Spanking Children Increases Risk of Criminal Behavior, Expert Says

A professor at the University of New Hampshire makes the 'definitive' case against spanking.

A new book by Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, makes the “definitive case against spanking” after evaluating four decades of research. In his book, The Primordial Violence, which was released this past summer, Straus concludes that spanking slows cognitive development and increases antisocial and criminal behavior.

“More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent,” Straus says.

Straus uses data from more than 7,000 U.S. families as well as the results from a 32-nation study. “Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior. But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges,” he says. “Moreover, the research clearly shows that the gains from spanking come at a big cost. These include weakening the tie between children and parents and increasing the probability that the child will hit other children and their parents, and as adults, hit a dating or marital partner. Spanking also slows down mental development and lowers the probability of a child doing well in school.”

Straus has studied spanking since 1969 and has received honors for his research, including Life Fellow of the International Society for Research in Aggression, and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“More than 20 nations now prohibit spanking by parents,” Straus says. “There is an emerging consensus that this is a fundamental human right for children. The United Nations is asking all nations to prohibit spanking. Never spanking will not only reduce the risk of delinquency and mental health problems, it also will bring to children the right to be free of physical attacks in the name of discipline, just as wives gained that human right a century and a quarter ago.”

Co-authors include Emily Douglas, associate professor of social work at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and Rose Anne Medeiros, a quantitative methodologist at Rice University, who both argue for policy changes to end spanking worldwide.

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