Family Matters

The First Real-Time Study of Parents Spanking Their Kids

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It’s not P.C. to admit you spank your child. But nearly 40 moms have gone a step further, recording themselves hitting and slapping their kids as part of a new study on how parents and children interact.

They didn’t know they were going to be in a study about spanking per se. Researchers have to be careful when presenting their proposed area of study to potential participants — too much information can lead people to alter their normal behavior, which would skew results. So when George Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University who has published five books on parenting and child development, went to day-care centers in Dallas to recruit parents, he divulged only that he wanted to collect data about naturally occurring parent-child interaction.

In fact, Holden didn’t even know he’d be studying spanking. He originally set out to study yelling, via voluntary audio recordings of parents conducting life at home — the pedestrian stuff of parenting like meal prep, bath time and lights out.

Not all parents who volunteered were accepted. Researchers eliminated those who reported during a screening interview that they never yelled at home. “There weren’t many,” notes Holden, who presented the research this month in Dallas at the Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline.

Here’s the twist: in the course of analyzing the data collected from 37 families — 36 mothers and one father, all of whom recorded up to 36 hours of audio in six days of study — researchers heard the sharp cracks and dull thuds of spanking, followed in some cases by minutes of crying. They’d inadvertently captured evidence of corporal punishment, as well as the tense moments before and the resolution after, leading researchers to believe they’d amassed the first-ever cache of real-time spanking data.

MORE: Dads’ Dark Side: New Fathers with Depression Spank Their Babies More

The recordings feature a mother spanking her 3-year-old son 11 times for fighting with his sister, prompting a fit of crying and coughing. Another mom hits her 5-year-old when he won’t clean up his room. One mom slaps her child when he doesn’t cooperate with the bedtime routine.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to be recording my interactions with my kids, I’d be on my best behavior. (Note to researchers: don’t include me in any parenting studies.)

Yet it’s likely that the mothers in the study didn’t consider spanking to be problematic behavior. In the 1990s, Holden conducted research that showed 70% of college-educated women spank their children; other studies have found that up to 90% of all parents use corporal punishment.

Children who are spanked occasionally are not thought to be significantly impacted later on, but those who are spanked regularly are more likely to have behavior problems that may escalate into antisocial behavior. They may also be at greater risk for anxiety disorders or depression and ultimately may be more likely to engage in domestic violence and child abuse as adults.

Yet although it makes sense that getting hit is not good for kids, there have not been any longitudinal studies dividing children into “spanked” and “non-spanked” groups and tracking any emotional and behavioral consequences over time. The existing research relies instead on self-reported data, based on memory.

Parents in the domestic trenches are probably not all that interested in what the research shows anyway. Despite a battery of disciplinary techniques, including the infamous “time out,” redirection and the increasing emphasis on positive discipline (try substituting “hold the cup carefully” for “don’t spill your juice”), spanking and slapping are still pretty popular.

Moms and dads who spank do so because they believe it’s effective, and research actually shows that it is — in the short-term. A child reaching for a tempting object will stop if he gets swatted. “It does work in the immediate moment, but beyond that, in most cases, it’s very ineffective,” says Holden. “The most common long-term consequence is that children learn to use aggression.”

Case in point: one mother in the study hit her toddler after the toddler either hit or kicked the mother, admonishing, “This is to help you remember not to hit your mother.”

“The irony is just amazing,” says Holden.

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Holden’s recordings provide rich context for what causes a parent to spank. The data are particularly unsettling because many of the infractions that led a mom to hit involve petty misbehavior, like turning the page in a book before it was time. While listening to his mother read The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, one boy began touching the pages, garnering a slap.

“At 2:03:31, the mother says, ‘No, Justin,’ and continues reading,” according to a transcription describing the incident. “Then at 2:03:34 she smacks him, and says, ‘No, Justin. If you want me to read, quit messing with the pages. Cause you’re moving it while I’m reading.’”

