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Spanking, corporal punishment found to be ineffective, damaging

Collegian | Trin Bonner

One of the most controversial areas of debate in parenting is whether or not to use spanking, a form of corporal punishment. While past researchers couldn’t come to a definitive answer, there is now more concrete evidence to suggest parents should discontinue the use of spanking. However, spanking continues to be widespread, and disagreement across generations as to its effectiveness and morality is more present than ever.

In 2013, two major meta-analyses of past spanking research studies came out, which seem to conclude that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment have negative impacts on children.


Elizabeth Gershoff, human development and family sciences professor at The University of Texas at Austin, confirms in her 2013 meta-analysis “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now To Stop Hitting Our Children” that spanking creates negative outcomes while also causing aggression and noncompliance in children. Gershoff went as far in her article to say that “spanking violates children’s human rights,” citing warnings from organizations like the United Nations in her study.

“Although most Americans do not like to call it so, spanking is hitting, and hitting is violence. By using the euphemistic term ‘spanking,’ parents feel justified in hitting their children.” –Elizabeth Gershoff, The University of Texas at Austin human development and family sciences professor

This study references negative outcomes explained in Gershoff’s 2002 study “Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: a meta-analytic and theoretical review.” These outcomes were found to include mental health problems in childhood and adulthood, delinquent behavior in childhood and criminal behavior in adulthood, negative parent-child relationships and an increased risk that children will be physically abused.

Furthermore, the 2013 meta-analysis references a 2006 studyPunitive violence against children in Canada that found being spanked increases the likelihood of committing physical abuse.

The second study in 2013 to question the use of spanking was “Spanking, corporal punishment and negative long-term outcomes: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies” by Christopher Ferguson, psychology professor at Stetson University. The meta-analysis by Ferguson is more hesitant than Gershoff to call for an end to spanking. While citing the relationship between using spanking as a punishment and long-term negative outcomes, Ferguson calls for exercising caution when explaining this to the public. While the research shows this relationship, he says some of the findings are being exaggerated beyond their actual effect.

Building off of past research and the 2002 study by Gershoff, both of the 2013 spanking research studies came to similar conclusions on negative outcomes associated with spanking. While these negative outcomes are valid, Gershoff and Ferguson disagree as to the severity of them.

However, a more recent 2021 report “Corporal Punishment and Elevated Neural Response to Threat in Children” confirms these 2013 findings of detrimental outcomes, signaling more concrete evidence. Researcher Jorge Cuartas, Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, found detrimental child outcomes in adolescents who have been spanked.

“We know that spanking is not effective and can be harmful for children’s development and increases the chance of mental health issues,” Cuartas said in the article “The Effect of Spanking on the Brain.” “With these new findings, we also know it can have potential impact on brain development, changing biology and leading to lasting consequences.”

Ferguson and Cuartas joined in Gershoff’s cautioning in her 2013 study.

“Although most Americans do not like to call it so, spanking is hitting, and hitting is violence,” Gershoff said in her study. “By using the euphemistic term ‘spanking,’ parents feel justified in hitting their children while not acknowledging that they are, in fact, hitting.”


This is not a message isolated to the research community; many child experts agree that spanking is not a healthy option.

“Even if a spanking or hit is not strong, the fear and anxiety it creates releases stress hormones that can damage the nervous system, brain and body over time, especially for a child whose brain is going through critical developmental stages,” said Chelsea Kline, a senior clinician for the Colorado State University Trauma and Resilience Assessment Center. “When children experience these spikes in stress over time, especially in the absence of protective factors, they are at higher risk of experiencing mental and physical health challenges.”

Ultimately, though, the final decision on the usage of corporal punishment remains up to parents’ discretion. As of 2013, eight in 10 Americans reported this was sometimes appropriate to use, showing that these findings might not persuade the masses anytime soon. It is still too soon to tell if Generation Z will differ from older generations in this regard, as many millennials still practice spanking as well.

Kline said it’s important to look to this research as a way forward rather than a reason to feel shame.

“If parents do feel ashamed of using spanking in the past, just know it is never too late to repair with your child and try something different,” Kline said. “I encourage parents to seek out education on alternative positive discipline practices that use connection and healthy boundaries to discipline children.”

Kline also recommended practices like Trust-Based Relational Intervention or looking into materials from parenting experts, like Becky Kennedy’s books and podcasts and Dan Siegel’s books and videos.

Reach Caden Proulx at or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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About the Contributors
Caden Proulx, Print Director
Caden Proulx is a human development and family studies student at Colorado State University pursuing his passion for graphic design at The Collegian. Originally from Austin, Texas, Caden's journalistic journey began in the high school yearbook department, where his passion for design grew. This led to him to seek out student media when he got to Colorado State University. Starting as a page designer in his first year, Caden found a home at The Collegian. This led him to the position of print director his sophomore year. Despite majoring in HDFS, Caden seamlessly integrates his hobby of graphic design with his academic pursuits. The Collegian has become an integral part of his success at CSU. Now firmly rooted in Colorado, Caden is eager to contribute to the student media landscape, The Collegian and its success. He loves working alongside other excited students who are talented and have a lot to teach and push him to continue to grow as a visual journalist.
Trin Bonner, Illustration Director
Trin Bonner is the illustration director for The Collegian newspaper. This will be her third year in this position, and she loves being a part of the creative and amazing design team at The Collegian. As the illustration director, Bonner provides creative insight and ideas that bring the newspaper the best graphics and illustrations possible. She loves working with artists to develop fun and unique illustrations every week for the readers. Bonner is a fourth-year at Colorado State University studying electronic arts. She loves illustrating and comic making and has recently found enjoyment in experimental video, pottery and graphic design. Outside of illustration and electronic art, Bonner spends her free time crocheting and bead making. She is usually working on a blanket or making jewelry when she is not drawing, illustrating or brainstorming.

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