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Psst: Even spanking parents know it doesn't make kids behave

Theresa Edwards


Shark Wrestler

Theresa Edwards is a freelance writer and professional whiner. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family where she enjoys reading, roller derby, and complaining about the heat.

If spanking doesn't work, why are you still doing it?

Spanking is still a thing.

In spite of the fact that study after study tells us that spanking is absolutely ineffective as a discipline technique and extremely effective as a technique for making discipline issues worse, it stubbornly remains a thing in homes and even schools across the country.

This is largely because despite every single piece of evidence pointing to the fact that the only thing spanking is really good for is damaging the parent-child relationship, we continue to be treated to anecdotal rebuttals from people who insist that the science is wrong and that hitting kids is great. But now we've got evidence that says even the parents who do spank realize it doesn't work.

So why is spanking still a thing?

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This new information comes from an in-depth study by Zero to Three, a research organization devoted to early childhood development and policymaking, and the Bezos Family Foundation, a foundation that works to provide free tools to parents and educators about early childhood development.

The study, called Tuning In: Parents of Young Children Tell Us What They Think, Know and Need, is a comprehensive one. It compiled responses and data from 2,200 parents with children between the ages of 1 and 5 years, and quickly identified discipline as a hot button issue with millennial parents.

Overwhelmingly the respondent parents said that harsher discipline methods like yelling and spanking were not the most effective methods, even if they themselves used those methods. According to the survey, "30 percent of parents say 'I spank even though I don't feel OK about it,'" and perhaps most surprisingly, "Of those parents who say they spank their children frequently — several times a week or more — fully 77 percent do not count it as 'one of the most effective methods of discipline.'"

And who spanks? Well, only about 37 percent of respondents to the Tuning In survey said they spank less often than their parents did.

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There's a lot more to parse in the study, and some of that will provide clues as to why parents continue to spank, including the fact that, as a whole, we tend to vastly underestimate the emotional regulation capabilities of a child under 2. Parents also tend to spank more often when they are acting impulsively, as when a child is in danger or when they're stressed, which is always, because America.

And in a way, that's understandable. Parenting is tough. Toddlers in particular are a special kind of hell, no matter how much we love and understand them. What's difficult to understand, though, is the call and response from parents who do spank when they're confronted with the fact that it doesn't work, and that's to insist vehemently that it does.

It worked when they were kids; it's the only way kids learn; and if everyone just took the time out to hit their children, every ill could be cured, be it whining or saggy pants. That argument becomes even harder to abide if these findings are true, because it means that even the people rattling off those excuses know that they're excuses. Spanking doesn't work, full stop.

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Another shocker obvious finding from the study says that parents feel judged all the time, and we'll posit that's another reason parents fight so hard for their right to dole out a whuppin': Crouching into a defensive position is pretty much the default nowadays.

And when it comes to things like feeding your kids or letting them watch TV or having them take Mandarin or whether or not you kiss your kids on the lips, well, we can see why. Breastfeeding and formula-feeding have extremely scant differences when it comes to the outcome for your child. Why get rabid and nasty about it?

But spanking is not breastfeeding. The difference in outcome is not small. The consequences are very real, very measurable and very negative. At the end of the day, you're just hitting someone who has practically no impulse control. We get angrier at people who hit their dogs than we do at people who hit their kids.

Perhaps the most uplifting part of the study is that an overwhelming majority of respondents (87 percent) said something that we'd wager is reflective of how parents everywhere feel: They work hard and want to be a better parent. For some people, that means engaging more and setting firmer boundaries.

For others, that means listening to what the science and even their own instincts tell them — it's time to stop spanking. There are other, better ways.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

If spanking doesn't work, why are you still doing it?
Image: redaramirez86/Twitter
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