‘Spanking is not effective’: Experts and parents weigh in on the controversial topic

Local News

Parenting two young boys is hard enough.

“The energy in here is completely different than with just one,” says Liz Cook, a local mother.

Bringing in a news camera to talk about parenting two young boys − that’s a whole other level.

“Is there something I can do to help him before the behavior happens?” she says as her son, Charlie, hits her. She explains to him: “OK, that’s not OK, OK? Look at me. That’s not OK.”

Cook is like most parents − she’s doing the best she can. She relies on a teaching background, the occasional parenting article and a lot of patience.

One thing she does not rely on, is spanking. Something she expected to do before she became a mother.

“I want to say that it was not until I had kids that I decided I’m not going to do that,” she says. “I’m just not going to.”

Cook says she was spanked as a child, regularly.

But she’s now part of a new generation of moms and dads who are rethinking discipline. A national study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that the average mother is less likely to spank her child, from 46 percent in 1986 to 21 percent in 2011.  

That is good news to critics of spanking, like Dr. Amanda Suplee, a pediatric psychologist at Valley Children’s Hospital.

She says, “Spanking is not effective. There’s actually a significant amount of research that suggests there’s no behavior change. And it can actually lead to detriments for the behavior of the child.”

She says the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have both strengthened language, asking parents to not spank their kids.

She explains, “There’s research to suggest it’s associated with increased aggressive behavior, which is often the opposite of what the parent wants. It’s often associated with mental health defects like increased risk of depression, anxiety and conduct disorders. It changes the way the brain develops, and decreases academic performance.”

A Facebook poll that garnered more than 2,000 responses showed that nearly nine out of 10 people believe spanking to be an acceptable form of punishment.

And many said spanking a child on the bottom, within reason, is perfectly legal. There is a concern from many who say that less physical discipline will lead to more behavior problems now and in the future.

Here are a few comments from our poll:

  • “I got spanked when I grew up and I suffer from respecting others, not turning out a criminal and turning out to be a good person.”
  • “Kids are out of control nowadays because we can’t spank them.”
  • “There’s a difference between discipline and abuse.”
  • “Our society would be better off if we spanked our kids.”

Suplee says kids will misbehave no matter what. She says removing privileges, taking away toys and electronics work better than fear of physical discipline.  

And even more effective, she says, is reinforcing good behavior every single time you see it.

She says for example: “‘I really like that you picked up your toys right now.’ ‘I like how calm you’re sitting.’ ‘I like how nice you’re being to your sister right now.’ And the child thinks, ‘Oh. mom and dad like that. I’m going to do that more often.'”

But parents know, there is theory, and there is reality. Cook says she has no plans to spank her kids, but knows how frustrating children can be.

“Have I been to that moment, yes? Like, oh my god he just popped me in the face. I want to pop him in the face back. I need to walk away, or you need go over there for a moment,” she says.

So what stops her? She uses the word “hypocrisy.” “How am I supposed to teach you not to do this, while doing the same thing to you?” she says.

So what does all this mean?

If parents stop spanking their kids, then suddenly everything is great?

Suplee says it take time, patience and consistency, but things can, and do, get much better for parents who make the effort to not use physical force to disipline their kids.

“I’ve had so many parents come back and say, ‘I can’t believe how quickly their behavior has changed.’ Or, ‘I’m really enjoying being around them more often. We are having play time now, where before we couldn’t because I was always so worried about them throwing toys or hitting their brother or sister.'” 

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