I just watched an Australian 60 Minutes TV episode about parents spanking (“smacking”) their children. I watched a mother hit her children as hard as she could on the rear. The mother seemed to spank the kids every day, for every misbehavior.
The show host indicated that some countries ban spanking, as recommended by psychologists and other experts. Australia and the U.S. do not.
Why do psychologists oppose spanking? Below are several reasons. Spanking:
1. Sets a bad model: Getting your way thru using violence against someone smaller and less powerful. This is especially a danger when the parent shows anger when spanking.
2. Can lead children to act more violently.
3. Can make the parent a conditioned punisher, so that the child feels punished whenever the parent is present.
4. Can harm the parent-child relationship.
5. Can lead to strong negative emotions in a child — essentially a stress reaction.
6. Can lead to the development of undesirable avoidance behaviors, such as lying.
7. Is so reinforcing for some parents that they use it more and more to the point of emotionally or physically abusing their child.
8. Looks and sounds inhumane, especially when accompanied by angry speech and facial expressions.
To these arguments, parents usually say that there is no good alternative. But there are! Parents can control child behavior by encouraging specific good behavior, setting rules, explaining the purpose of the rules, reinforcing (e.g., praising) good behavior, modeling good behavior, creating engaging activities for children so that they stay out of trouble, and using nonviolent forms of punishment, such as time out from reinforcement (go sit on the stairs) and response cost (e.g., no TV for an hour).
Trying to convince parents to replace spanking with other parenting methods is very tough. What do you think about spanking? Ought there to be a law against it?
John Malouff, PhD, JD
Assoc Prof of Psychology