A New Study on Corporal Punishment & Parenting

Our past and our present are connected through experiences. These experiences are what mold our predispositions, form our aversions, and influence how we see ourselves in the future. Thus, it is no surprise that growing up in a household where the main form of discipline is aggression can potentially leave an imprint that carries over into your adult life.

The American Academy of Pediatrics echoes these sentiments in their new report. The report describes an updated policy from 1998, which discouraged the use of corporal punishment, and summarizes new evidence found in the 20 years since the policy’s original publication.

One of the main conclusions the study draws upon is that corporal punishment can result in lifelong negative health effects on the child. Meaning, that spanking, yelling, or any other forms of aggressive parenting can lead to physical and mental repercussions in development, and can have effects that last through adulthood..

“I think that the American Academy of Pediatrics is making their recommendations based on several research findings showing that when parents use physical discipline with their kids, [it can result in side effects],” said Dr. Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, a professor specializing in child development and psychopathology at the University of Maryland. “[Corporal punishment] can affect children on a biological level, including the development of the stress system and the release of stress hormones, the development of the brain is also affected, so there are effects that are long lasting.”

The Imprint of Aggression

In their updated policy the AAP lists consequences that are associated with striking, yelling, or shaming a child as the following: aggression; increased risk of mental health disorders; cognition problems; and negative impact on parent-child relationship.

These consequences can easily transfer into your adult life and form the basis of how you feel about yourself, or deal with your own parenting conundrums.  

“Another thing to keep in mind is that children are learning to regulate their emotions, and the brain is still developing its ability to regulate emotions and behavior into the twenties,” said Dr. Chronis- Tuscano. “Parents are really their children’s first teachers in learning to regulate how they feel.”

Thus if you grow up in a household where there is aggression, this may carry over into your relationships or parenting style.

Parenting Cycle

“The challenge is that, first of all, the cycle continues, because parents whose parents used corporal punishment will likely use corporal punishment themselves,” said Dr. Chronis- Tuscano. “It might affect how they feel about themselves; they are more likely to experience depression and anxiety and more likely to behave aggressively themselves.”

According to NPR, a study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries, 30 of which have completely banned corporal punishment at home and at school, shows that fighting amongst adolescents is substantially lower in countries that have bans than countries that do not have bans on corporal punishment.

This study goes to show that aggression, or the lack thereof, from parents can breed the same result in children who grow up in that environment.

The AAP report also includes that spanking is associated with increased odds of suicide attempts, moderate-to-heavy drinking, substance use disorders, and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

The Silver Lining

However, there is a silver lining to all of this.  According to Professor Rebecca Ryan, a psychology professor at Georgetown College, corporal punishment has been on a rapid decline over the time period of 1988-2011.

“There has been an increase in the popularity and awareness of alternative to physical discipline like timeouts,” said Professor Ryan. “ When given a choice, many parents might opt not to use physical discipline, and the past 20 years has seen an increase in choices for parents.”

And although we cannot change our past and the experiences within this past, we are always in charge of our present.

If you suffer from emotional or physical ramifications of growing up in a household where corporal punishment was used as a means of discipline, take the time to reflect and seek remedies.

Also, as mentioned previously, the use of corporal punishment is cyclical. If you grow up with it, you are more likely to use it yourself in the upbringing of your own children. Be mindful of this cycle.

“I think what’s really important is to stop the intergenerational transmitting of corporal punishment,” said Dr. Chronis-Tuscano.  “There are lots of positive discipline strategies, behavior management strategies, and behavior interventions that are non-physical in nature and that in which the parents respond in a neutral nature and that is much more effective.”

It is easy and understandable to let past experiences create a grey cloud over our current existence; however, we should never let these situations define who we are for the rest our lives.

Resources used:

Featured image by Ana Harff

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