Corporal Punishment in the Home: Does Spanking Have the Impact You Were Hoping for?

Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, PhD, of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, looked at both positive and negative behaviors in children that were associated with corporal punishment. After collecting 62 years of data her findings may change how you look on spanking as a way of discipline forever.

While the use of corporal punishment is highly debated worldwide many families still incorporate spanking into their discipline routines. Parenting classes often instruct parents on healthy ways to spank children and tips on how to avoid abusive spanking. Whether it is for religious preferences or cultural background, spanking remains a majority choice. However, according to Gershoff, corporal punishment may bring immediate compliance but corporal punishment by its own nature can escalate into physical maltreatment.

In her studies Gershoff specifically looked for an association between the use of corporal punishment and 11 child behaviors including;

Immediate compliance
Moral internalization
Quality of relationship with the parent
Physical abuse from that parent
Mental health
Criminal or anti-social behavior
Abuse of own children or spouse

What she found was a strong association between corporal punishment and all 11 behaviors, with the strongest being immediate compliance. Now Gershoff doesn’t claim that all children will be aggressive or abused or display any of the behaviors simply because they were spanked by their parents. She does allow for different stimulating factors and recognizes that corporal punishment itself is different across parents.

As parents we can look at long term studies such as this one when determining whether or not we believe spanking is an acceptable form of discipline in our own homes. As with all “expert” opinions parents to better understand the potential impacts of their choice in discipline should use this information, however it should never be the ultimate deciding factor.

Gershoff’s study provides supporting evidence that spanking does in fact result in immediate compliance and as such could be an effective tool when used appropriately. Use common sense and good judgment in your discipline and you are likely to find the right combination to get the results you’re after.