SPANKING TEACHES SHORT-TERM LESSON, BUT LONG-TERM
By Murray Straus, Ph.D.
July 24, 1999
The writer is the Co-Director of the Family Research Laboratory at the
University of New
Hampshire and a former president of the National Council on Family
Relations. He is the
author of Beating The Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment In American
Oklahoma and Nevada recently passed laws to remind parents and teachers that they have the right to use corporal
punishment such as spanking and slapping children. These laws were prompted by the recent shootings in schools. As one
Oklahoma legislator reasoned, "Back when I grew up, we got our
tails whipped at school, then got it again when we got home.
We didn't have shootings."
This opinion does not square with the fact that seven of the eight school shooting sprees in the last three years occurred
in states that do use corporal punishment in the schools. However, since only a very small fraction of murders by youth are
in schools, I decided to check on all murders by children age 17
and under in each of the states.
If the Oklahoma and Nevada legislators are correct, the states that permit the
widest use of corporal punishment should have the lowest rate of
children. But if the research on corporal punishment that has been
over the last 45 years is correct, those states are likely to have
the most murders
by children. To find out which is true, I classified the states
into three groups on
the basis of the degree to which they permitted corporal
punishment: The low
group are states that prohibit corporal punishment in the schools
and also in day
care, group homes, and foster care (no state prohibits corporal
parents). The middle group permitted corporal punishment in only
one of these
settings, and the high group permitted it in two or more of these
settings. I found
that the rate of murders by children was 13 per million in the low
punishment states, was 19 per million (or 46 percent higher) in the
and almost doubled to 24 in the high corporal punishment states.
It seems that, instead of being a deterrent, corporal punishment
example for children. When parents or teachers hit children for
teaches the child that if someone misbehaves towards them (an
in the lives of children), hitting is a way to correct the problem.
punishment also creates resentment and anger in many children,
increases the probability of violence.
Spanking does work in the short run. However, the research which
spanking works also shows that nonviolent methods of discipline
work just as
well. So there is no need to use corporal punishment. But what
about the long-run
effect? Parents spank to stop misbehavior and also to "teach a
does teach a lesson, but study after study in the past 40 years
suggesting, but not proving, that children also learn violence and
behavior. However, 1997 marked a turning point in research on
Since 1997 five studies have used the amount of misbehavior that
led to the
corporal punishment as the baseline. These studies then reexamined
after a year, two years, or five years to determine if things had
stayed the same,
changed for the better, or gotten worse. My own study, and all
others, found that,
on average, the behavior of the children of parents who spanked got
course some spanked children improved and some whose parents used
modes of discipline got worse. But on the average, spanking
These studies are especially important because all were based on
representative samples of families, and all took into account many
that affect the behavior of children, such as the education level
of the parents, and
whether the parents were also emotionally warm and supportive.
Yes, spanking teaches a lesson. Unfortunately, there is also a
It is the teaching of violence. If we want a less violent society,
one of the many
steps is to stop bringing up children by the violent methods that
go under the
euphemism of spanking.