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Study Finds Spanked Children to be More Aggressive

Next month’s issue of Pediatrics magazine will feature a new study conducted by Tulane University that indicates something that shouldn’t be very surprising: spanking children at age 3 can make them more aggressive by age 5. Most of us are aware the violence begets violence; men and women who are raised in violent homes often grow to become violent people, continuing the vicious cycle.

So why do we, as a society, continue to use spanking when even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it or any form of corporal punishment? I think we do so with the same idea in mind that we use when we send our children to public schools, brush off bullying (either theirs directed at others or vice versa), let them watch unlimited television, and even smoke while pregnant—“It was good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my kids!” Many people rationalize that they turned out okay, so why wouldn’t it be okay to do the same thing to their own children?

But these arguments are incredibly flawed. Studies of mass people indicate that these behaviors are unhealthful on the whole, even when done in a controlled setting. The Tulane study, for example, cited instances of mild, moderate, and severe spanking, all which yielded the same results. Do you honestly think that hitting a child isn’t going to inspire him to hit? Children copy everything else we do; why on earth would you spank a child to tell him or her that violence is wrong?

Aside from the damage this can inflict and the studies behind it, I have a major problem with the way we treat children as if they are not humans. If a grown friend or family member said no to us, forgot where he put his coat, broke a vase, or even smacked the dog, would we spank him? Would we shower him with humiliation or pain? Of course not. We might be angry, and we would likely explain why—even “have words” with him—but we sure wouldn’t spank him. Really, other than your child, who would you spank?

Why does this rule apply only to people who are only two, three feet tall and much less mentally developed than we are? It's not a punishment legally provided to convicts, after all; that would be considered cruel and unusual. Is it not cruel and unusual for children as well? When we spank, we teach children that the way to deal with things we don’t like is through violence and humiliation. 

Recalling instances where I was spanked as a child—there were very few—I don’t remember them making me “learn my lesson” at all. In fact, these instances—two of which I remember I did nothing to deserve, and after which my parents even apologized when they discovered the truth—only served to make me feel ashamed, angry, and resentful toward my parents. If I felt comfortable making mistakes and asking them for help with them before, I sure did not after. (The whole "I'll give you something to cry about!" always grated on my skin, too, for afterwards, we were told to stop crying. Is there really any logic to that other than taking out your frustration and anger on someone?)

Personal experiences aside, if we wish for our children to be respectful, kind people, we need to exhibit respectful, kind behavior. I know so many rational parents who use corporal punishment; why not use a rational form of discipline instead of sending such a violent message to our children?

Instead of fostering shame, guilt, bullying behavior, animal abuse, and other negative effects physical violence can bring, why not show our children from an early age how to compromise, understand actual consequences of choices made, cause and effect, and create peaceful resolutions? Indeed, if there’s one thing that could potentially bring peace on Earth, it’s peace in the home.