Spanking: What do the Experts Say?

By: Keith


First off, I don’t generally put much weight into anything experts say.  My experience with certain types of experts is that they get a degree for the same reason a lot of insecure kids want to become cops; they just want the authority to do and say what they were thinking of doing and saying all along, not for the sake of research or altruism.  That being said though, it’s hard to distinguish authentic experts from the ones who have an agenda.  Thus, while their opinions are not completely convincing, their research is at least food for thought.   Spanking is definitely a gray area of study.  In psychological terms child development is so variable that almost all research is open to second guessing.  In a lot of instances experts can only make educated guesses.  On the subject of spanking, since it is a hot button issue, it’s reasonable to assume a fair number of these people have strong personal opinions on the matter which makes research even more suspect.  It isn’t that the research is all incorrect, it’s just that it’s spotty because of non-scientific, human reasons. 


The Near Consensus: 


A five year review of scientific literature by a group of 15 psychologists appointed by the American Psychological Association concludes, essentially, that spanking is bad.  Sandra A Graham-Berman, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, chairs the task force.  The findings are these:  There are correlations between spanking and increased childhood anxiety and depression, behavioral problems, and diminished cognitive development.  As I would have expected with such a gray area subject, there was dissent within the panel among several experts.  Robert E. Larzelere, Psychologist at Oklahoma State University, says the research is flawed.  He notes that the same negative outcomes in child development happen with virtually all forms of punishment, including spanking, time-outs, grounding or, for that matter, any other punitive measure.  While it appears the panel is correct that spanking produces negative outcomes, it seems they’ve glossed over the fact that everything else does too. 


My Unprofessional Opinion Based on the Research: 


A select statement can describe my punishment progression with the boys.  If I ground my kid, or I put him in time-out, and it doesn’t work, then I might as well spank him.  Whatever punishment I choose is going to produce similar results, and it’s not like we can go without punishing our kids for bad behavior.  I start with the most gentle of corrective measures and progress from there.   It seems that the real question these researchers should be asking is not what is the effect of punishment, rather what would be the effect of no punishment at all?  Nobody has asked that yet, have they?  Perhaps they’re too busy tripping over themselves with the assumption that we’re doing something wrong that they’ve neglected to research the negative consequences of not parenting. 


Scientific American Mind magazine, where I first read about this study, says 90% of American parents spank their kids.  Interestingly, 70% of the general population approves of spanking.  My own analysis of that data suggests that 10% of the general population are sanctimonious childless know-it-alls.  It also says that if spanking were really as bad as some of these scientists say it is then, since virtually the entire population does it (whether they admit it or not), we’re either a nation full of maladjusted unproductive delinquents or the experts — well, aren’t.  Another variable that was not reported on was the intent behind the spanking.  In my experience any punishment can be meted with malice as much as it can be done out of love, spanking included.  Did these experts consider the intent or severity?  I’d like to know.  Bad parents are bad whether they spank or not.  Conclusion:  I can do without the dictum from on high.  If nobody is going to divulge the complete research then I’m not inclined to trust the word of a child development expert.  


29 Responses to “Spanking: What do the Experts Say?”
  1. Jeremiah January 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm #

    The outcome of non-parenting and the severity of the punishment matching the crime (Physical or otherwise), I think, is definately a valid question. I wouldn’t say off hand that I am a Pro-spanking parent. My boy is only 10 mos., so spanking would be totally inappropriate at this age. I don’t know, perhaps the day will come when he needs a sharp swat to get his attention to avoid a much bigger pain in life. I see it this way: People have been spanking their kids as long as people have been having kids. We don’t live in a perfect society, but there has been much worse cultures than our own I think. The spanking hasn’t stopped but the trends in society continue to go up and down. Perhaps there is another factor we are overlooking?

    • Keith January 26, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

      Jeremiah, I think the first time I spanked Neil (my oldest) he was like 2 or something. I didn’t want to do it, but I remember him being so uncontrollable that I needed to do something to get his attention. That did it. He was surprised, but there were no hard feelings about it. It’s one of these things in parenting that, because of the modern controversy surrounding it, people have become unsure of. Like, suburbangranola said, it’s all about intent.

  2. suburbangranola January 26, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    I never thought I would be the type of parent who spanks. But I do. It is a very rare occurrence. But when my child is doing something that could cause him bodily harm (running into a parking lot, electrical outlet..etc… )and does not stop immediately when I say stop, I absolutely will spank. But there is a huge difference in spanking and abuse. I think my swat is far less damage to my child than some parents verbal abuse for the same offense. Haven’t you ever heard “are you stupid? why would you do something like that? what’s wrong with you?” coming from the mouth of some pissed off parent? That to me, now that’s abuse. It makes me sick to see the attitude that some parents show toward their children. No wonder some kids do not respect their parents or other adults. Respect is something one must earn. I promise you if you discipline your child with respect you will get the results you are hoping for.
    .-= suburbangranola´s last blog ..Pregnancy Update- 14 Weeks =-.

