Time has a fascinating article on the first “real-time” spanking study, and the results are… disturbing. Bring up spanking among upper-middle-class college-educated coastal parents, and the agreement is that spanking is abusive, full stop, and parents who spank are absolute monsters. Bring it up around folks who grew up more middle or lower-class (as I did) and the mentality seems to be, “I was spanked as a kid, so what?”
The reality is that most parents spank their kids. (The reality also is that “most people” doing something does not necessarily make it right). Research from the 90s showed that 70% of college-educated mothers spank their kids, and other research puts the figure at 90 percent of parents generally. I was spanked very occasionally as a child, although I use the term “spanked” loosely — I was swatted on the butt a handful of times when I was being particularly bad or on the hand when I was trying to grab for something I should not have been grabbing, but I was definitely never hit hard enough to hurt and I was never hit on any other part of my body, and I would guess that the “spanking” happened fewer than five times in the course of my childhood. “Go sit on the stairs” was a much more common punishment. There’s a big difference between that and being routinely beaten by your parents. Unsurprisingly, studies indicate that routine beatings have the most negative impacts:
Children who are spanked occasionally are not thought to be significantly impacted later on, but those who are spanked regularly are more likely to have behavior problems that may escalate into antisocial behavior. They may also be at greater risk for anxiety disorders or depression and ultimately may be more likely to engage in domestic violence and child abuse as adults.
Even though my basic view is “do not spank your kids ever,” I can understand the impulse, when you’re exhausted and your kid is being a terror, to hit. I’m not going to call every parent who has ever smacked their kid’s hand away when the kid was hitting them an abusive asshole. But some of the stories from this study are a little disturbing:
The data are particularly unsettling because many of the infractions that led a mom to hit involve petty misbehavior, like turning the page in a book before it was time. While listening to his mother read The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, one boy began touching the pages, garnering a slap.
“At 2:03:31, the mother says, ‘No, Justin,’ and continues reading,” according to a transcription describing the incident. “Then at 2:03:34 she smacks him, and says, ‘No, Justin. If you want me to read, quit messing with the pages. Cause you’re moving it while I’m reading.'”
Yikes. I’m not going to jump on parents for getting frustrated or being imperfect; a light smack on the behind, or swatting a kid’s hand away from something dangerous, does not qualify as abusive in my eyes. But slapping a kid because he’s touching the pages of a book? When you know you’re being recorded? That is really not ok.