Does Spanking Lead to Trouble Later?
Early Spanking May Increase Chances of Problem Behavior
WebMD News Archive
May 3, 2004 -- Spanking kids younger than 2 years old greatly
increases the chances of problem behavior when they reach school age, a Johns
Hopkins University study shows.
The report, by Eric P. Slade, PhD, and Lawrence S. Wissow, MD,
appears in the May issue of Pediatrics.
"For white, non-Hispanic children, those spanked at least
once during a particular week were twice as likely as children not spanked to
need parent-teacher meetings when they reached school age," Slade tells
WebMD. Children that were spanked were 40% more likely to be ranked by their
parent in the top 10% of behavior problems.
"This is the very high end of behavior problems," he
The findings come from a huge number of interviews with mothers
collected in a Labor Department-funded study from 1979-1998. Women in this
national sample were interviewed every two years. Slade and Wissow's study
included data on about 2,000 children followed for four years.
Spanking Common Form of Child Discipline
At the age of 3 to 4 years, 19 out of 20 U.S. kids get spanked
at least once a year. But would anyone spank a child younger than 2? Yes.
According to a 2001 survey, parents report spanking:
If so many parents do it, can it be wrong? Yes, says child
discipline expert J. Burton Banks, MD, assistant professor of family medicine
at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.
"Spanking is typically inappropriate at any age, but
particularly for children younger than 18 months," Banks tells WebMD.
"Kids that young don't understand the implications of their actions or
cause and effect. Spanking doesn't change their behavior."
That's the behavioral issue. But Banks says there's an even
more important physical issue.
"In younger children there is a greater chance of
injury," Banks says. "The more frequently spanking is practiced, the
less effective it comes. So the tendency of the parent is to escalate the
severity -- often to the point of injuring the child, whether it's intentional
Spanking, Banks says, is the form of punishment most likely to
cross the fine line between child discipline and child abuse.
Cultural Context of Child Discipline Important
Interestingly, Slade and Wissow found no link between early
spanking and later behavior problems in black and Hispanic children.
"Spanking may have very different consequences for children
depending on the family circumstances in which spanking is used," Slade
says. "And those circumstances may differ depending upon racial and ethnic
In white families, Slade notes, frequent spanking was linked to
unfavorable family situations: lower family income, parents who did not
complete high school, and mothers with symptoms of depression. This was not the
case in black or Hispanic families.