Portrait of a crying son on hands a father

A new study from The University of Texas at Austin is not the first of its kind to warn of the lasting harm of spanking children, but it is one of the most comprehensive to date. The study analyzes fifty years of research involving 160,000 children and focuses specifically on spanking- not other types of potentially abusive corporal punishment-and confirms that, not only is spanking detrimental to children's mental health and well-being, but it also produces the opposite of its desired effects.

"We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children," says Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. Children who are spanked, the study says, are more likely to defy their parents, not less.

And despite anecdotal accounts, adults who were spanked as children are probably not "just fine." The study also looked at the long-term effects of spanking, finding that adults who were spanked as children are more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems.

If study after study confirms that spanking causes short and long-term harm, and is not an effective discipline tool, why is it still so pervasive? One possibility is the disconnect between spanking and physical abuse, but this study shows that both are associated with the same detrimental outcomes.

"We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors," Gershoff says. "Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree."

The researchers hope that this data, consist with other reports of its kind, will help encourage parents to choose positive and non-punitive discipline instead.

image via: Michael