Corporal punishment, such as spanking, is a very common method of disciplining children in many communities, the world over. The appropriateness of implementing such physical punishment by care-givers has become a hotly debated issue nowadays, as societies become more aware of its ill effects on future child development and conduct. Numerous published research in child psychology (Grogan-Kaylor, 2004; Aucoin, Frick, and Bodin 2006; Larzelere, Cox Jr, and Smith, 2010, etc.) advocate lesser use of spanking and instead, call for milder non-physical disciplinary methods. They insist on such measures because the use of spanking curbs childhood misbehavior at that moment, but provokes future sociopathic behaviors. This article investigates this notion and highlights factors that promote or influence spanking among Western communities.
The effects of spanking on a child's behavior and development, and the links to aggression, mental health problems, child abuse, and so forth are so interconnected in such a complex manner with so many potential causes that the contribution of spanking may seem impossible to untangle (Elliman and Lynch, 2000). The most detailed and informative review of the effect of physical punishments to date, was conducted by Gershoff (2002), as it provided a meta-analysis of 88 American and foreign studies examining the relationship between punishment and children's adjustment. The results provide a dismal picture of the effects of punishment on children. The only positive effect noticed was the child's immediate compliance to parental commands.
According to Gershoff (2002), parental use of punishment showed a positive association with aggression, delinquent/antisocial behavior, and becoming a victim of child abuse in children. In addition to these coexisting relations, her meta-analysis recognized an association between the experience of punishment in childhood and problems in future adult adjustment, including aggression, criminal or antisocial behavior, abuse of spouse and child, and poor mental health. A study by MacMillan et al. (1999), of residents in Ontario, Canada, without a history of physical or sexual abuse in childhood, demonstrated that those who reported being spanked often or sometimes had significantly higher lifetime rates of anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse, or dependence and one or more externalizing problems as compared to those who reported never being spanked. Nevertheless, we are left to wonder as to why some parents spank often while others never spank. To answer this, we need to scrutinize how the frequency and intensity of spanking is influenced by certain confounding factors, involving both the care-giver and the cared.
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