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50 Years of Research Shows Spanking Does More Harm Than Good

The Short of It

Turns out, spanking your kid won't help mold them into a decent human being; in fact, it may actually make their behavior worse.

The Lowdown

According to a new study, the more kids get spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties. Whoa!

Researchers analyzed 50 years of research on the effects of spanking—which was defined as "an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities"—on approximately 160,000 children.

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"Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors," researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. "We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children."

Even worse: While we all tend to think of spanking and actual physical abuse against a child as two very different things, the researchers found that they were both associated with the same range of negative outcomes later in life, including mental health issues.

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"We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors," Gershoff says. "Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree."

Still, the study found that the more adults were spanked as children, the more likely they were to continue the cycle with their own kids.

The Upshot

This is pretty scary stuff, especially when you consider that corporal punishment inside the home is legal in all 50 states and that a 2013 poll found that 81 percent of Americans say parents spanking their children is sometimes appropriate.

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In the heat of the moment, spanking may seem like a quick and easy solution. But hopefully, these new findings will make more parents think twice.

"We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline," Gershoff said.

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