Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new study conducted at Columbia University in New York finds five-year-old children who have been spanked are more likely to be aggressive and get into even more trouble. This research echoes prior studies which have found spanking to have quite the opposite intended effect on children.
Used as a disciplinary tool for many generations, spanking has only recently been questioned as an effective means of punishment. The Columbia study analyzed data from a long-term study which followed children born in one of 20 US cities between 1998 and 2000.
According to their research, children who were spanked at age five were more likely to become rule breakers in school and act aggressively towards their teachers and peers. The data revealed, however, that parents were more likely to spank their children when they were three years old rather than when they were five. Researchers also noted a difference in the child’s behavior depending on which parent was administering the spanking. The paper is now published in the journal Pediatrics.
“Most kids experience spanking at least some point in time,” explained lead author Michael MacKenzie with Columbia University in an interview with Reuters‘ Genevra Pittman.
After examining the data collected from nearly 2,000 children, MacKenzie and team say 57 percent of mothers and 40 percent of fathers spanked their child when they were three years old. This number dropped slightly by the time the child had grown to five years old; 52 percent of mothers and 33 percent of fathers spanked their kid at this age. Though there had been an average decrease in spankings, the behavior problems in these children were more pronounced when they were spanked at age five. Researchers did not find a direct link between behavioral problems and spanking at age three. Furthermore, these children were even more likely to act out if they had been spanked by their mother, even if it was only occasionally.
According to the research, mothers who spanked their children at least twice a week increased their child’s problem behaviors by two percent. This kind of behavior was measured on a 70-point scale and took family lifestyle and past behaviors into account.
Kids who were regularly spanked at age five by their fathers were also more likely to score lower in vocabulary tests, says MacKenzie’s research. The average vocabulary test score of nine-year-old children is 93. When the child was regularly spanked by their father at age five, however, these scores went down an average of four points. MacKenzie admits this decrease could be due to chance instead of a direct link to spanking.
Parents often spank their children as a way to get their attention and change their behavior quickly in the moment. While this is often effective in the short-term, MacKenzie says parents don’t think of the long-term ramifications of spanking.
“The techniques that are designed to promote positive behaviors … oftentimes take more effort and time to put into place,” said MacKenzie.
A 2005 study found that children who had been spanked, particularly children who lived in a culture where spanking was not widely embraced, were more likely to act out aggressively and display signs of anxiety. This aggression was not observed in children who were spanked in a culture that embraces the punishment.