I’ll bet you a cup of delicious Pacific Northwest coffee (tall no-fat vanilla latte, thanks) that at least half of you have said, at one time or another, “I’ll never hit my child!” And I’ll bet you the maraschino cherry on my hot fudge sundae (no nuts, thanks) that a sizable chunk of you, whether or not you vowed not to hit, have spanked your kids anyway.
Yeah, you. I’m talking to you. The Dreaded Spank. It happens. Toddler on the loose, darting for that busy street for the 3000th time? Permanent marker decorating the walls and carpet? Poop anywhere where poop just shouldn’t be? Swats happen. It happens. One quick reaction before rational thought sets in. Besides, some of us were raised with spanking. It seems … familiar. And don’t diapers provide padding?
But listen to this: a new study suggests that early spanking — and we’re talking the prime of toddlerhood here, kids who are between one and two — has some detrimental effects. Kids who were spanked at the age of one were more aggressive at the age of two and performed worse on cognitive tests at the age of three. Whoa.
We can argue that there are levels of spanking. Does a light swat over layers of diaper and clothes equal an angry hard spank? Doesn’t seem like it, no. But at the same time, from what I read of the study, a spank is a spank is a spank. Raising a hand to a small child is still a raised hand coming toward one small child.
I remember being spanked as a kid. It felt humiliating. (Hey! Maybe I escaped having to be a genius because I got spanked! Whew! Thanks, Mom & Dad!)
I keep going back to that spanking study. I have to admit, I’m a little bothered that they chose to sample only low-income families. Huh? But that decision was based on previous research that suggested these are the families that incorporate spanking more frequently. In the study, the average one-year-old was getting spanked 2.6 times a week. Yikes. Interestingly, and I’m not sure how to interpret this, verbal punishment — yelling, scolding or making derogatory comments — wasn’t associated with any negative effects as long as the child’s mother (the mother? what about fathers?) was otherwise attentive, loving and supportive.
It’s very easy to fall hard on one side of the fence here. Not many people are comfortable making a strong public case in support of hitting their children despite what they might do at home. Spanking just isn’t as popular now as it was in “Mad Men” days. But it still happens. Hey, no judgment here, really. Your toddler runs toward the busy street. You don’t stop to think. You just want to get a message across. I get it.
But the littlest kids, those one-year-olds, they don’t have much discernment. They are input-gathering devices, and it doesn’t much matter to them how they get it. Poop on the walls, what fun! Hiding in the spinning clothes racks at Target, yay! It’s all the same when you’re one. But that’s the time to use a different mode of getting the message across. Apparently hitting only teaches that hitting is okay, not that running into traffic will kill you.
What do you think? Would knowing that early spanking could make their child more aggressive and maybe not as smart help keep parents who spank from doing so? Would it change your mind?
And here’s a bonus question — if you were spanked as a child and came from a spanking culture and have chosen not to spank your kids (and kept your word), was that a struggle or a no-brainer for you?
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