Does Spanking Lead to Trouble Later?
Early Spanking May Increase Chances of Problem Behavior
WebMD News Archive
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.
"It's also been found that there are cultural differences
in how families spank children that are related to ones' race and
ethnicity," Slade says. "African-American and Hispanic families are
more likely to punish children physically, whereas white non-Hispanic families
more are likely to use verbal reprimands to discipline children. It may just be
that the perception of spanking and punishment differs depending on the
This difference in family context reflects real differences in
the world outside the family, says Arthur L. Whaley, PhD, DrPH, associate
director for mental health services research at the Hogg Foundation for Mental
Health, University of Texas, Austin.
Whaley says there are two kinds of spanking. One is
child-centered spanking: punishment to stop behavior dangerous to the child.
The other is adult-centered spanking: punishment because the child is annoying
"In African-American culture, traditionally when a child is
spanked it is a consequence of action on the part of the child," Whaley
tells WebMD. "The child is given an explanation almost simultaneously, so
the association is clear."
But Whaley notes that black and Hispanic families also have
other reasons to use punishment that results in rapid behavior change.
"Outside the home, a child of color may experience graver
consequences for actions that may not be as severe for non-Hispanic white
youths," he says. "There is clear evidence that when boys will be boys
-- when they get caught engaging in mischief -- the consequence for white
youths is that they are taken home to their parents and that is the end of it.
For black youth, in some cases, they are taken to the police station."
As they get older, Whaley says, children of color come to
understand their experience of family discipline in terms of its social
"Later behavioral problems are less likely when this
connection is made," he says.