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Study: Dad’s Spanking Can Lead To Cognitive Problems For Children

Spanking is bad. We know that. Early-childhood spanking has been consistently linked to troubled and troubling behavior later in life.

But new research out of the Columbia University School of Social Work sheds light on the particulars of that bad-ness, and offers details on how spanking may impact a child’s cognitive development. The new data, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that paternal spanking at age 5 is connected to verbal skill deficits at age 9.

Researchers, led by Dr. Michael MacKenzie, looked at data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being (FFCW) Study. The FFCW gathered information on more than 4,000 children born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 average-sized U.S. cities; researchers assessed reports of spanking at age 3 and 5 along with results from behavioral and cognitive tests at age 9.

This represents the percentage of parents responding "yes" to spanking their child in the past month. (Source: Pediatrics, graphics by Rachel Bloom)

The percentage of parents responding “yes” to spanking their child in the past month. (Source: Pediatrics, graphics by Rachel Bloom)

One fact emerged early on: spanking is a common practice. Although the use of spanking declines from age 3 to 5, researchers report more than half of moms and about a third of dads spank their young kids at least once a month. Some children were punished more than others; when kids were 5, 5.5% of moms and 3% of dads reported spanking them at least twice a week.

So, what did spanking do to these kids? Frequent (at least twice per week) spanking at age 3 and any spanking at age 5 by mom predicted bad behavior at age 9; and frequent spanking by dad at age 5 predicted vocabulary deficits. Continue reading