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Spanking Has Declined Sharply in the U.S. in Last 25 Years, Study Finds

Wallace Lupino and Betty Boyd
Actors Betty Boyd and Wallace Lupino spank their son in the film comedy, 'Hard Work,' from Educational Pictures, 1928. Bettman/Getty Images

American parents are sparing the rod much more frequently than in the past, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Using national data from the Monitoring the Future study, researchers looked at 35-year-old parents with biological, adopted or stepchildren aged 2 to 12 years. Parents were asked how often they spanked their child (choices ranged from "never" to "every day"); the researchers found the percentage of parents reporting spanking their kids had declined from 50 percent in 1993 to 35 percent in 2017.

Spanking by men decreased from 52 to 36 percent during this time frame, while spanking by women dipped from 48 to 35 percent. Overall, the spanking of toddlers (2 to 4 years old) decreased from 60 to 39 percent.

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Most of the study participants were white and married or engaged. Black, Hispanic and Asian parents accounted for 20 percent of the participants. Single parents represented about 5.5 percent of the participants.

While the issue of spanking has received a lot of discussion and research over the last few decades, it was only in 2018 that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) formally opposed corporal punishment. In a 1998 clinical report, the AAP merely discouraged its use. Also, in a 1992 survey of family physicians and pediatricians, the majority supported corporal punishment, despite research showing it wasn't effective and could be harmful.

So if experts took so long to definitively weigh in against spanking, why has it been decreasing for the past decades? There's no clear answer regarding this dramatic drop. Some experts believe it's a generational change, as humans increasingly reject any form of domestic violence, according to CNN. Others point to the influence of popular culture, with television stars such as "Supernanny" emphatically saying spanking does not help and should never be used. There has also been a constant trickle of studies showing the dangers of spanking, which can result in kids with increased aggression, depression, suicidal behavior, substance abuse and even changes in the brain.

While many are cheering the decline in spanking, the study authors warn that these numbers must continue to drop. More than one-third of parents in the U.S. still spank their children, after all. And in-school corporal punishment is allowed in 19 states. Good thing "Supernanny" is back on TV.

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