Two recent analyses – one psychological, the other legal – may debunk lenient modern parenting the way the Climategate e-mail scandal has short circuited global warming alarmism.
A study entailing 2,600 interviews pertaining to corporal punishment, including the questioning of 179 teenagers about getting spanked and smacked by their parents, was conducted by Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of psychology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Gunnoe’s findings, announced this week: “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data.”
Those who were physically disciplined performed better than those who weren’t in a whole series of categories, including school grades, an optimistic outlook on life, the willingness to perform volunteer work, and the ambition to attend college, Gunnoe found. And they performed no worse than those who weren’t spanked in areas like early sexual activity, getting into fights, and becoming depressed. She found little difference between the sexes or races.
Another study published in the Akron Law Review last year examined criminal records and found that children raised where a legal ban on parental corporal punishment is in effect are much more likely to be involved in crime.
A key focus of the work of Jason M. Fuller of the University of Akron Law School was Sweden, which 30 years ago became the first nation to impose a complete ban on physical discipline and is in many respects “an ideal laboratory to study spanking bans,” according to Fuller.
Since the spanking ban, child abuse rates in Sweden have exploded over 500 percent, according to police reports. Even just one year after the ban took effect, and after a massive government public education campaign, Fuller found that “not only were Swedish parents resorting to pushing, grabbing, and shoving more than U.S. parents, but they were also beating their children twice as often.”
After a decade of the ban, “rates of physical child abuse in Sweden had risen to three times the U.S. rate” and “from 1979 to 1994, Swedish children under seven endured an almost six-fold increase in physical abuse,” Fuller’s analysis revealed.
“Enlightened” parenting also seems to have produced increased violence later. “Swedish teen violence skyrocketed in the early 1990s, when children that had grown up entirely under the spanking ban first became teenagers,” Fuller noted. “Preadolescents and teenagers under fifteen started becoming even more violent toward their peers. By 1994, the number of youth criminal assaults had increased by six times the 1984 rate.”
Since Sweden, dozens of countries have banned parental corporal punishment, like Germany, Italy, and in 2007 New Zealand, where using force to correct children entails full criminal penalties, and where a mother cannot even legally take her child’s hand to bring him where he refuses to go.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, meanwhile, challenges laws permitting any physical punishment of children and has called on all governments in the world to prohibit every form of physical discipline, including within the family.
In the U.S., the National Association of Social Workers has declared that all physical punishment of children has harmful effects and should be stopped; social workers are being trained to advocate against physical discipline when they visit homes. And in 2007, San Francisco Bay area Assemblywoman Sally Lieber unsuccessfully proposed legislation imposing a California state ban on spanking children under the age of four.
Contrary to popular belief, the pediatrician and leftist political activist Dr. Benjamin Spock did not popularize parental leniency. In early editions of his famously bestselling book, “Baby and Child Care,” Spock did not rule out spanking, (although he did later); on the contrary, Spock called for “clarity and consistency of the parents’ leadership,” considered kindness and devotion to be a necessity for parents who spank, and believed that the inability to be firm was “the commonest problem of parents in America.”
Spock’s 21st century disciples, however, depart from his original precepts. DrSpock.com, which “embodies the strength and identity of world-renowned pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock, providing parents with the latest expert content from today’s leading authorities in parenting,” and embraces Dr. Spock’s “philosophy and vision,” declares that “Punishment is not the key to discipline.”
The parental guidance website contends that “Spanking teaches children that the larger, stronger person has the power to get his way, whether or not he is in the right.” DrSpock.com concludes that “The American tradition of spanking may be one reason that there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.”
Of like mind is the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose official policy says: “Despite its common acceptance, spanking is a less effective strategy than timeout or removal of privileges for reducing undesired behavior in children. Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use.”
The academy adds: “The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations.”
“Timeout,” a widely popularized alternative to physical discipline in which a child is separated from a situation or environment after misbehaving, was devised in the 1960’s by behavioral researcher Arthur Staats as “a very mild punishment, the removal from a more reinforcing situation.”
Gunnoe’s findings are being largely ignored by the U.S. media, but made a splash in British newspapers. It is not the first time her work has been bypassed by the press. Her 1997 work showing that customary spanking reduced aggression also went largely unreported.
Nor is she alone in her conclusions. Dr. Diana Baumrind of the University of California, Berkeley and her teams of professional researchers over a decade conducted what is considered the most extensive and methodologically thorough child development study yet done. They examined 164 families, tracking their children from age four to 14. Baumrind found that spanking can be helpful in certain contexts and discovered “no evidence for unique detrimental effects of normative physical punishment.”
She also found that children who were never spanked tended to have behavioral problems, and were not more competent than their peers.
As in climate change, politicians all over the world seem out of touch with the most rigorous science regarding parental discipline. The newest research could constitute powerful ammunition to parents rights activists seeking to reverse the global trend of intrusive governments muscling themselves between the rod and the child.
NEXT MONTH: Raising Girls will publish our study and statistics on the spanking of teenagers who identify as Christians.