Anyone who has been smacked with Ouma’s wooden spoon or dad’s belt knows the seething anger and shame that it releases in your little heart.
Whenever I was spanked as a youngster for doing something I wasn’t allowed to, I would immediately start packing my bag, ready to leave the family who otherwise loved and doted on me.
It stopped when they realised it wasn’t working and my brother became increasingly more defiant, aggressive, and tantrum-inclined.
Now a new study has found that smacking children does not achieve what it sets out to, but instead only leads to more aggression and anti-social behaviour in the child.
This is according to a review, published on Monday in the journal Lancet, of 69 studies from the US, Canada, China, Colombia, Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.
Here’s CNN with more:
The review found physical punishment such as spanking is “harmful to children’s development and well-being,” said senior author Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor in human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin.
“Parents hit their children because they think doing so will improve their behaviour,” Gershoff said.
“Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse.”
The studies excluded verbal and “severe” types of physical punishment that would be characterised as child abuse, but still showed a significant negative impact of plain old spanking in a number of ways:
The most “consistent support,” in 13 of 19 independent studies, was that spanking and other forms of child punishment created more external problem behaviours over time, Gershoff said, such as “increased aggression, increased antisocial behaviour, and increased disruptive behaviour in school.”
There were also some studies that found physical punishment increased conduct problems and signs of an oppositional defiant disorder, “which is characterised by temper tantrums, argumentative and defiant behaviour, active defiance and refusal to follow rules, spitefulness and vindictiveness”.
The review (based particularly in Colombia) also found that young children who were physically punished gained “fewer cognitive skills” than did those who were not physically punished.
But most strikingly, the reviews revealed that four out of five studies found that an overall warm and positive parenting style “did not buffer the effect of physical punishment on an increase in behaviour problems”.
According to UNICEF, as of 2017, 250 million children between the ages of two and four live in countries that allow spanking.
In the US, it is legal in all 50 states for parents to use physical punishment.
62 countries have prohibited physical punishment of children in all settings, and a further 27 countries commit to doing so, according to the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children.
In 2019, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that corporal punishment in the home is illegal.
The United Nations is therefore signalling a call to action, adding the protection of children from all forms of violence as a “sustainable development goal”.
The Telegraph also reports that Joanna Barrett, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s associate head of policy, spoke for the conditions in the UK, saying that “it cannot be right that in 2021 children are the only group in society that it is legally acceptable to assault in England.”
Instead of spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating, or shaming, paediatricians suggest that adults caring for children use “healthy forms of discipline”, including positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviours, setting limits, and setting expectations.
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