The parents who recorded themselves represented a socioeconomic mix: a third each were low-income, middle-income and upper-middle-class or higher. Most were white; about a third were African-American.

Researchers broke down the data, detailing each spanking or slapping incident, what led up to it, what type of punishment was used and how much, how a child reacted immediately and then several minutes later.

“The idea is this data will provide a unique glimpse into what really goes on in families that hasn’t been available through traditional methods of self-report,” says Holden.

There’s some evidence these days that parents are spanking less, says Holden, although the majority still consider hitting a useful form of discipline. Most parents are at least what Holden calls “very occasional spankers.” Until recently I placed myself in this category too. But even “very occasional” was too much for me. Swatting my child — no matter how disrespectful she’s been — is never worth the guilt I feel afterward, so I have pledged to my kids that those days are over.

Together, my quick-tempered 6-year-old and I have agreed to place our hands on our bellies — a technique she learned in kindergarten — to calm ourselves. It really works: it breaks through the fog of angry words and it feels much more genuine than slapping a hand as a form of discipline. Hitting teaches that it’s O.K. to turn violent when you’re mad, which is not a lesson I’m eager to impart.

26 comments
aprilsmith898
aprilsmith898

Why do people think that people spank because their angry? I spank my daughter, light enough so it doesn't cause much pain but I do and I do it reluctantly. I'm not angry and I don't yell. I think the problem is people think it's the spanking that is the discipline but it's not. You should teach your children and instruct them and the punishment for these things is a spanking as a painful reminder. Every parent should be instructed how to use corporal punishment because it's done wrong mostly and it's annoying that everyone who spanks is put into the same category. I also don't see how slapping someone is effective and there are better ways to handle situations like someone reading a book how about stop reading it to them instead of spanking them. I think it's what you are doing before and after the spanking and also using grace and being able to determine, does this merit a spanking? It shouldn't be because you are angry. And also consistency.

LanceRichard
LanceRichard

There's spanking in our home but rarely do we have to resort to spanking any of our children. I grew up with spankings and still get spanked by my wife (by my choice) because I have always felt the need for correction, discipline, and structure.

AuntM
AuntM

I would be interested to see more concrete results of this study. My original query was, 'Why do parents beat'? We don't acceptably beat our spouses, our pets, our friends, workmates, or neighbours. We would be arrested, incarcerated, or divorced for that. so.....Why kids?

What is a beating, exactly? Is it a slap on the wrist, or is it attempted murder? Nobody seems to have a clear definition. I hope that this study clarifies this too.

Do children learn from beatings? If so, what? What did they learn better than being admonished or sanctioned? I'd like to see that debate resolved. 

My parents believed in the power of beatings. For ten years my sister and I went through an experience that could put us on Oprah. My sister is dead now, but i am sure she too would like to know why this is right. 



