Globally, 60 countries and territories now ban spanking of children in the home. The United States and Canada are not included in this list of largely developed nations. But, according to a new study, we’re inching closer to a tide change.
Tulane University found that the majority of U.S. pediatricians do not support spanking. Of the 1,500 pediatricians surveyed, nearly all practicing in primary care for more than 15 years (74 percent) openly did not approve of spanking. Furthermore, 80 percent of pediatricians predict no positive change in child behavior from spanking, and 64 percent actually expect only negative outcomes from the practice.
The study, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, found a clear division in spanking support or opposition between gender, race, and personal experience of the doctors involved. Those who were male, black, and/or spanked as children themselves tended to support spanking.
“In the past couple of decades, a tremendous amount of research has come out that shows hitting children is counterproductive and leads to more harm than good,” said lead author Catherine Taylor, associate professor of global community health and behavioral sciences at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
She is hopeful that pediatricians feel more empowered to broach the subject of discipline, including alternatives to spanking, with parents.
“Pediatricians are among the most trusted sources of credible advice that parents go to,” Taylor added. “If pediatricians feel empowered more to speak up about this issue and talk to parents about it, we could start to see parents’ attitudes and behaviors shifting as well.”
American parents, as a whole, continue to support spanking and feel it to be key to effective child discipline. In this 2014 survey, a stunning 94% of parents with children ages 3-4 reported having spanked their child in the past year. There were significant differences in spanking support depending on gender and race, with men more likely to support spanking. Black and Hispanic women were more likely than White women to support spanking. On the other hand, college-educated men and women were more likely to oppose spanking.
Age of parent played no significant difference.
Trends in parenting choices, like other social issues, can be difficult to influence. Most parents trust their family or close friends as much, or more, than their pediatricians no matter how antiquated the advice. Furthermore, parenting choices have largely been considered separate from medical care in terms of what doctors feel comfortable in dispensing. And I have the unfortunate experience with a doctor — the one and only time I took a child of mine to see him — who encouraged me to spank my toddler based solely on his own experience of spanking his children, without any regard for the mountain of studies that show the ill effects of physical punishment.
But as research increasingly shows, the discipline choice matters in short and long-term health status of the child involved. So while pediatricians shouldn’t be advising parents based on their personal preferences, they should ethically be sharing the overwhelming research against spanking and what forms of discipline work better.
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