    • Keith January 26, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

      suburbangranola: I didn’t think I would be either. I was convinced I could handle anything without the use of force. Unfortunately it’s not realistic. My oldest boy can be completely emotion driven sometimes. He needs a wake up call on occasion. It only takes one and he calms right down. I think he actually appreciates it — gives him a chance to stop and think about what he’s doing :-) You’re right about the verbal abuse too. That kind of stuff is just over the top.

  3. PJ Mullen January 26, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    Only 10%, that number seems low :)

    But I agree with you, bad parents and going to be bad parents regardless of whether they spank or not. I’ve swatted my son on the backside a small handful of times, mostly to get his attention when he could get hurt and won’t heed my verbal warnings. I think it is a necessary tool in the parenting arsenal, but never in anger and only to be used in rare, extreme situations.

    My mother spanked me when I was little, and probably for good cause. It did nothing to affect our relationship as I got older.
    .-= PJ Mullen´s last blog ..Playoffs, sausage and blogging priests =-.

    • Keith January 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm #

      PJ: 10% might seem a bit low I guess :-) My dad used the belt on me a couple of times and I don’t have any hard feelings about it at all. I was a little delinquent. I had it coming! :-) LOL

  4. Brian Simpson January 26, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    Great post, Keith.

    I wrote a similar one on my dad blog back in October, and it generated an interesting debate. Here’s the link, if you’re interested:

    (Admin Edit: Brian, I went ahead and put the link in your URL. It’s a good article!)

    It’s definitely a controversial topic for dads, and one that each of us has to decide on his own.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. :)
    .-= Brian Simpson´s last blog ..Genuine excitement =-.

  5. Daddy Forever January 26, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    All kids are different. Some will respond well to spanking while others will behave even worst. As parents, we have to figure out what works with my kids. And even that changes over time.
    .-= Daddy Forever´s last blog ..We Have Twins =-.

  6. Dennis Yu January 26, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    I think spanking should be adapted to the workplace for misbehaving employees!

  7. Darryl January 27, 2010 at 12:15 am #

    I guess each set of parents makes that decision for themselves. My wife never believed in it before we had our first child. I did. Three years later she’s become a reluctant convert and I’ve only spanked my little girl once.

    I’ve seen way too many parents who let their children run the show. Not for me. In a perfect world I’d never spank my child but the world of parenting isn’t perfect. And when our child steps far enough over the line….she has to pay enough of a price that she won’t want to do it next time. It would be nice if denying her dinner or confining her to her room was enough but once in awhile that isn’t the case and things need to be taken further. To do anything less in my eyes would be failing my children as a parent…
    .-= Darryl´s last blog .."It’s Just That It’s Delicate…" =-.

    • Keith January 27, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

      You’ve just expressed what I’ve been trying to get across for these past few days. That, yes, nobody wants to spank their kids. But, the world requires certain measures that can’t be avoided sometimes. I agree with you 100% Thanks for the visit!

  8. BigLittleWolf January 27, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    I think the “swat” to protect a child from harm is very different from spanking as punishment.

    Those adults I know who were spanked (some beaten) as children under the guise of punishment have never forgotten. And what they recall aren’t the lessons of bad behavior, but the harshness (and resentment) of the punishment.

    We have more awareness and more options – more importantly – more appropriate and proportional ways to teach lessons to our children when they misbehave. Then it is about the nature of the lesson learned, not the nature of the punishment.
    .-= BigLittleWolf´s last blog ..Why you shouldn’t air your dirty laundry on the Internet =-.

    • Keith January 28, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

      Actually, Wolf, I was spanked as a child and I don’t hold any sort of grudge about it. I didn’t like it at the time, but I don’t hold any resentment about it. My dad even used a belt on me on several occasions. Still, I don’t hold any ill feelings about it. And I do remember the things I got in trouble for. I would not suggest that people who spank their kids are simply not thinking out their options. Again, 90% of american parents have spanked their kids. We aren’t all Neanderthals. I think of it this way: I turned out smart and happy and I was spanked. Most people I know are smart and happy and they were spanked also.

  9. Joseph Condron January 27, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Great post. I also thought that 90 was rather a high figure. Most kids turn out all right. I agree with you I don’t think to spank or not to spank is really the question but rather the capacity of the parents.
    .-= Joseph Condron´s last blog ..About Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin: The Rivalry Of The Greatest Figure Skaters =-.

  10. Dennis Yu January 27, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    Keith, great article!

  11. Chris | Advice for Dads January 27, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Our plan of attack is if time outs work, we’ll leave it at that. Having said that, there are some situations where a light spanking is more effective. As long as the punishment fits the crime and you don’t spank out of anger whats the harm?
    .-= Chris | Advice for Dads´s last blog ..Roll Baby Roll =-.

    • Keith January 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

      That’s right, Chris. It’s when people are really mad that spanking can get a little out of control.

  12. Scott January 30, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    I too was spanked as a child and don’t hold any grudge. Do I remember it, of course, but I don’t remember my dad doing it out of anger. I think you hit the nail on the head… it’s about options. Sometimes you need that option when your plans a, b, or c just won’t cut it. Also, each kid responds to spanking differently, so it’s a delicate balance. Therefore, I’ll never tell someone they should spank their kid, but I won’t tell them not to either.
    .-= Scott´s last blog ..Seven Suggestions for Spouses =-.

