Spanking does not cause aggressiveness and anti-social behavior

Spanking does not cause aggressiveness and anti-social behavior

Straus, Sugarman and Giles-Sims concluded in a 1997 study that there was a causal relationship between spanking and antisocial behavior in children. [i]  In controlling for the child’s initial behavior, they argued that their results should indisputably compel professionals to oppose all spanking as a disciplinary option for parents.  However, an independent re-analysis of the same data found that all four alternative disciplinary tactics in the study (grounding, privilege removal, allowance removal, and sending children to their room) also predicted higher subsequent antisocial behavior.[ii, iia]   Furthermore, when initial child behavior was more rigorously reanalyzed, the negative outcomes of spanking and all four alternatives became insignificant, thus invalidating the conclusion of the study.

Gunnoe and Mariner specifically examined the effects of parental spanking on childhood aggression in a six year longitudinal study of a racially mixed population of 1112 children ages 4 to 11 years.[iii]  They concluded, “Regression analysis within subgroups yielded no evidence that spanking fostered aggression in children younger than 6 years and supported claims of increased aggression for only 1 subgroup:  8-11-year-old white boys in single-mother families.” They speculate that, for this higher risk subgroup, spanking may serve as “a proxy for other family problems such as lost parental authority, poor management practices, stress, or lack of support.”  If this is so, they suggest “for families experiencing severe family management problems, spanking is not a viable solution to these problems and may exacerbate them.”  Their conclusions, once again, highlight the fact that the setting has a profound effect upon the outcome of the disciplinary measure.

Behavioral research highlights parental factors as a major determinant of child outcome.  Childhood aggressiveness has been more closely linked to maternal permissiveness and maternal negativity than even to abusive physical discipline.[iv]  Rivara and Farrington found that, overall, longitudinal experimental and cross-sectional studies show that parental aggression is related to later delinquency in children.[v]

In a longitudinal three-year study, Simons et al. examined the impact of corporal punishment and the quality of parental involvement on three adolescent outcomes — aggressiveness, delinquency, and psychological well-being. 43  A strong association was found between the quality of parenting and each of these three outcomes.  “Once the effect of parental involvement was removed, corporal punishment showed no detrimental impact on adolescent aggressiveness, delinquency, or psychological well-being.”  Other prospective longitudinal studies concur.

After more than 10 years of study (Baumrind):10

This study’s findings “did not indicate that negative reinforcement or corporal punishment per se were harmful or ineffective procedures, but rather the total pattern of parental control determined the effects on the child of these procedures.”

After 10 years of study (Eron):[vi]

“Upon follow-up 10 years after the original data collection, we found that punishment [including physical punishment] of aggressive acts at the earlier age was no longer related to current aggression, and instead, other variables like parental nurturance and children’s identification with their parents were more important in predicting later aggression.”

After 4 years of focused study (Chamberlain):23

Children from authoritarian homes, where physical punishment was often used, were “no. . . more aggressive and resistant” than those from accommodative homes.

Physical punishment seems to be most effective when implemented by an affectionately warm parent.[vii]

[i]  Straus MA, Sugarman DB, & Giles-Sims, J. Spanking by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 1997;151:761-767.

[ii] Larzelere RE & Smith GL. Controlling longitudinal effects of five disciplinary tactics on antisocial behavior. Paper presented at meeting of American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. August 2000.

[iia] Larzelere, Cox, & Gayle. Do nonphysical punishments reduce antisocial behavior more than spanking? A comparison using the strongest previous causal evidence against spanking. BMC Pediatrics. Feb 2010. 10:10.

[iii]  Gunnoe ML & Mariner CL. Toward a developmental-contextual model of the effects of parental spanking on children’s aggression. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine. 1997; 151:768-775.

[iv].  Olweus D. Familial and temperamental determinants of aggressive behavior in adolescent boys: A causal analysis. Developmental Psychology. 1980; 16:644-660.

[v]  Rivara FP, Farrington DP. Prevention of violence:role of the pediatrician. Arch Pediatric Adolesc Med . 1995;149:4212.

[vi]  Eron LD. Theories of Aggression: from drives to cognitions. in Huesmann LR (ed). Aggressive Behavior, Current Perspectives. 1994;pp 3-11. New York: Plenum Press.

[vii]  Sears RR, Maccoby EE, & Levin H. Patterns of Childrearing. 1957. New York: Harper & Row.

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