Spanking: Still prominent and problematic

October 30, 2013

About half of all moms and at least a third of dads still engage in spanking their preschool-aged children, even though research shows it has negative effects on a child’s behavior. Now, a new study finds it has deleterious effects on cognitive ability as well.

 

About half of all moms and at least a third of dads still engage in spanking their preschool-aged children, even though research shows it has negative effects on a child’s behavior. Now, a new study finds it has deleterious effects on cognitive ability as well.

Researchers from Columbia University in New York found that spanking preschool-aged children increases aggressive behavior by the age of 9 years and is associated with lower receptive vocabulary scores by the same age.

The investigators conducted the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, a longitudinal birth cohort study involving over 4,000 children from 20 medium to large US cities. They determined that 57% of mothers and 40% of fathers spank their 3-year-old children, and that 52% of mothers and 33% of fathers spank their 5-year-olds.

Relying on parental reports of both spanking and externalizing behavior, the researchers determined that children who were spanked at least 2 times per week by their mothers, whether at age 3 years or at age 5, and those spanked less than 2 times per week by their mothers at age 5, had higher levels of externalizing aggressive behavior at age 9 compared with children who were never spanked.

Although paternal spanking of any frequency at age 3 or 5 years was not associated with an increase in aggressive behavior by age 9, children who were spanked at least twice per week by their fathers when they were 5 years old had lower receptive vocabulary scores by age 9, as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

The researchers comment that whether spanking directly affects cognitive development through stress, trauma, or other physiologic or neural process, or whether spanking is associated with other parenting practices that negatively affect cognition, remains undetermined.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned about the potential deleterious effects of spanking and has recommended that parents use other methods of discipline. 

 

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