Stressed-Out Parents Need Alternatives to Spanking

Children who are spanked often go on to have more behavioral problems and lower vocabulary scores, child-welfare specialist Michael MacKenzie writes in a piece at CNN. As a researcher, MacKenzie challenges experts in his field to do a better job communicating these findings to time-strapped parents.

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Children who are spanked often go on to have higher levels of behavioral problems and low vocabulary scores by age 9, Columbia School of Social Work associate professor Michael MacKenzie writes in a piece at CNN. As a researcher, MacKenzie challenges experts in his field to do a better job communicating these findings to time-strapped parents. He says that health practitioners should recommend alternative methods of disciplining kids that take into account parents' limited resources and stressful lives, as well as cultural and religious traditions.

We found that children who were spanked by their mothers at age 5, even relatively infrequently, went on to have higher levels of behavior problems at age 9, even after taking into account other family risk factors that also affect child behavior. Given the chicken vs. egg cyclical nature of this, we also controlled for earlier problems with the children to ensure that it wasn't just that kids who acted out were simply being spanked more.

And 5-year-olds who were spanked frequently, defined as two or more times a week, by their fathers also went on to have lower vocabulary scores at age 9, even after controlling for an array of other risk factors and earlier child vocabulary. This is an important finding, because few studies in this area have examined effects on cognitive development ...

This is a very sensitive topic. That might explain why, even though the evidence is mounting that spanking leads to the very acting-out behavior most parents want to stop and even hurts a child's development, many parents in the United States continue to spank ...

Perhaps we researchers need to get better at telling the story. Families sometimes think we are accusing them of abusing their kids and challenging who they are as parents, and in turn they dismiss our findings as coming from out-of-touch academics. Most parents are doing the best they can by their children and must contend with advice from many corners, whether solicited or not.

Read Michael MacKenzie's entire piece at CNN. 

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Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM