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Young kids are spanked far too much in the U.S.

Harold Mandel's picture
A mother abusing her son

Most parents in the United States begin spanking their kids when they are very young. It appears most parents are convinced that spanking is one of the only effective manners to teach their kids to behave properly. However, spanking of kids creates more problems than it solves and should be discouraged.

It's hard to believe, but the majority of U.S. parents really do spank their children, reported the journal Child Abuse & Neglect. Researchers examined families who participated in a community based study of new births in urban areas. The researchers explored whether spanking by the child's mother, father, or the mother's current partner when the child was 1-year-old was associated with child protective services involvement with the household when the child was between age 1 and age 5. It was observed that 30 percent of 1-year-olds were spanked at least once during the past month. There were increased odds of subsequent child protective services involvement with spanking at age 1.

There was a 33 percent greater probability of subsequent child protective services involvement for kids who were spanked at age 1 in comparison to children who were not spanked. It has been suggested that in consideration of the undesirable consequences of spanking children along with a lack of empirical evidence which suggests any positive effects of physical punishment, professionals who work with families should counsel the parents not to spank infants and toddlers. Alternate forms of discipline should be encouraged beginning during the child's first year of life.

Paradoxically, the same hands which parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and clean their babies are also often used to spank their babies, reports the University of Michigan. It was University of Michigan researchers who found that 30 percent of 1-year-old kids were spanked at least once in the past month by their mother, father or both parents. There has been a great deal of debate about spanking kids for a long time, and yet most parents still often do so. Nevertheless, studies have shown that spanking is associated with greater aggression, depression and other negative behavior in kids.

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There has been a focus on disciplining kids as young as age 3 in previous studies, partially because
spanking has been found to be common among children of this age. However, the most recent findings have showed that spanking is used on kids who are so young that, in some cases, they haven't taken their first step yet. There were 2,788 families included in this study of new births in urban areas. There was a significant association between spanking of young kids and visits by child protective services. In fact 10 percent of the families that spanked their children when they were just a year old received at least one visit by child protective services.

Shawna Lee and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, who are social workers from the University of Michigan, have said that spanking babies is a particularly misguided and potentially harmful form of parental discipline. Spanking kids can set off a cascade of inappropriate parental behavior. Clearly, many people do not have parenting skills which include alternatives to spanking.

It is the position of Lee that intervention aimed at reducing or eliminating spanking has the potential to contribute to the well-being of families and kids who are at risk of becoming involved with the social services system. The researchers say parents should be talked to about alternatives to spanking babies and toddlers by pediatricians, nurses and social workers whenever the opportunity arises.

I have often observed parents insisting that spanking their young kids is the only way they can control them properly. In fact parents getting carried away with spanking their kids often becomes embarrassing even in public places. Spanking has been shown to be an ineffective manner to train kids to act properly and is in fact associated with a myriad of emotional, physical and legal problems.

Spanking can be considered a form of child abuse. It is therefore not surprising that child protective services often get involved with families who spank their kids. It is therefore highly advisable that alternative forms of discipline for kids be taught to parents and other people involved in taking care of children.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/Freedigitalphotos.net