kristina007
kristina007

Yes, the Bible speaks on how to spank a child, not to beat a child. And you do it with God's help. The Bible does not talk about spanking a child with a belt or a whip, but with a rod. (Wood) A wooden spoon would be okay. You do not ever spank out of anger and never scream at them. If you spank out of anger or scream at them that is child abuse and you will need to repent. You let some one else to do it if you are too angry because it is then child abuse if it is out of anger. Use the word discipline. When you discipline do not do 3 spankings if it was bad and 5 if it was really bad...do it based on his repentance. You will know when they cry and by there spirit. The rod is to drive foolishness out.  Remember this is discipline not punishment. It is for them, not you. Do not ever, ever, discipline out of anger. The scripture says be angry, but sin not. If you jerk that child up and give him a whack on the backside and you are mad...you just sinned and you would need to repent. And if you scream at that child you would need to repent. The word says that he that spares the rod hates his child. It is not beating or punishment, it is correction, and discipline. If it is done correctly, it will build a bond so strong between you and your child they will learn to trust you and come to you. And will avoid the spirit of rebellion away. Let the word do it's work. Read this scripture to the kids and give them a hug when you do. Ephesians 6:1-3. Don't water it down to their level, let them ask questions. If your kids come to you and repent, forgive them and do not bring it up again. 1 John chapter 1. But if the kids do not repent and keep doing it, and know it is wrong...you will have to intervene in this action and make the kids repent. Love is primary. Do not discipline out of love. Send them to the Bible and teach them because if you don't somebody else will and you do not want to reap the harvest of that. Do not ever say "as long as you live under my roof...." speech because they will think God is like that too and you will loose all of your influence. What ever you do they will think God is like. Don't want them to think "God doesn't want them unless they are perfect". Do not put demands on them, teach them the grace of God and for them to seek his plan in their lives. Find out what your children want to do and go and do it with them. The Bible is for all, toddlers, teens, adults, even when they are still in the womb. Do not ever water it down, but let them ask questions and answer it for them. Do not let the world teach your children. Grab them and hug them and show and quote verses. Discipline is a nice word. Discipline comes from the word disciple. To change the way you talk, think, and act. To become exactly like your instructor (Jesus). Continue in his word by doing, acting, and speaking. Disciple yourself and kids to do the word. what ever is inside someones heart will come out just as if you put pressure on a lemon. What is on the inside will come out. Provoke your children not to wrath.  God is your partner in every level. God knows how to reach your kids at any age and it is never too late. Cast your care on God for your kids. 1 Peter 5:6-10. It is easier to teach them now, today, than it would be to wait.  Mark 10:14 "suffer" means to send fourth, propel them to Jesus. Children are top priority compared to a adult ministry. Public schools are a hot bed of socialism. (which is there ways of doing things without God). Public school systems hates God. Children grow up and raise their children the way that they are raised up. Child psychology is manipulation and is not what I am talking about at all. And if your child tells you that you are doing something wrong and you know it do not get huffy about it, just say, "oh ya, thank you for correcting your mama baby, I repent in the name of Jesus."

KayCollins
KayCollins

Without knowing the ages of the kids referred to in the individual incidents it's really hard to judge if a slap was called for or not.  And, just how hard were the hits/slaps?   There are millions and millions of people like me who were raised by parents who slapped us for talking back (at 13 I told my mother she was too stupid for me to listen to - that earned me a slap across the face.  My mother and I were close right up to her death and I don't feel like she mistreated me at all in regards to corporal punishment) My son was spanked hard for crossing the street we lived on without me when he was 3 and managed to let himself out of the house, we lived on a lake which was across the street and the idea of him falling off our pier was so frightening to me that I figured I would rather have him have memories of me spanking the heck out of his butt than have no memories because he drowned..........I think there are situations where the parent has to take into account the individual child and decide what is needed -- a stubborn child and a deep lake is a lot different than a kid who steal candy from the pantry or fiddles with the pages of a book being read.  

Sweeping standards like no hitting ever just don't make sense and certainly don't explain all the people who have lived happy normal lives after being raised by parents who were not afraid to spank when needed.  

JimmyLee
JimmyLee

I was always spanked when I misbehaved. My father spanked for disciplinary reasons and it always included a big leather belt. My mother pretty much hit me whenever I was out of line. And it generally included whatever was handy. Wooden spoon across the back of the hands. To grabbing a switch off a tree to get beat with. As a Father I have spanked my kids. But very rarely and only when they are completely out of line. Most of the time we use different disciplinary techniques which include groundings and taking away privileges. However I always sit them down and explain the reason for the spanking and go into detail with my kids how that behavior is not acceptable. I always let them know that I love them. There is a fine line from spanking to child abuse. My father disciplined me. I do believe though that my mother abused me. And I never treat my kids like my mother treated me. I turned out good however. And my kids are well behaved and 2 of them are straight A students that never get in trouble at school. They are also social butterflies and fairly popular and very outgoing personalities. 

