The Psychological Effects Spanking Has on Children
By Alfredo Avalos

Spanking a child can lead to severe psychological consequences in the future
 When a child becomes out of control, many frustrated parents will resort to spanking, which they believe is harmless discipline. However, most parents are unaware that spanking increases a child’s risk of short- and long-term negative effects (Giles-Sims, Straus, and Sugarman 171.) Elmer and Gregg, pioneers of the study of corporal punishment, first discovered that physically abused children tend to suffer psychological injury and are at greater risk of engaging in crime (McCord 59). One of the earliest negative effects to develop is an unusually high level of aggression.  "For example, Murray A. Straus found that children who received "ordinary" corporal punishment were 3 times more likely to assault their siblings than those who were never physically punished" (Turner and Finkelhor 156). The effects of spanking can develop later on in the child’s life and are much more noticeable. A study conducted in 1982 by Bryan and Freed discovered that long-term effects that many college students who were physically punished constantly face include having far fewer friends than their peers and being socially withdrawn (156).  In Coercion and Punishment in Long-Term Prospectives by Joan McCord, there is evidence that supports the limited development of an internalized conscience (McCord 63). An underdeveloped conscience can lead to a fixation on self-gratification and an elevated level of aggressive and deviant behavior. It is also believed that students who were physically punished receive grades that are considered “below average” (Turner and Finkelhor 156). Corporal punishment as a child can also lead to the psychological dependency of illegal substances. Adults who recalled being spanked or slapped as a child were twice as likely to report their own alcohol abuse, illicit drug abuse or dependency, and antisocial behavior (Straus 821).

Spanking can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts
Perhaps the most devastating effect of corporal punishment is the heightened risk of developing depression or suicidal tendencies. Depression is one of the most common mental health problems in the world effecting at least 1% of the American population and an estimated 6% of the total population (McCord 60). However, victims of corporal punishment appear to be more susceptible to developing depression. According to a theory proposed by Greven, “depression often is a delayed response to the suppression of childhood anger. . . from being physically hit and hurt. . . by adults whom the child loves and on whom he or she depends for nurturance and life itself” (61).

Although it is considered a separate phenomenon, thoughts of suicide can usually accompany depression brought on by corporal punishment (64). According to Sigmund Freud, commonly known as the Father of Psychology, suicide is “[the] murderous impulses against others re-directed upon himself” (69). Studies have shown that unlike depression, which tends to increase with even one instance of corporal punishment, the rate for suicidal thoughts is based on an exponential relationship (69). This means that until corporal punishment reaches the top two tiers determined by the experimenters, suicide doesn’t become an option (69). It is suggested that because of the extremity of suicide, it may take a high frequency of corporal punishment to even consider killing oneself (69). Nonetheless, suicidal thoughts are very serious consequences of corporal punishment and should be one of the main factors for considering alternate forms of discipline on children.

Some of the devastating effects caused by spanking
Despite the obvious consequences that can arise from spanking, 94% of American parents surveyed reported that they hit their toddler (Straus 821). Because of the negative effects mentioned above, parents should consider resorting to other less traumatic alternatives. One of the most destructive causes of a child’s well-being is the parenting style of their guardians. The most damaging form of parenting is the authoritative style, which relies heavily on physical abuse (Turner and Finkelhor 156). “Authoritarian-type parenting also has been associated with children having less social competence with their peers, developing an external rather than an internal moral orientation, and showing less motivation for intellectual achievement relative to children of nonauthoritarian parents” (156). In addition to the usual negative behaviors associated with corporal punishment, children with authoritative parents also experience a much lower self-esteem and a feeling of helplessness over life outcomes (156). The diminished feelings of self-esteem and personal control can influence the extent to which stress becomes translated into psychological distress (156).   

The best reason why one should not use the authoritative style of parenting is the risk that the child who was spanked will adopt a similar method of parenting in the future, thus continuing the cycle of corporal punishment. According to Susan Newman, “Physical violence gets passed down in families because the only parenting skills people know are the behaviors that they saw at home” (Landau par.19). “Spanking, moreover, reinforces negative memories in the child's mind,” Newman said (par.20).

Instead of an authoritative method of parenting, adults should try to balance discipline with compassion. Authoritative parents demand total obedience from their child and will not hesitate to use force in order to achieve it. However, being a passive parent can result in a child that is out of control. By balancing the characteristics of both of these styles of parenting, the parents have a much better chance of raising a child that is well behaved and has a high sense of mental well-being.
Another possible alternative would be to follow in the steps of Sweden and 8 other countries and ban the use of spanking (Straus 821). There are no criminal penalties against parents who spank their children, but they are required to take a public education class for parents who have difficulty controlling their children (821).

