Parents who spank their child know they are hurting the little
one's back side, if even a little bit. But emerging studies show
they may be damaging the thinking end as well.
New research from the University of New Hampshire claims spanked
children have lower IQs than those whose caregivers spare the
UNIVERSITY OF NEW
A recent university
study found that kids who were
spanked had IQs that were, on average, four points
lower than thse who weren't.
University of New Hampshire Professor Murray Straus and
colleagues studied nationally representative samples of more than
17,000 2- to 9-year-olds in 32 countries. When they re-tested four
years later, researchers found the younger and more often kids get
spanked, the more impact on their brains.
The connection between spanking and smarts doesn't seem like
brain surgery to Dr. David Finn, a psychologist specializing in
parenting and domestic violence who teaches positive discipline
techniques at Associates in Human Development Counseling in Rolling
"It'shard for a child to develop trust when the same person who
can heal a skinned knee with a kiss can also inflict pain at will,"
Corporal punishment goes hand-in-hand with blocked brainpower
because it becomes a chronic stressor for young children, research
shows. The anxiety shows up like symptoms of post-traumatic stress
as toddlers grow constantly fearful and easily startled. That means
crucial connections in the brain donít hook up and IQ digits dip,
In the mid-'90s, Straus, a national anti-spanking guru,
published a precursor to this yearís study, "Beating the Devil out
of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and its Effects
on Children." It established that corporal punishment produces the
opposite of the desired effect. His new study shows that in
prosperous countries, fewer parents use corporal punishment and
national IQ averages are higher.
In a metro area that is becoming a national poster city for
youth violence, Chicago public policy experts are looking to
parenting techniques that offer alternatives to corporal punishment
as a possible root fix for wildly escalating hostility among inner
city young people.
In spite of mounting evidence that spanking a tot (or a teen)
does more harm than good, spreading the anti-spanking doctrine is
still a hard sell, Finn and other Chicago area parenting
"Parents learn to parent from their own parents, so they seem to
think it is their right to spank," Finn says.
Rush University College of Nursing professor Dr. Deborah Gross
got that message right from the mommiesí mouths when she rounded up
a test group of low-income parents to shape The Chicago Parent
Program. This training program now helps families in Chicago's
inner city youth programs and Head Start centers.
When leaders of the focus group asked how many parents in the
room had been spanked as a child, everyone raised a hand. In fact,
the parent advisory group said giving time-outs instead of spanking
was a prime example of why they view white kids as "spoiled and
ìill-mannered," Gross says in a paper about the program.
Gross quickly got the message that billing the workshops as a
no-spanking program would assure it also would wind up as a
"You lose that war," she says. "It's hard for parents to
understand the toxic effects of spanking because a lot of them were
spanked and still felt loved."
Instead, The Chicago Parent Program of Rush University created
eight keys to effective discipline that gently nudged parents away
from hitting and toward subtler, gentler forms of getting behavior
"A lot of these parents told us they don't want to spank their
kids. They just don't know what else to do," Gross says. "We gave
them other tools they could use to get the behavior they were
Much to some parents' surprise, nonviolence worked. Parents in
training interventions reported they resorted less to yelling,
spanking and hitting than comparison groups, Gross says. And the
kids were behaving better. Follow-up surveys and observations
showed children of parents who completed training werenít whining,
back talking or acting out so much at day care.
Research from at least one national study found that kids whose
families go through first-rate parenting programs like The Chicago
Parent Program wind up with 60 percent fewer arrests.
Most of Finn's clients don't come from inner city neighborhoods,
yet as many as 80 percent of them grapple with good ways to
discipline their offspring, he says. But, in the suburbs as well as
the city, turning away from the quick fix of a whack to the
backside can be tough tactic to reform.
"Parents get short-term reinforcement from spanking because the
child stops the offending behavior, looks downcast and apologizes,"
Finn says. "What they donít realize is that the child is really
learning how to get away with it, to fear the parent and to be less
It's not just that spanking is harmful to the growing minds of
toddlers all the way up to teens (the strongest link between
corporal punishment and IQ found in the study was for those spanked
as teens). Finn and Straus both say that, for all its instant
feel-bad upshots, spanking simply doesn't work.
"I tell parents that if spanking worked, theyíd only have to do
it once," Finn says. "Instead, they end up having to do it over and
over and resorting to escalating levels of violence."
Robyn Monaghan is a mother and long-time journalist.
See more of Robyn's stories here.
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