 Now as a few previous posters have noted they say that spanking causes mental problems and criminal behavior. Where is the proof in that? I think that lies more in physical and sexual abuse cases. A few years back I talked to about 15-20 coworkers and we were all having a conversation about spanking. Well the topic got on to criminal records. Believe it or not I was shocked to see that all the people that said they had a criminal record including felonies had said they were not spanked. This is far from a controlled study. However all the people that said they were not spanked as a child did have regrets stating that if they were spanked they might have not gotten in trouble with the law as adults. Spanking has been a part of our culture for thousands of years. I don't think typical spanking is bad on society. I do think that abuse cases get so much attention now due to social media and the ability to get worldwide news on the internet has put a stigma on spanking techniques. 

alonsom298
alonsom298

I doubt that there are any people who didn't become a serial killer or a gang banger,etc... Because they got spanked as a kid. There are mild cases of child abuse to extreme child abuse causing death. I strongly believe that spanking is more to relieve the frustration on the some parents. Yet others are lazy and just don't want to educate themselves on the subject. The ones who really believe that they are making a change by spanking their kids, they are, just not a positive change. You spanking your kid does affect our society, many kids who grow up by getting hit have mental problems that we have to deal with, we see it on the news all the time. I love my child and I can recall spanking her twice she's now 16. I can also say that it had nothing with disciplining her, I can honestly say looking back it was my own frustration and lack of self control. She's a great kid, no problems with her. I didn't have to spank my child to teach her anything, patience , and understanding that she has intelligence to learn with out being hit.

alonsom298
alonsom298

I don't think kids will learn by getting just a spank. There should be no reason to hit a child. If you implement the right techniques from the beginning,you can't wait until they are 6 or older to start because it will be tougher to make them understand. You are trying to teach this child to be a member of society. Hitting the child will teach them to act out in violence when they feel something is wrong to them, that's what hitting a child will teach them. There's always the exception u

keris.patterson
keris.patterson

I was spanked (rarely) as a child. My father always tried to make it a point to not spank if he were angry. And afterwards he would always love on me and my brother. My mother did not spank us. Being the oldest, I think I was a guinea pig for two young parents who were raised southern baptist and got whippings that I don't feel were necessary. I think there are very very rare instances where corporal punishment is necessary and that it should be a last resort always. But it damages people when there is no communication between parent and child as to why they're being spanked or when the parent reacts quickly without thought. Kids often act out when there are NO boundaries and when their parents allow them to "just be children", which for many means to let them do as they wish and excuse the fact that you have no control over your children on the fact that they're kids. I would watch kids act out in public, slap their parents, etc in shock and still do. When you do not stand as a firm pillar and are not consistent in your discipline THAT is when your kids grow up to be unruly and problematic. Because they feel a sense that you don't care about what they do. So discipline within reason, but never judge a person whether they choose to spank or not. Because many "parents" let their children manipulate them and run them and just give up because they are afraid to act. We need to raise our spiritual vibration and always way our options and act out of LOVE..

Shmo746
Shmo746

Love and logic is the way to go.  I was raised on it, taught it with my daycare and will do it with my own children.  Instead of spanking and causing physical harm, train your children to think logically, realize consequences, and realize how their actions impact others (adults can use to learn this stuff too).  Nothing is more powerful than pleasing a parent/guardian versus not pleasing a parent/guardian.  

For those of you who want an effective alternative to corporal punishment, here is a wonderful resource. http://www.loveandlogic.com/

JessieFoxx
JessieFoxx

Thank you for this. I've been trying to lose a few extra pounds since having my son and after reading the behavior of these parents was just the push I needed to lose my appetite for the rest of the month. Sick and twisted.. Don't have children if you cannot even allow them to BE CHILDREN.

SkyStark
SkyStark

Spanking is unneeded and lazy.

