Spanking could harm your kid's psyche, claims a new study that has found a link between spanking and childhood aggression and depression.
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The findings, published in the fall 2012 Journal of Family and Marriage by researchers Andrea Gromoske and Kathryn Maguire-Jack, looked specifically at the fallout from spanking kids under 1-year-old in a sample of 3,870 families across the country. They found it led to 3-year-olds who were aggressive-hitting, screaming or having tantrums-and 5-year-olds who were depressed or anxious.
"The aim of our study was to investigate whether spanking at age 1 would be related to greater aggressive behavior, and then whether greater aggressive behavior would be related to greater depressive behavior," study co-author Gromoske told Yahoo! Shine in her first press interview about the findings. "Prior research had indicated that spanking was related to each type of child behavior, but no one had investigated how all of them were interrelated."
The study adds more fuel to the fire of the never-ending spanking controversy. Various reports show that up to 90% of parents think a good swat on the behind is okay; one 2010 survey, according to Child Trends Data Bank, found that found 75% of women (and 64% of men) agreed that kids sometimes need a "good hard spanking." Still, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association are officially against the practice. And past studies have also found a connection between spanking and acting out, including a widely publicized one out of Tulane University and published in Pediatrics in 2010, finding that, out of the nearly 2,500 youngsters looked at, those who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were much more likely to be aggressive by age 5.
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A surprise in the new research, Gromoske told Shine, was that, while past research in this area had shown a direct relationship between spanking and depressive symptoms, she and Maguire-Jack found a more complex connection, or chain of events, with aggression at 3 and depression at 5. "It turned out that spanking was directly related to future aggressive behaviors," she explained, "and that increases in aggressive behaviors were related to increases in depressive behaviors."
Robert Larzelere, professor of research methodology and statistics at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater who is a proponent of spanking as a last resort, told Shine, "I do think that under a year is far too young to be using spanking at all, because they don't understand what the connection is." However, he pointed to his own research on the subject as a case for "backup spanking," or using that whack as a last resort, on children between the ages of 2 and 6. "This applies when parents first try reasoning or time outs," he said, explaining that at that point, he believed that using "non-abusive" spanking is both safe and effective.
Meanwhile, Alfie Kohn, a Boston-area parenting and human behavior expert, and author of several books including Unconditional Parenting, welcomed news of the results.
"What we have here is another in a long line of research results proving that using physical violence on children is counterproductive in just about every imaginable respect," Kohn told Yahoo! Shine. "It teaches kids to be aggressive, to rely on power over those who are weaker, and to confuse loving with hurting."
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