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Spanking Children Tied to Aggression and Language Defects Later in Life

Update Date: Oct 22, 2013 09:38 AM EDT
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As young children grow up, they need to learn discipline and boundaries. One of the more common ways to teach children is through punishment. When children do something bad, parents often resolve to spanking. Even though spanking is supposed to teach the children right from wrong, a new study is reporting that spanking can lead to future aggression and even language problems for the children in the future. 

"There's no evidence that spanking is good for kids," Elizabeth Gershoff, who was not a part of this study, stated according to Reuters Health. "Spanking models aggression as a way of solving problems, that you can hit people and get what you want. When [children] want another kid's toy, the parents haven't taught them how to use their words or how to negotiate."

For this study, the lead author, Michael MacKenzie from Columbia University, and colleagues reviewed the data acquired from a long-term study called the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study (FFCW). From that study, the research team looked at a group of around 1,900 children who were born in one of the 20 cities within the United States between 1998 and 2000. The parents were interviewed regarding how often they spanked their children when they were three-years-old and when they were five-years-old. The parents were also asked to describe their children's level of aggression while the children's language proficiency was tested.

The research team reported that 57 percent of mothers and 40 percent of fathers admitted to spanking their children when they were three. When the children reached five, the percentages fell to 52 and 33 for mothers and fathers respectively. The researchers found that children who were spanked by their mothers when they were five-years-old had higher levels of aggression by the time they reached nine. The team calculated that getting spanked by one's mother at least twice per week increased the children's score on a 70-point behavioral scale by two points. The researchers did not find a link between spanking at three-years-old and future aggression.

When the researchers analyzed language skills, they found that children who were spanked frequently by their fathers at the age of five were more likely to have lower vocabulary scores than children who were not spanked. The team calculated that the average score for a nine-year-old was 93 out of 100. Children who were spanked scored around four points lower than the average.

"I don't think that spanking makes kids stupider," Gershoff said. She reasoned that parents who choose to spank their children might not be talking to their children as often, which could explain the lower vocabulary scores.

The researchers believe that parents should ideally use positive reinforcement when teaching their young children. The study was published in Pediatrics

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