Spanking Can Lower Children's Intelligence

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Two new studies suggest that children who are spanked have lower IQ’s than those who are not. Both studies were conducted by University of New Hampshire sociologist Murray Straus and will be presented at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma.

In the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, parents of approximately 1500 US children between the ages of 2 and 9 were asked about the use of spanking as a form of discipline. Straus and his partner Mallie Paschall of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation analyzed the intelligence scores of those same children four years later. They found that the IQ’s of the younger children in the study who received spanking as discipline was an average of 5 points lower. In the older children, the IQ was almost 3 points lower.

The rate of spanking was also studied. In families where children received the disciplinary measure more often, a delay in the child’s mental ability was noticed.

Straus explains that using physical forms of discipline causes chronic stress in children that shows up later as increased post-traumatic stress symptoms. These symptoms are often associated with a lower intelligence quotient. He also notes that in situations of lower economic resources, spanking is more prevalent.

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Straus also analyzed data from a survey given to over 17,000 university students in 32 countries around the world regarding their receipt of spanking as a disciplinary measure. IQ scores were lower in countries were spanking was more prevalent. Physical discipline is most common in Asian and African countries, including as Malaysia, Singapore, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, which use the term “caning” as opposed to “spanking”. Some countries, including Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Latvia and Croatia have enacted laws against using spanking as a form of discipline.

Many studies over the past 60 years have linked spanking to behavioral issues in children, including aggression, anti-social behavior, and mental health disorders. Research scientist Lisa Berlin linked spanking with negative behaviors in children in a recent Duke University study of 2500 racially diverse, low-income families. In this study, researchers found that children who were spanked at an early age were more aggressive and scored lower on test scores as early as age 3. Verbal discipline did not seem to yield the same effects.

Spanking as a form of childhood discipline is also linked to depression, alcohol abuse, anger control issues, and domestic violence later in adulthood, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Child psychologists say that by using other measures of discipline parents teach children higher-level cognitive skills, self-control, and logical thinking. The AAP recommends withholding privileges or issuing a time-out as alternative discipline measures to spanking.

Sources include: Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, the Journal of Child Development, Contemporary Pediatrics/Modern Medicine, and The American Academy of Pediatrics

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