Parents: Ditch the Spanking and Try Non-punitive Discipline Instead

A new meta-analysis study published in the Journal of Family Psychology went through five decades of research on spanking and confirms that spanking isn't doing anyone any good. Ptaxa/Getty

Parents are an opinionated bunch. And those opinions make themselves known as soon as children arrive on the scene, if not before. To co-sleep or not to co-sleep? Let the baby cry it out or instantly comfort? To spank or not to spank? In a 2015 blog post for UNICEF, Susan Bissell notes that many parents are choosing to spank. In fact, Bissell writes, "4 out of 5 children aged 2 to 14 are subject to some kind of violent discipline in their homes."

A new joint study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan focused specifically on spanking (defined as " an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities") and found that it led to unintended negative outcomes. Or exactly what parents are trying to avoid in the first place.

"The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do," says Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, co-author and an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, in a press release.

Those outcomes include increased parental defiance, aggression and antisocial behavior, as well as mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to the authors' wide-ranging study. And it usually means the child isn't going to do what the parent wants him or her to do, in the short or long term.

Grogan-Kaylor, along with Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, did a mega meta-analysis, combing through five decades of research on 160,000 children to reach their conclusion that spanking was consistently and significantly associated with negative outcomes.

Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor are hopeful that the lack of evidence supporting spanking as an effective parenting tool will prompt moms and dads to try other measures.

Gershoff adds in the release, "We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline."