Many parents who use corporal punishment’s goal is to produce well-adjusted citizens. In fact, physical discipline by nature is used to correct behaviors that are undesirable or inappropriate. Unfortunately, the adverse tends to happen. Parental use of physical discipline increases a child’s risk for mental health issues later in life. Children who are frequently spanked are more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety in both the short-term and the long-term. This appears cross-culturally “documented in countries as disparate as Hungary, Jamaica, Mongolia, Norway, and the United States.”1 Many children are unable to relate the physical punishment to their external behavior and instead internalize it, perceiving it as a repudiation of themselves. This can lead to long-term self-esteem and associated issues. In another study, researchers found that when describing corporal punishment in their own words children described not only physical discomfort but emotional pain as well.2 This shows that the wounds inflicted through physical punishment are not merely felt on the body but also in the mind.
Many of those who are anti-corporal punishment speak of legions of evidence of the disastrous effects of physical discipline. Behavioral issues, mental health issues, and child abuse are all pointed to as effects. However, when examining the literature on a closer basis, the evidence is just not there. Firstly, many studies do a poor job of defining the parameters of which counts as corporal punishment vs. abuse.1 A few pats, given on a clothed bottom by an in control parent is very different from a slap in the face. However, some studies define any hits to the body as spanking. Second, there is a lack of attention paid to predicting factors. Children who are often spanked for negative behavior, may have impulse control issues prior to their physical punishment, rather than caused by. For example:
A cross-sectional study might, for instance, find that aggressive 10-year-olds were more likely than docile 10-year-olds to have been spanked as toddlers, but that does not mean that spanking made them aggressive. They may have been spanked because they were acting out back then, too.
Until more well-designed studies are released exposing the link between physical punishment and these horrible outcomes, the evidence is lacking. It is common sense to look at the millions of children who experienced physical punishment and matured into good adults throughout history to show the true impact of well-disciplined children.