The more children are physically abused for discipline, the more aggressive and anti-social they are likely to become, a meta-analysis has found.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, concluded that spanking children for bad behaviour has similar effects to physical abuse, after looking at studies over a 50 year period encompassing more than 160,000 children.
Dr Elizabeth Gershoff, the study's lead author, said:
Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognise as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviours.
We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.
The study defined spanking as an open-handed hit on the extremities or the behind.
It was found that these had similar negative effects to physical abuse - you're more likely to make your children ill-disciplined, as Dr Andrew Grogan-Kaylor said:
The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children.
Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.
Around the world, 80 per cent of children are beaten in this manner - possibly because adults abused as children in this way are more likely to support this type of punishment.
We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviours.
Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.
As we should all realise, it's not an acceptable form of discipline, but is abuse.
In the UK is it against to law for a parent or a carer to smack their child except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’, where a number of factors including the age of the child are considered. This defence is laid down in section 58 of the Children Act 2004.