DilaraWentz
DilaraWentz

I was spanked as a kid and I was well behaved. I think it's the way you go about the spanking. Doing it every time or threatening it for the petty things makes a child no longer fear you or take you seriously. Spanking for the big things that are not ever acceptable or rude to others is, I believe, a definite. I am a military wife and when I sit and watch all the others with their kids there is a huge difference from the ones who don't do anything to their kid, to the ones that threaten it because they are a lazy parent, to the ones who do spank and have there kids who don't scream when they want something or make other people feel uncomfortable. Second, I believe that's is no ones buisness as to how you want to raise your child. Yes of course I don't believe in child abuse but spanking my child's butt has nothing to do with you. Its not like you're going to come up to me and tell me "you need to raise your child better" if I do something or not.

ajcarpy2005
ajcarpy2005

Why do these discussions so rarely exemplify how a parent SHOULD raise their child in liu of spanking? Even when they do, the farthest the articles usually go is to mention being creative with punishments.

My point is that punishment is only the negative reinforcement but Positive Reinforcement has been shown to be more effective than negative punishment. In other words, lovingly educating in a playful way is the silver bullet.

That is my high horse. Admittedly, I am not yet a parent but as a kid, I was spanked and yelled at a lot and I didn't have good positive reinforcement.

Kids need bonding and I think spanking of any kind breaks trust andvrespect in a child. So if you think it makes the kid respect MORE, I disagree. It makes them upset and angry at their parent.

Also, the physical pain is the least concern. The fact that it emotionally drives a wedge between the communication between parent and child is detrimental. Kids need to more than just know what to do or not do. They need to have a passion or in other words, care, about doing right. So, when pro-spanking parents, especially Christians say that breaking the will of the child is the goal, they better read some B.F. Skinner and maybe question their church teachings. A strong will is good. Passilnate kids grow up to be successful and independent. You spank and you increase chances of a n overly dependent, clingy child that is actually less sure of what to do and stressed about if their parents approvd, blah blah.

I hope this mostly makes sense. Fof the love of God, please put yourself in their shoes, get your stress levdls checked, and spend copious amounts of time positively influencing your kids in playful ways. Teach them how to use the microwave, how to open candy wrappers, how to think, and to exceed what even they think they can do.

-Atheist Humanist

AndySheepleton
AndySheepleton

Great study if there were no such thing as cause and effect.  Antisocial problem children are more likely to be spanked, and spanked more often.  Children on the whole in society are being spanked less and less and on the whole there is absolutely no improvement in the accomplishments or behavior of the generation as a whole.  The negative impacts of an overly permissive society will soon be upon us.

flystevens
flystevens

I'm concerned with your use of spank, hit, slap, used interchangeably, like they mean the same thing.  I believe from my own experience, as well as from observing others who scornfully chastise their kids in public, or who let their kids walk all over their parental authority, also in public, that these words are very different.  When I was a child, my father NEVER slapped me.  there were occasions when my behavior, according to my father's wisdom, elicited corporal punishment, the act of my father turning me over his knee and giving me a good spanking.  In those proceeding moments, I cried like hell, and hated him for it.  After a bit, he'd reenter the bedroom, gather me up and love on me.  It was the greatest feeling ever, and my hatred for him fell away.  He chose his moments sparingly, so my point is, there will never be the perfect solution to punishment, and spanking will be used by some and scorned by others.  True spanking, however, is NOT a gateway to further abuse.  I certainly never felt abused, but notice that most parents lacked my father's wisdom and personality, including this parent.

Alex12345
Alex12345

I was spanked regularly as a child.  As a result, I have never spanked my son, and he's 5 years old.  I was spanked for a long time, and it amazes me how I don't even have to walk away to prevent myself from spanking.  I hated it so much as a child, that I just don't even have the urge to raise my hand to my son.  It feels powerful to me.