Early fears of children “running wild” have proven to be unfounded (821).  However, fears still exist that instead of physical abuse towards the child, the parent will resort to verbal abuse or that some parents may just give up entirely and let anarchy ensue (821).

The easiest and most obvious alternative to spanking is by discouraging a child’s bad behavior with non-physical punishments. Newman said, “parents should discourage bad behaviors by taking away privileges such as dessert, or setting an earlier bedtime. They should also reinforce good behaviors verbally, saying how nice it is when their children share, for example” (Landau par.16). According to Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist, “If the mother sees fussiness as willful misbehavior and begins verbally punishing or spanking, rather than empathizing with the child, the child's behavior deteriorates into more tantrums and other frustrating behavior” (par.18). Newman continued by saying that instead of spanking children and emphasizing their negative memories “Parents should aim instead to build "prominent, happy memories [of childhood for their kids]” (par.20).

In conclusion, spanking should not be used as a means of discipline because of the devastating psychological effects that can result from it. Children who were the victim of corporal punishment have an increased chance of developing depression and to experience suicidal thoughts. Meanwhile, children who do not suffer from corporal punishment enjoy benefits such as a decreased lifetime risk of mental health problems and enhanced cognitive ability (Straus 821).

I don’t think that spanking is an acceptable form of discipline when there is an overwhelming amount of evidence against it. There are many alternatives to physical discipline that work even better. There is also the fact that spanking can be very damaging to a growing child’s physical and psychological well-being. I see no reason why spanking would be considered  an effective mean of discipline.
There was a case that was sent to the Supreme Court to decide if a 12-year-old boy’s father crossed the line. The boy’s father, Shawn Fraser, gave 32 blows to his son with a paddle. The court has to decide whether or not there was any physical abuse, and if so, should the child be taken from his home? We did our own reenactment of this case trial, just so you can see that when it comes to spanking, there comes to a point where it can lead to corporal punishment, as well as affect the child psychologically.

Alfredo: “Order in the court! We are here with County Attorney Shelby Brown, defending Mr. Fraser and Attorney Nancy Duran, the prosecutor. It brought to my attention that Mr. Shawn Fraser delivered 36 blows to his 12-year-old son with a paddle. This incident occurred because the 12-year-old boy ran away from home, and lied about his whereabouts. When he came back, he was given his punishment. Furthermore, something that has to be taken into consideration in this trial is that while the boy was being spanked, he grabbed a knife, and threatened to kill himself. The father then took the knife, and continued. (Turns to Shelby) Out of the previous information, do you confirm or deny these accounts Ms. Brown?”

Shelby: (stand up). “On behalf of my client, that is correct.”

Alfredo: “We are here to determine when physical abuse crosses the line into physical abuse that requires a social workers intervention. Should this child be taken from his home?” (Olson par. 2). (Turns to Shelby) “What do you have to say Ms. Brown? “

Shelby: (stands up) “All I have to say is that this incident is not a physical abuse case. It’s hard to say where we draw the line. Besides, how are the parents to know what is okay, and what is not?”

Nancy: (stands up) “I object! Under the circumstances of the situation, this was abuse! After the first 12, he should have stopped!”

Alfredo: “For the state to take this child, there has to be proof of unreasonable or excessive force under the circumstances. But the boy did grab a knife and threaten to commit suicide. Does this mean that corporal punishment was the right answer?”

Shelby: (stand up) “There was no injury to the child!”

Alfredo: (turn to Nancy) “Nancy, can I see the evidence of abuse?”

Nancy: “The whole incident shows that there was a risk of injury. There doesn’t have to be evidence to show that there was a risk. The discipline was unreasonable.”

Alfredo: “If that’s so, then you have to have evidence.”

Nancy: “But the child was experiencing harm! Why would he make the effort to bring out a knife?”

Alfredo: “What was it about the 36 paddles that sent this incident “beyond the pale”? “(Olson par. 17).

Nancy: “The first 12 blows are excusable because Mr. Fraser was just reacting to the behavior. But after that, Mr. Fraser had complete control over the situation and acted wrongly.”

Alfredo: “The father did ask social workers about what he could use for physical punishment and discipline. They told him that you can use it, if you leave no marks. That is the law for corporal punishment in this state. You can use force, but as long as there’s no physical harm, it’s legal. He wasn’t doing it out of anger. He knew what he was doing, because of the fact that he asked about it first. Now that all of this has been taken into consideration, the six justices will decide this case. Dismissed!”