Did you ever wonder whether it's OK to spank your kids? The American Academy of Pediatrics says an emphatic "no" in an updated policy statement issued Monday that calls for a ban on corporal punishing, or spanking. Thousands of professionals who work with children and families agree.
Why? Decades of scientific evidence show that, when compared with children who were not hit for discipline, those who were hit have an increased risk for health problems of all kinds as they age: social, behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and physical. They're at risk for increased aggressive behavior, anxiety, and depression.
The stress of being spanked or even severely verbally admonished can raise levels of stress hormones in children and teens in ways that impede brain development. Overly harsh discipline such as hitting disrupts a child's ability for bonding and attachment to parents and caregivers, the very backbone of loving family life and a foundational element in learning how to be social.
Current data show most U.S. adults report that they've been spanked and believe it is a necessary form of discipline. There is a common thought of "I turned out OK, so how bad can it be?" Of course, we may all be OK, but it's time to stop the practice, given what we know now. Let's not forget the times back then. In the 1960s, parents didn't make kids wear seatbelts.
What do we do now?
The task falls to everyone who cares about the well-being of children to correct the misconception that spanking is harmless. Whether you're a teacher, a member of the clergy, a neighbor or a grandparent, we can work together to empower parents to raise their children safely and in the healthiest ways possible. We can:
Support parents when they need help and share simple techniques, such as redirecting children's behavior when they are being inappropriate or withholding privileges.
Talk to parents about the new American Academy of Pediatrics statement: "It's best to begin with rewarding positive behavior."
Remind parents that spanking is often the result of a parent's frustration in the moment, and help them realize the importance of stepping back to think before reacting.
Refer parents to websites such as the AAP's Healthy Children and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's positive parenting tips.
Encourage organizations, institutions, sports leagues, and even entire communities to become No-Hit Zones.
And if extra help is needed, we can guide parents to seek help from pediatricians, mental-health professionals, or other child-health specialists with programs designed to help them effectively manage challenging child behavior.
With so many great resources available, no parent should ever feel a need to choose between hitting to teach a lesson or doing nothing at all.
At a time when social violence dominates too many news cycles, we should also consider the fact that countries that have implemented bans on spanking, compared with those that have not, have lower rates of physical fighting among adolescents.
The goal of good discipline is to help our children learn important life skills. Hitting children certainly does not accomplish that and leads to harm. Pediatricians, who are among parents' most trusted sources of information, have now taken a stand against hitting. What a powerful and peaceful community we can become if we support all parents in taking this latest statement by the American Academy of pediatrics to heart. Let's join with the rest of the globe in moving to protect children from unnecessary harm, and work together in the U.S. to support non-violent parenting.
Janet Rosenzweig , M.S., Ph.D, MPA, is the executive director of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children. Catherine A. Taylor, Ph.D. MSW, MPH, an associate professor of global community health and behavioral sciences, and director of the Violence Prevention Institute at Tulane University School of Public Health & Tropical Medicine, contributed to this article.