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Spanking: Good or Bad?

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"Spare the rod, spoil the child," was once an oft-heard axiom in parenting. In other words, spanking a child for punishment is helpful in preventing unsavory behaviors. Many consider this sentiment "old school," as more recent "new school" opinions and data suggest that spanking causes more harm than red, painful buttocks. Opinions vary widely on this topic. As a doctor and a father of four children, I want to do, and advise, what is right.


Any view that I have encountered over the years that supports spanking emphasizes correct usage of the punishment. In other words, spanking must be consistent with the transgression and take place in a controlled setting. Parents who are merely frustrated or angry shouldn't be spontaneously spanking their kids. This punishment must consistently take place in the same location, such as the buttocks or the back of the hand. Additionally, most proponents advocate that love must be expressed after the spanking is delivered and perhaps even before in a "sandwich" fashion. 

Many people advocate backup spanking. In this model, a child is punished with something at the outset (such as 'time out' or withholding privileges). If the child remains uncooperative or defiant, a spanking is then delivered. It's argued that this technique also allows parents to contemplate, plan, and defuse any of their own frustrations or anger. Some studies have shown that among children with overly punitive parents, overly permissive parents, and those who practiced backup spanking, the latter group fared better in their discipline and emotional adjustment. It should be noted that any such study invites criticism of bias, small sample size, and sample variability.


The anti-spanking camp has gained momentum in recent years. Research is emerging linking adults who were spanked as children to an increased prevalence of various problems. It's argued that kids who are spanked grow to see this form of hitting as a solution to a problem. 

This claim is supported by data that shows that people with a history of being spanked are more prone to commit crime, assault others such as hitting classmates on a playground, or hit parents or spouses. A study last year published by the National Institute of Health based on epidemilogic data from over 34,000 adults showed that being spanked as a child increased the prevalence of adult mental illness. A study published last week in the journal Pediatrics took a close look at 2,000 nine-year-old children and the punishments they had received in earlier years. It showed that kids spanked even occasionally around the age of five exhibited more aggression and a lower vocabulary. 

Societal Views on Spanking

31 countries have banned corporal punishment in the home, but the U.S. is not yet among them. Large associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have weighed in against the practice of spanking. Still, about half of American parents report having spanked their children.

My Personal Views

My older children have been spanked. As a young parent, I received a lot of the "spare the rod" philosophy when I asked for advice. As I've read more and paved my own way as a parent, this maxim seems outdated given the risks, benefits, and alternatives. However, I don't chastise parents who spank their children, as long as they combine it with love consistently. Admittedly, though, it is hard to pushing anger out the door in laying down discipline. As such, I tend to place the act of spanking children on a slippery slope (spanking vs. hitting, spanking vs. abuse).


The most popular discipline tool presently is called "1-2-3 Magic," which is outlined in a book by psychologist Thomas Phelan. The technique involves a systmatic counting of one to three and then putting the child in time out. For more information, check out the website.

In Conclusion

Spanking is the most talked about and controversial issue in parenting. Different parents have different views, and different research proves different points. The only sure thing in this whole mix is that children will misbehave. While I hesitate to give a strong view on either side of this controversy, I do think it's important to kick anger out of any disciplinary technique used and to focus on the big picture with our little loved ones - teaching them about the consequences for their poor choices or behaviors while preserving love throughout.

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