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Sep 26, 2008 10:45 am

Spanking Children

Yale psychologist Alan Kazdin argues in Slate today that parents shouldn't spank children. He says studies find a host of negative consequences:

"The negative effects on children include increased aggression and noncompliance—the very misbehaviors that most often inspire parents to hit in the first place—as well as poor academic achievement, poor quality of parent-child relationships, and increased risk of a mental-health problem (depression or anxiety, for instance). High levels of corporal punishment are also associated with problems that crop up later in life, including diminished ability to control one's impulses and poor physical-health outcomes (cancer, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease). Plus, there's the effect of increasing parents' aggression, and don't forget the consistent finding that physical punishment is a weak strategy for permanently changing behavior."

Two quick thoughts about this. First, I wonder whether spanking, like any other parenting technique, might work better (or worse) for some children than others. We often want a single policy for all children, but since children differ widely in temperament, personality, and so on, it seems likely that no single policy would be appropriate in all cases.

Second, it is interesting to note that modern psychology seems to be catching up with . . . Herbert Spencer! Spencer argued in his 1851 Social Statics that children deserve the same respect as adults and are equally protected by the law of equal freedom; one consequence of this, he thought, is that corporal punishment of children--or what he called" coercive education"--is as unjust as slavery.

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Aeon J. Skoble - 9/27/2008

Well, I agree that you and I learned a more nuanced conception of hitting via martial arts, but (a) kids of spanking age are probably too young to get that, and (b) the appropriateness you mention certainly is not met by "I'm not getting what I want right now" - which is why a kid might resort to hitting, but which is what a parent is also doing if the kid isn't listening. But yes, when the kids are older, by all means they should be taught about self-defense!

James Otteson - 9/27/2008

Aeon, instead of simply "don't hit," isn't the rule more like: "don't hit, except in the proper way and in the proper circumstances only"? I can see that a rule like that is inherently vague and can confuse children, but I wonder if in that regard it's any different from the rule "don't lie, except in the proper way and in the proper circumstances only"--which I think is the real rule about lying that we teach children.

Aeon J. Skoble - 9/26/2008

Plus, there's that whole "don't hit" thing. How can one tell the kid on Tuesday that hitting is wrong and then on Wednesday be doing the hitting? I've never gotten that.

Steven Horwitz - 9/26/2008

The question is how the study defines "spanking." Is it repeated use of physical force? If so, how frequent or how intense? Does a swat on the butt of a 2 year old count? Does grabbing a child's arm to yank him/her away when misbehaving count?

What parents think of as "spanking" might be different than what such a study does.