Time magazine this week reported that 19 states still allow teachers to paddle students in schools. What is even more alarming is that adult acceptance of spanking, while lower than it was 50 years ago, was still approved of by 71% in 2004. The article made me realize that a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago is as relevant as ever. So I’m reprinting it this week with some editing to bring it up to date. If you didn’t read it, please read it now. If you did read it when it was originally published, please read it again. There is an important exercise at the end for everyone, even if you aren’t a parent or your children are grown and out of the house.
There was a time in America when some people were treated as property, forced to do whatever other people wanted, abused without any ability to respond, and unable to obtain their freedom. Such behavior was legal and considered appropriate by the people practicing it.
When we look at the people who exhibited that behavior we think with repulsion, “What could they possibly have been thinking?”
I’m not referring to slavery 150 years ago. I’m referring to the abuse heaped upon millions of children daily by well-meaning parents who don’t realize the long-term damage being done by spanking and other forms of punishment.
Corporal punishment doesn’t work
Research has shown that corporal (physical) punishment not only doesn’t stop the behavior it was intended to stop, it produces a host of negative consequences. These studies have linked corporal punishment to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes.
Researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D., in a 2002 meta-analytic study that combined 60 years of research on corporal punishment, found that the only positive outcome of corporal punishment was immediate compliance; however, corporal punishment was associated with less long-term compliance. Corporal punishment was linked with nine other negative outcomes, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, problems in relationships with their parents, and likelihood of being physically abused.
Time several years ago described a new study published in Pediatrics that confirms the results of many earlier studies, “As five-year-olds, the children who had been spanked were more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.” (Emphasis added.)
We’ve discovered from our one-on-one sessions with over 13,000 clients that most self-esteem beliefs are formed from interactions with parents during the first six years of life. Spanking produces the dysfunctional behavior described in the studies quoted above because it leads to such beliefs as: I’m powerless. I’m bad. If I do something wrong, I deserve to be punished. There’s something wrong with me. The way to be safe is to have power over others. Violence is an acceptable way to handle disagreements. The way to keep from being punished is to not get caught. I’m not good enough.
Here’s what’s interesting: Most parents would be upset if they realized that their children were forming most of these negative beliefs, but they actually want their children to conclude one of these beliefs as a result of the punishment, namely I have done something bad. They think that knowing they have done something “bad” will prevent their children from doing it again. But if a child thinks over and over that he has done something bad, what is he likely to conclude after a while: I am bad. Imagine the consequences of growing up and living with the sense of yourself that you are a bad person?
Despite all the evidence showing the negative consequences of spanking, many people still argue that it is a useful and appropriate tool for parents. One such person is Dr. James Dobson, a psychologist who Time called “the nation’s most influential evangelical leader.” He argues "