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To Spank or Not to Spank?

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Strauss says spanking has the same immediate failure rate as other disciplinary measures tried by parents, but it often feels more effective, because it is a method of last resort.

"It is the best-kept secret of American child psychology that spanking doesn't work any better than anything else," he says. "All of the methods work equally well, or to put it another way, they all work just as badly. Because with a 2 year old nothing works at first," he says. "But any method that is repeated enough times -- be it spanking or reasoning with a child -- will eventually get through."

The long-term consequences of spanking, Strauss says, can include aggression, depression, poor academic performance, and a host of other problems.

"Study after study shows that the more parents hit kids, the more those kids hit other kids," he says. "The great irony of it is that a child hitting another child is one of the things that is most likely to bring on corporal punishment by the parent, so it's a vicious circle."

Strauss' surveys do show that older children are being spanked less these days. A 1995 survey found that approximately 35% of 13 year olds were spanked by a parent, compared to about twice that number in a 1975 survey.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, MD, co-author of the book "The Over Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyperparenting Trap," says it comes down to a question of what kind of child you want to raise.

"Our children almost invariably pick up our values as we live them, not as we say them," he tells WebMD. "So if we demonstrate to our kids that hitting is an appropriate way to deal with displeasure, we shouldn't be surprised when they do the same thing."

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