    • Keith January 31, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

      Scott: That’s exactly right about the spanking. All kids respond differently. My methods of punishing one of my kids might not work with the other. Some parents might find their kids don’t respond well to spanking. My oldest boy, it’s just what works. My youngest I can’t spank though because it doesn’t do any good and he get’s his feeling hurt. You nailed it right on, Scott. Thanks!

  13. Jill February 3, 2010 at 3:06 pm #

    What got me off the fence on this subject is that children are the only people in our society that it is okay to hit. I also feel kind of ridiculous telling my child not to hit and then turning around and spanking her.
    That being said I also tell her not to yell at others but then I yell at her. BUT, I do apologize that makes it a little bit better right???
    Another issue I have with spanking is that I was severely spanked as a child and it was always a “first resort”. Also, I have inherited my fathers temper and I know that if I let myself go there it would not be a good thing. So, I think it is also important to know yourself and know that it is perfectly okay not to spank your child, there are many other ways of disciplining.
    .-= Jill´s last blog ..Where the Wild Things Are =-.

  14. Terri McCarthy November 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    I find it very interesting and concerning the lengths that some parents and even a professional, Dr Larzelere have gone, to support spankings. They seem hell bent on hitting their small defenseless children, when there are so many other effective ways to discipline, and are very defensive when asked about it. I hear this alot; I was spanked when I was a kid and I turned out OK, or I do it to keep them out of harms way, or to get there attention or when all else fails, or I use non-abusive spankings. What? Are you kidding me? This is wrong on so many levels. Let’s take a look at this rational.
    1. You were spanked, so was I. So what. How about breaking that cycle and taking the time to learn a new method.
    2. Keeping them out of harms way. Let’s exam this. So in order to prevent them from getting hurt, you hurt them????????
    I was once pulled from a lake by an adult because I was struggling to swim, why didn’t they hit me?
    3. I hit them non-abusely? What does that mean? How is that measured? Does your 2 – 6 year old child understand that?
    4. Why just hit small children? Why not hit anyone to keep them out of harms way? How about your teen-age son? How about the little old lady crossing the street in front of traffic. How about your boss or that police officer that you feel usurped their authority? Sounds ridiculous? It’s because it is.
    When there are so many other non-physical ways to discipline and learn life lessons, why teach a small child that hitting resolves problems.
    Sorry Dr. Larzelere, your stance on spanking makes no sense. I think thou protests too much. Something tells me you were spanked, you spanked your kids and you are trying desperately to defend your actions and cope with your own childhood trauma.

    Terri McCarthy

  15. Terri McCarthy November 22, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    Furthermore, why not continue to hit your child until they turn 25? The frontal lobe (the decision making part of the brain) is not fully developed until that age. Chances are, they will continue to make some bad choices until then and maybe even after. Why not hit them to get their attention? I’ll tell you why; they would not stand for it, they may even fight back or contact the authorities. Unfortunately 2 – 6 year olds are not in a position to do this.

    Terri McCarthy

    • Keith November 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

      Terri: I have no response to this. I guess the only thing I can say is no, I don’t have any trauma. Neither do my kids. I’ll tell you what, let’s compare the mental health of my kids with you and your kids. I win. Thus, no argument.

  16. Terri McCarthy November 22, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    Keith, I see you do have a comment. That’s good, it means you care about your family and about being a good Dad. As far as the contest and proclaiming to be the winner; that’s for children. Put your adult hat on.
    My kids nor myself are perfect, but they are happy and well-adjusted and that’s all I can hope for. I believe in tough love and my children would attest to that. They’ve been praised for good behavior and have had consequences for bad. We are consistent with our rules and expectations, and they work. For the simple fact that our kids know what to expect, they usually make good choices. It’s not rocket science. It’s common sense and logic and it works. No hitting involved. Yes, it is very hard work. It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done. But when you reap the rewards of hard work, it’s worth it.
    If you are ever interested in trying different parenting strategies, check out my website at
    Best of luck,

  17. john January 28, 2011 at 10:22 am #

    I think kids need discipline. I am not fanatic of that though. That means….If I had to spank to discipline my kid. Either I would choose to not have a kid. Or I would not try to discipline. To me….no discipline is more important than a child’s ….well a person’s in general, but a child’s especially…feeling of happiness. My goal as a parent is to bring a happy person in this world. Not an obedient one. Why? well….because kids did not ask us to give birth to them….we brought them to this world on our own free will. Why should they do what we tell them? and why do we call them brats when they try to defend something that we are too shity to defend…which is their right to live any way they like?

    • Keith January 28, 2011 at 11:23 am #

      John: The answer to that is simple. It is our job to educate our kids. Kids don’t get to live any way they like for the obvious reason that without guidance they wouldn’t do any work and they’d have no idea how to live together in society. Even the most liberal sociologist would tell you that.

  18. tony41 June 24, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    This is crazy. I was spanked with paddles, belts, switches, etc. I grew up perfectly OK with a double masters. My three sons got spanked when they deserved it and two are in med school while the other became a priest. No anxiety, no lasting pain, but boy did we turn out pretty good.


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