Spanking Can Trigger Detrimental Negative Behavior From Children in the Long Term, Study Says

August 17, 2017 Updated: August 17, 2017

A new study finds that spanking and other disciplinary actions can negatively impact children’s behavior down the road for much longer than originally thought. 

Researchers at the University of Missouri said that past research showed spanking had negative consequences only in the short term—less than one year between discipline and development. 

But a new study from the university said that spanking infants as young as 15 months old negatively impacts temperament and behavior later in the fifth grade and into their teen years. They found that it was vastly more prominent in African-American children than those of European origin.  

“How parents treat their children at a young age … significantly impacts their behavior,” said Gustavo Carlo, co-author, professor of diversity and director of family policy and research. 

“It is very important that parents refrain from physical punishment as it can have long-lasting impacts. If we want to nurture positive behaviors, all parents should teach a child how to regulate their behaviors early,” Carlo said in a news release.

The team of researchers published their report on June in “Developmental Psychology.” Carlo’s team analyzed data from 1,840 mothers and children who were at or below the federal poverty level and were either of European or African descent. Data was collected from when children were about 15 months old, 25 months old, and in the fifth grade. 

Researchers used surveys of mothers and children, home visits, and interviews with fifth-grade teachers to complete the study. 

The study found that parents using severe punishment on infants increased aggressive and delinquent behavior in the fifth grade but only in African-American children. They were also less likely to show positive behavior, such as helping others. 

Carlo said that that self-regulation discipline leads to better behavioral outcomes as well. He also stressed that the study does not suggest that every child exposed to physical discipline automatically means ends up with behavioral problems. But it does highlight the likelihood of problems developing later in life. 

A parenting expert Carole Lieberman, author of “Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror” said physical discipline is bad for any child. She also wondered if the parents of the European children in the study were less truthful with how much physical discipline they used. 

“With each spanking, children experience physical pain as well as emotional pain as a sign that their parents don’t love them,” Lieberman told USA Today. “Spanking conveys a message to them that they are not good. It causes them to become aggressive later on in their lives.”