JimmyLee
JimmyLee

@AndySheepleton In my day we went outside and every single kid in the neighborhood was outside. In today's world of electronics and video games. You can hardly tell certain neighborhoods are filled with children. And they blame antisocial behavior on spanking? Why be social when you can play Warcraft all day slaying internet dragons? Why be social when you can browse facebook games until bedtime? Try going into a restaurant.  I bet you cant count on one hand a couple that are there looking into each others time and enjoying each others company. One or both of them will be glued to their Android or their Iphone. Wanna know why today more then 50% of Marriages end in divorce? Its because on of them were spanked and was antisocial because of a spanking they had 15 years ago. It had nothing to do with electronic gadgets or the internet distractions people are addicted to. 

alexnc
alexnc

@AndySheepleton 

Actually there is no evidence that children in the US are being spanked less and less.  What's your data?


ajcarpy2005
ajcarpy2005

@AndySheepleton you seem to be implying that parents are not responsible for nor are they able to influence their child's personality development. Obviously, I take issue with that.

There is lots of cause and effect and since the brain of a child is less developed, guess who is goingnto be influencing whom? Of course, the parents will be havingnthe majority of influence on their children.

This idea you have that the kid will be anti-social and put the parent between a rock and a hard place is 99 percent excuse IMO.

It is similar to the idea that kids are bofn sinful and evil. I think this is problematic especially when interpreted as an excuse for the difficulty a parent is having.

What I am saying is a parent needs to be strategic and if their parenting is not working, they need to change themselves.

Sure, kids will want to test their limits. And thatbwill continue in some form or another all our life. And parents should be strict but also understanding. Their behavior has a cause and parents have the ability to PREVENT bad behavior if they use Positive Reinforcement.

Trust me, try it, be amazed.

flystevens
flystevens

@Alex12345 How often were you spanked and what was the follow-up?  Did your parent ever spank out of haste or anger? How long a duration was it between offense and spanking, an indicator to question 2 - in other words, did your parent contemplate for a while the severity of your actions before spanking?  When you say you are empowered NOT to spank, do you ever have moments when you think your child needs to be "shocked" back into civility?  Just questions of inquiry. Thanks and best wishes for happy parenting :)

Alex12345
Alex12345

@flystevens I am not sure what you're asking me about what was the follow-up?  I was spanked if I came home late for dinner, and it was as I arrived at the house.  I was spanked if I was fighting with my siblings, and it was at the time of the incident.  There were times where my mom would tell me, "Just wait until your father gets home," and I would remain stressed from that time until the time my father got home.  To me, he always spanked in anger.  I don't see how anyone....anyone can claim that hitting another human being can be done without anger.  So as long as say my husband hits me when he's not angry, then it's okay.  I believe that children should be treated the same as adults when it comes to hitting.  In other words, if I hit my child, that should be deemed as a battery--just like if my husband hit me.  I definitely feel superior to parents who spank their kids.  I don't know if I have thought that my son (who is still 5) needs to be shocked back into civility.  I may get angry with him and shocked at behavior that I have seen him exhibit, but when he calms down, he always realizes the error of his ways.

flystevens
flystevens

@Alex12345 @flystevens 

That actually tells me a lot.  Thank you.  I rarely use corporal punishment on my children - well, "did" use, as they are pretty much grown now.  You may want to see my reply to the author's use of the terms, spank, slap, hit.  I feel that you and I will disagree on the terms, because there are differences, big ones.  I am willing to listen to other parents on their strategies; that's how we learn and improve.  My dad used spanking for two reasons: open defiance to our mother, and if the "sin" was big enough to bring reproach upon the family, like the time my friends and I stole condoms from a gas station, blew them up, and stuck them on car antennas; he didn't like that, but later on, he probably thought it quite amusing. He never spanked for the reason that you shared, but I'm not criticizing your father's methods, just making a comparison,  My father, who recently passed by the way, would have considered those example too daily, too normal, while he focused on the "paranormal", I guess you could say.  Lastly, I strongly believe there are times when children need to be shocked back to reality, and for those who've never experienced a paddling, find it truly shocking, and it works very effectively.  This will create a great chasm between parents, but when the parenting years are all said and done, we'll have to stand by, or admit fault, with our strategies, and it will most naturally be some of both. p.s. out of 6 kids, only one of us feels that dad over-spanked, and it's the one who's life has been most dysfunctional..irony one way or the other? Hard to say, but he has 5 internees against him.