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Spanking increases agressive behavior in young children

Posted Apr 15 2010 11:07am

Spanking. Corporal punishment. Aversives. There is obviously a major controversy about punishment in the autism community (for example, the Judge Rotenberg Center). But what about spanking in general, for the general population? Is it effective in reducing aggression? According to a new paper in the journal Pediatrics, the answer is a clear no. Not only that, but spanking leads to more aggressive behavior.

This is shown in Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior , Catherine A. Taylor et al..

Here is the abstract:

Objective The goal was to examine the association between the use of corporal punishment (CP) against 3-year-old children and subsequent aggressive behavior among those children.

Methods Respondents (N = 2461) participated in the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (1998–2005), a population-based, birth cohort study of children born in 20 large US cities. Maternal reports of CP, children’s aggressive behaviors at 3 and 5 years of age, and a host of key demographic features and potential confounding factors, including maternal child physical maltreatment, psychological maltreatment, and neglect, intimate partner aggression victimization, stress, depression, substance use, and consideration of abortion, were assessed.

Results Frequent use of CP (ie, mother’s use of spanking more than twice in the previous month) when the child was 3 years of age was associated with increased risk for higher levels of child aggression when the child was 5 years of age (adjusted odds ratio: 1.49 [95% confidence interval: 1.2–1.8]; P < .0001), even with controlling for the child’s level of aggression at age 3 and the aforementioned potential confounding factors and key demographic features.

Despite American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to the contrary, most parents in the United States approve of and have used CP as a form of child discipline. The current findings suggest that even minor forms of CP, such as spanking, increase risk for increased child aggressive behavior. Importantly, these findings cannot be attributed to possible confounding effects of a host of other maternal parenting risk factors.

I decided to not go into detail on the paper. The relevant information for this discussion is there in the abstract: children who are spanked at age 3 are more likely to be more aggressive at age 5. Long term, spanking makes things worse. It doesn’t “teach a child a lesson”.

This isn’t an autism paper, but LeftBrainRightBrain is an autism blog and I’ve been wondering how this might apply to young autistics. Are autistic children (or developmentally disabled children in general) more susceptible to the harmful effects of frequent spanking or aversives? I have to admit, I wonder about the effect of electric shocks on older children and young adults at the Judge Rotenberg Center. Whether it actually makes things worse for some of their students in the long run.

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