The good news about spanking is that parents today are less likely to do it to their children than parents in the past. The bad news is that parents today still spank their kids—a lot.
“Some estimates are that by the time a child reaches the fifth grade [in the United States], 80 percent of children have been spanked,” says George Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University who studies parenting and corporal punishment. Spanking is also widespread worldwide.
Perhaps parents are quick to spank their children because it can bring about immediate acquiescence, but the benefits, a consensus of scholars and doctors agree, end there. On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which represents 67,000 doctors, came out strongly against the practice, saying that it “harms children,” doesn’t change their behavior for the better, and may make them more aggressive later in life.
The first time the AAP, which publishes recommendations on everything from bullying to teens’ sleep schedules, issued guidelines on spanking was in 1998. Those guidelines said that pediatricians should encourage parents to seek out other punitive measures, which remained the organization’s stance until this week. “Now, with the accumulation of two more decades of research, it’s much more clear that parents should not spank their children,” says Robert Sege, a pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center who helped write the AAP’s latest statement. Other research has indicated that spanking is linked to an increased likelihood of anxiety, diminished cognitive abilities, and lower self-esteem, among other things.