For many parents, spanking their kids is no big deal. But a sobering new study from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston suggests spanking in early childhood may predispose a child to become an adult who perpetrates dating violence.
In plainer terms: Kids who are on the receiving end of spankings may be more likely to lash out and be violent toward future relationship partners — something to think about the next time your toddler has pushed you to the brink for the fifth time in a day.
The study appeared recently in The Journal of Pediatrics and was headed by senior author Dr. Jeff Temple, professor at the Texas university. “We wanted to determine if there is a link between childhood experiences with corporal punishment such as spanking, and later perpetration of dating violence,” Temple explained of the study. “While parents may think this form of physical punishment is a good lesson, substantial research indicates that it does way more harm than good. The current study adds to this knowledge by showing that being physically punished as a child is linked to perpetrating dating violence as a teen and young adult. While we can’t say that spanking causes later violence, it follows that if a kid learns that physical punishment is a way to solve conflict, he/she may carry that over into conflicts with later intimate partners.”
Participants of the study — more than 700 young adults from their late teens to early 20s — were interviewed about childhood punishment and physical abuse stemming from parents or caregivers. The participants were also asked to discuss any experiences with dating violence. Nineteen percent of study participants reported having acted violently in a dating situation (and that’s just the reported stats). Approximately 69 percent of these respondents were spanked or otherwise physically punished as children.
In fact, global estimates suggest that a whopping 80 percent of children worldwide experience physical punishment — a pretty staggering figure to be sure.
Of course, this new study is limited in that it examined a group of less than 1,000 people, and all participants were from Texas. But when researchers analyzed these study results, they consistently found a strong correlation between corporal punishment and later-in-life dating violence perpetration — even after carefully controlling the study for numerous demographic variables and ongoing childhood abuse.
The takeaway? It’s pretty simple, according to Temple: Spanking has serious, long-lasting consequences. “Although mounting evidence shows the many detrimental effects of corporal punishment, many parents, much of the general public, and even some schools continue thinking this is an acceptable means to punish misbehavior,” Temple said.
“Common sense and scientific research both tell us that children learn from their parents,” Temple continued. “Parents are a child’s first look at relationships and how conflicts are handled. Corporal punishment is communicating to children that violence is an acceptable means of changing behavior. Not only is this an ineffective strategy for changing behavior or resolving conflict, our study and other research show that physical punishment negatively impacts the short and long-term health and behavior of children.”
Temple and the other study authors point out that there are many other factors that can contribute to violence in dating or domestic partnerships, including cultural and societal attitudes toward women, availability of weapons, substance abuse and mental health issues. Still, Temple warns that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment in early childhood can lead to greater risk of violent patterns within relationships — not something any of us wants for our kids.