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Study Tracks Effects of Spanking Children

Aired June 29, 2002 - 07:49   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a new study has some parents re-examining what to do when their child disobeys. It says spanking causes long-term harm such as aggression and anti-social behaviors among many other things.

Well, here to discuss whether sparing the rod spoils the child is Peter Sprigg with the Family Research Council. He's in Washington. And, in New York, Penny Shore, she's with the International Advisory Council on Parenting.

Good morning to you two.



PHILLIPS: All right, let's lay it out here. Let's define spanking first, OK. Peter, quickly.

SPRIGG: Well, I think that's part of the problem with this study. Strictly speaking, the study is not about spanking but about corporal punishment, which can include a range of uses of physical punishment that go well beyond what most people understand as spanking. The normal definition of spanking would be one or two swats on the child's bottom with an open hand. And that's the only kind of corporal punishment that we would recommend but we do feel it has a place in parenting style.

PHILLIPS: And, Penny, you think, absolutely no way, right?

SHORE: I think there is no place for spanking in child rearing. Pardon the pun. Because, you know, you never know when that physical, corporal punishment can get a little out of hand.

Typically, a parent will spank when they're angry. I believe that the only kind of discipline that's really relevant is a positive discipline that respects and considers the needs of the child. It's got to be age-appropriate, it's got to be right with the expectations. In my opinion, there's no place for spanking.

PHILLIPS: All right, let's get to -- I've received, as you can imagine, a number of e-mails. So, I just want to get right to them. OK? This one comes from Wooten, in South Carolina. Actually, I guess -- no, we're not going to take those e-mails, guys, those are, that's a different segment. Here we go.

"Spanking is one of many tools of discipline. Without children -- without it, children will have no respect for you or anything else. Tough love." You hear that a lot.

Peter, why don't you start?

SPRIGG: Well, I feel that parents need to have spanking available as one of the tools. It should not be the first resort in discipline. Certainly, we favor using other forms, verbal admonitions as well as time outs or logical consequences, removing privileges and so forth.

But, there are times when children are openly defiant and are not complying with other forms of discipline when spanking can be effective. I agree it should be limited in terms of how frequently it's used and to the ages as well. It's most effective with children between say eighteen months and six years old.

But to take it away I think is to place an unnecessary burden of guilt on perfectly reasonable and loving parents. And, there is a risk that the higher level of permissiveness will lead to negative consequences.

PHILLIPS: Penny, let's talk about other ways to express tough love.

SHORE: Well, I think you have to look at the short-term goals of discipline, which is basically the safety of children, keeping them safe from harm. The long-term goal of discipline really is inner discipline, the ability to make wise choices. I think that you have to teach children appropriately social behavior and responsibility. I don't believe that you teach that with physical force.

If you think about it, we don't allow employers to talk -- to discipline their employees with physical behavior -- several Western European countries have banned corporal punishment. The American Pediatric Association has taken an official stand against corporal punishment by parents. And I think the study clearly shows there is an association with negative effects. Why would we do that when we can accomplish the same results with teaching?

PHILLIPS: All right, how do you get a child's attention, though? I mean, I can understand at 10 years old if you take away some of my privileges, that's going to be worse for me than a spanking. But at a younger age, the terrible twos, three, four, where you don't really understand what's going on. Sometimes that little swat on the butt really grabs your attention.

SPRIGG: That's exactly the argument that we would make is that younger children, children younger than 6 years old often cannot be reasoned with. Using a more logical reasoning technique simply will not be effective. And, under certain circumstances, when lesser forms of punishment are ineffective, that spanking can be beneficial.

And, in fact, it can be an effective reinforcement of the lesser forms of punishment. I'm aware of one study that said that spanking when children are not compliant with the process of time out, when they won't go in time-out when they're told to, that after spanking they can be more compliant with that so that parents who spank can actually make it less necessary to spank in the future.

PHILLIPS: Here's a great question. This is coming from Miranda (ph) in Sarasota, Florida. The question posed: "How do you punish your child?" OK, we talked a little bit about that, but a possible alternative to the question: "How do you motivate your child to help prevent the need for punishment?" Penny.

SHORE: Well, I think this is all about communication. It starts with the love and foundation that you establish with your child in the early years, in the baby stage, where it's the attachment and bonding. The real foundation for authority is love and respect. But, discipline to me means that it's respect for both the child and yourself, it doesn't damage their self-esteem. They end up feeling positive about themselves. It doesn't physically harm them. And, it teaches them right from wrong.

Think about it, if you're going to stop and spank a toddler, you're not teaching them appropriate behavior. What you're teaching them is that physical force overcomes a weaker more vulnerable person. You're teaching them that that is the answer to a problem. So, I believe that the whole thrust of discipline really is teaching your child. So, they are appropriately going to be able to behave when you're not there.

PHILLIPS: Peter, what -- go ahead, you're going to say something.

SPRIGG: Well, I was going to say that I agree that teaching your child is important and I think that studies have shown that your overall parenting style is the most important factor in the outcomes for children, not whether they spank or don't spank. But, using an appropriate blend of firm discipline as well as loving nurture.

It is possible to go overboard on discipline and have an authoritarian parenting style, which lacks the love and nurture. It's possible to go too far in the other direction, and be too permissive and not have sufficient discipline. But, the most effective parenting style is an authoritative style. But, we do need to express the fact that parents have authority over their children and children need to submit to that authority.

SHORE: But that authority can be in the ability to communicate with your child. I believe you learn parenting skills and if you know appropriate developmental information about children; if you know what appropriate expectations are, Peter, I think that in terms of parenting style, what you have to look at is that each parent can have a very different style.

PHILLIPS: So you think spanking is a cop out then -- Penny. SHORE: I do. I do. I think it's a cop out to good child- rearing skills. And, I think you have to look at all the caregivers that are interfacing with the child, as well, and communicate effectively what your discipline goals are.

PHILLIPS: I got to tell you, I would get a swat here and there. And, I remember it, and it was horrible. But, you know what? I have to say it worked. It worked for me.

SHORE: Well, Kyra, did it work in spite of the spanking? Or, because of the spanking? I think you have to ask that question.

PHILLIPS: I'll have to think about that one.

SPRIGG: I agree that communication is very important. And just to strike you child without communicating the reason for it would be a negative thing. I think it should not be used on impulse or in the heat of anger. Children should be warned that spanking will be the consequence if their behavior continues. And, after the spanking, they should have a discussion about what was the reason why they were spanked and what it was they did wrong.

PHILLIPS: Now, that's interesting, talk about it afterwards.

SHORE: But, Kyra, one thing I want to say is, what if you and I were having a disagreement, and my last resort was hitting you? I mean, that's just not appropriate.

PHILLIPS: Peter Sprigg, Penny Shore. I hate to say this but we've got to wrap it up. You talk about the anticipation. I remember one time anticipating it and I put a little metal plate in my pants, it didn't' work, I got my legs swatted.

All right, guys, thank you so much. We'll talk about it again. Thanks, you guys.




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