Is It Okay to Spank?
Cause and the effect
Despite the fervor of anti-spanking experts, the scientific evidence that spanking does cause behavioral trouble later in life is thin. While spanking has been associated with a wide range of negative effects, such as increased aggression, decreased self-control, and adolescent depression, the studies can't prove that these effects were caused by spanking. For instance, it may be that aggressive kids with poor self-control get spanked more because their behavior makes their parents angrier. Or it might be that aggressive parents with poor self-control spank more and are also more likely to pass on to their kids genes linked to aggression and poor self-control.
And many of the studies tend not to differentiate between parents who spank frequently and forcefully and those who do so occasionally and moderately. So results get lumped together, with different definitions of "spanking" carrying the same weight.
Such studies only prove that nothing was proved, say Diana Baumrind, Ph.D., of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Larzelere, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Omaha, both of whom have been critical of the wide-ranging conclusions reached by many studies of physical punishment. Baumrind, in fact, has conducted research suggesting that "moderate" spanking has no effect on kids' well-being.
This is just white noise for anti-spanking advocates, who declare that there's more at stake than just hypotheses about long-term damage. Besides the moral concerns, there's the important matter of the relationship between parent and kids. A mother who hits her child could be fundamentally changing her relationship with that child, irrevocably lowering herself in her child's eyes.
Some moms who've spanked their children agree -- not necessarily that spanking was bad for their kids, but that it was bad for them and how they wanted to relate to their kids. Christina Vercelletto, a mother of three in Babylon, New York, doubts the results are worth the guilt. "The other night, I was trying to get my seven-year-old son to brush his teeth. For fifteen minutes he ran in and out of the bathroom, filled the sink with water 'just in case he needed it,' kept rinsing the toothpaste off his brush because it wasn't just the right-size blob. When he knocked the soap dish into the toilet reaching for the toothpaste yet again, I smacked him. He cried. I cried. And I spent the next hour kissing him while reading a shelf full of extra bedtime stories to ease my regret."
A necessary evil?
So if hard numbers can't prove that spanking is good or bad or safe or dangerous, perhaps it's not a data issue to begin with. The question of whether spanking works, or is safe, is beside the point. Maybe the question should be "Is it really, absolutely necessary?" And, given the moral Pandora's box that it unlocks, the less fraught options at your disposal for addressing childish misbehavior, and the fact that your child is watching, waiting, and learning from your decision, the answer seems clearly to just be no.