negative emotions and are not able to processes everything they are receiving. When spanked, “[c]hildren report fear, anger, and sadness”; these feelings interfere with the child’s “ability to internalize parents’ disciplinary messages” (2013, p. 135).

Therefore, the feelings children have when spanked, hinders the message they are supposed to get from the punishment, thereby helping to make spanking ineffective. A behavior that is “most likely to elicit spanking is when a child acts aggressively” (2013, p. 134). However, relevant studies have demonstrated a connection between spanking and more aggression in children, including spanking being consistently predictive of children’s aggression over time, regardless of aggression when they were spanked (2013). Thus, an aggressive punishment of spanking does not decrease aggression in children, only predictive of more aggression over time, nor does spanking work more effectively than a non-violent punishment with immediate compliance, while also interfering with the ability to internalize the disciplinary message. Therefore, spanking is not an effective parenting tool.

I had a conversation with a person who believes spanking to be an effective tool for children seven and younger. Her reasoning for this stance is that children over seven can be reasoned with, such that when the parent can explain to them what they did wrong and why it was not appropriate and the child will understand, because they have the mental capabilities too, then punishment may not be needed. While a child under the age of seven cannot comprehend the reasoning, due to their maturity level, so spanking enforces the sense of “do not do that, it is not appropriate.” When she heard one of the reasons from Gershoff (2013) that spanking has not been found to be more effective than timeouts at increasing the child’s immediate compliance to commands, she still found spanking to be a better option than timeouts.

The second reason I told her as to why spanking is not an effective practice, is that what the child feels when spanked interferes with their ability to process the disciplinary message (Gershoff, 2013). The third reason she was told as to why spanking is not effective, how it does not reduce aggression, and how it consistently predicts increases in children’s aggression over time regardless of their aggression when spanked (Gershoff, 2013). After hearing the three reasons as to why spanking is not an effective tool, she had a question regarding the research; she wanted to know if the last reason was hypothetical or an actual finding. When informed that it is a predictive finding, not a causal one, because to find a causal connection between aggression and spanking would be to violate ethical guidelines, she decided that her thoughts on spanking have not changed, that it is still an effective tool for children seven years and younger. Even knowing that to find causal proof of the connection between spanking and aggression is unethical, she would still want it before she trusts the predictive finding.

Her reasoning being that even though there have been consistent predictions of increased aggression over time with the use of spanking, it is still just a prediction, not a “fact.” Her other reasons, for still believing in spanking as an effective tool, is that spanking is immediate, a spank and then it is done, while with a timeout if the child does not stay in the timeout then other problems may come up, such as listening, and then the punishment will just keep going. Therefore, the reasons I thought were most compelling to not spank did not compel her to no longer believe in spanking as an effective practice. Although she did not change her mind on spanking, our conversation was civil, and she said that I gave her a lot to think about.

The best way for researchers to share information regarding spanking is in popular magazines, for instance the ones in doctor’s offices, as well as daytime talk shows. The reason for this is that the message will get to a wider variety of people, not just people who are looking for the information, but anyone who reads those magazines or watches those shows, as well as to the people who are looking for information regarding parenting. In addition, if people want to know more about the topic they can look it up. However, the challenges in doing this are popular magazines and daytime talk shows may not always be reputable, and if people on their own decide to look into the topic, they may not go to reputable sites, and could get conflicting information, such as spanking being effective.

Additional research on the topic of spanking should be done. Researchers could look into the immediate predictions to the consequences of spanking. The reason for this is that spanking appears to be an immediate way to get a child to comply, even when evidence shows that it is not more effective than a timeout at immediate compliance. If immediate negative side effects on the child are found, then less people may believe in it as an effective practice. Therefore, researchers should look into correlations of spanking and negative effects on children in the short-run.