Whether Spanking Children is a Form of Discipline or Physical Abuse

“However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely”- James Dobson. Does this make it OK then to spank a child as a form of discipline? As part of growing up, we like to explore. Part of exploring includes doing things we should not. This paper will provide some evidence to show whether spanking children as a form of discipline can have an influence on children’s development.

There have been studies that state that there indeed have been different negative effects because of spanking. These studies showed that spanking has negative effects on child behavioral and cognitive development. MacKenzie, Nicklas, Brooks- Gunn & Waldfogel did a study consisting of 1020 mothers with young children. The data for this study were used from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Mothers were recruited at hospitals and provided verbal and written consent during each interview. The young children were collected at 4 different time points: 

  • 1 year old, 
  • 3 years old, 
  • 5 years old,
  • 9 years old 


Data collection for this study was collected over a period of ten years at Columbia University and Princeton University. Year 1 was collected from 1999 to 2000, Year 3 was collected from 2001 to 2003, Year 5 was collected from 2003 to 2006 and Year 9 was collected from 2007 to 2010. By using structural comparison modeling, the researcher developed a model to test the connection between motherly spanking and childhood bullying. Childhood bullying was measured using three items on the Child Care Center Survey (Year 3) and Kindergarten Teacher Survey (Year 5). Teachers report of childhood aggression towards peers were not available during Year 1 due to the child being only a year old. Teacher’s assessment of childhood bullying towards others was based on responses to three statements at Year 3, Year 5 and Year 9. The result showed that 57% of mothers involved in spanking when children were age 3 and 52% of mothers engaged in spanking at age 5. Motherly spanking at age 5 was associated with higher levels of child externalizing behavior at age 9, even after a range of risks and earlier child behavior were controlled for. The results indicated that children are likely to bully children at age 5 if they bullied their peers at age 3.

Another study, done at the University of New Orleans, found something simila. A volunteer community sample of participants between 11 and 17 were invited to participate in this study about parenting and child behavior. A total of 106 youth completed the set of self-report questionnaires in the campus laboratory. A research assistant reviewed the consent/ assent forms with the parents and youth when participants arrived at the laboratory for their scheduled evaluation. The forms were read aloud to each participant and an opportunity for questions was provided. The participants were informed that they could drop out of the study at any time without any consequences. Evaluations took approximately 90–120 min, and participants were allowed short breaks if necessary. Spanking and hitting (both 34.6 %) were confirmed somewhat more frequently than hitting with an object (30.8 %). Overall, 50 % of youth in this sample reported some form of corporal punishment. Age was positively and significantly associated with self-reported delinquency, suggesting that delinquent behaviors are more frequently reported by older children. Gender was significantly associated with self-reported delinquency and total aggression; these behaviors were more commonly reported by boys. Correlations suggest spanking was more commonly reported by girls. The two types of corporal punishment, spanking, and severe corporal punishment were significantly correlated Additionally, the two types of externalizing problems, self-reported delinquency, and total aggression, were significantly correlated. As expected, the three corporal punishment variables were significantly associated with delinquency. Severe corporal punishment was significantly correlated with total aggression. Neither total corporal punishment nor spanking was correlated with aggression. The result states that the severity of corporal punishment experienced by youth is associated with externalizing problems, regardless of race.

However, there have been contradicting study. It has been shown that spanking can have a positive effect on children’s behavior. According to a study done at a Children’s Hospital in Ohio, where the researcher sought to discover the secrets of highly successful families who reared outstanding children, considered spanking to be a healthy discipline option. A total of 50 teachers, state winners of the teacher-of-the-year award, were asked to name the most outstanding children they had taught throughout their career. The teachers were not to choose the highest academic achievers, but the students who displayed the greatest self-motivation, consideration for others, honesty and general strength of character. The students’ families were closely studied and spanking was among the many aspects of parenting examined. The result of this study claims that 70% of the parents of outstanding students make use of some physical punishment with their children and spanking was neither the main method nor a last-ditch intervention. Thus, this study contradicts that spanking children as a form of discipline have a negative effect on their behavior.

To conclude, often time children go out of line and wild and spanking is the only thing that works. At least that is what is most parents think. A common phenomenon is that some people spank their children as a form of discipline without knowing or even considering what impact it may have. This is a form of discipline that is still used on children worldwide. 

07 July 2022
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