Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
February 26, 2024 ·  3 min read

Research Shows There Are No Positive Results To Spanking Your Kids

When you were a kid, your parents probably had a bunch of different ways to punish you. Many were even spanked when they broke the rules. According to a UNICEF survey, about 60 percent of kids from around the world still receive a physical punishment. New research is showing that physical discipline–especially spanking–is actually bad for all kids though.

Discipline. When it comes to discipling your kids when they break the rules, there are a few different routes. You can yell at them, ground them, or put them in time out. If you’re Danny Tanner (from the saccharine sweet 90s sitcom Full House) you can have a meaningful chat with your kids about the things they did wrong.

Physical Punishment. Turns out about 60 percent of kids around the world receive some kind of physical punishment. Spanking is the most common form, and it’s incredibly controversial. In fact the approval rating for this form of discipline is dropping.

Approval. Many adults remember being spanked as kids. In fact, back in 1986 84 percent of people approved of this form of discipline, according to a eport from FiveThirtyEight. In 2012 that number had dropped to about 70 percent.

Examine. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan examined research that’s been performed on the effects spanking has on kids. The teams were concerned that physical discipline was defined too broadly in the former research.

Behaviors. They found that there was more abusive and harsh kinds of behaviors that went along with spanking. The teams redefined the term for their work, stating that spanking is “hitting a child on their buttocks or extremities using an open hand.”

Exclude. The research teams decided to exclude harsher forms of punishment from their study. They wanted to look at the results of what spanking can do to a child. But they did look at the studies that compared spanking with physical abuse and found that both had negative outcomes “that are similar in magnitude and identical in direction.”

Correct. Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of the University of Michigan were the lead writers of the study. They wrote, “The question of whether parents should spank their children to correct misbehaviors sits at a nexus of arguments from ethical, religious, and human-rights perspectives.”

Controlled Experiments. The team found that most studies linking spanking to bad outcomes as kids grow up weren’t incredibly methodological. There have only been a handful of studies that used controlled experiments in which a group of mothers spanked their kids, and another didn’t.

Data. Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor included those studies into their meta-analyses. They also included 39 studies that hadn’t been examined for these types of studies before. Altogether the team’s research included 75 different studies that included data from nearly 161,000 children.

Results. Once their meta-analyses were completed, the teams found some disturbing results. They found that in most of the situations there was “an association between spanking and a detrimental child outcome.”

Detrimental Outcomes. They then broke down what those “detrimental” outcomes were. They were “low moral internalization, aggression, antisocial behavior, externalizing behavior problems, internalizing behavior problems, mental-health problems, negative parent-child relationships, impaired cognitive ability, low self-esteem, and risk of physical abuse from parents.”

Negative Outcomes. Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor wrote, “Spanking was associated with 13 out of a total 17 negative outcomes they assessed, including increased aggression and behavioral and mental health problems as well as reduced cognitive ability and self-esteem.” They also found something else shocking.

No Evidence. According to their research they “found no evidence that spanking is associated with improved child behavior.” Grogan-Kaylor wrote, “Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

Not to Condemn. The research teams didn’t perform the analysis as a way to condemn spanking. In fact, there are still plenty of people who were spanked as children that turned out to be alright when it comes to their mental health.