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Study: Spanking kids leads to long-term bad behavior

graphic August 14, 1997
Web posted at: 9:37 p.m. EDT (0137 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- In the long run, it turns out that sparing the rod may not spoil the child after all. Indeed, according to a study released Thursday, the opposite may be true: Spanking a child may produce long-term ill effects.

Based on interviews with the mothers of about 3,000 children, researcher Murray Straus of the University of New Hampshire found that corporal punishment is counterproductive, resulting in more antisocial behavior by children in later years.

Parents may not see this "boomerang" effect because it happens over weeks or months, according to the study, which appears in the latest issue of the American Medical Association's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

"Spanking chips away at the child's liking for, and trust of, the parent," Straus said. "One has to look at long-term effects of these things."

vxtreme CNN's Pat Etheridge reports.

Researchers analyzed survey data from 807 mothers of children ages 6 to 9, taken in 1988 and 1990. They compared levels of antisocial behavior among spanked and unspanked children over that interval.

The more spanking a child received at the beginning of the study, the higher level of antisocial behavior at the end, according to the researchers.

Antisocial behavior was defined as cheating, lying, disobedience at school, breaking things deliberately, not feeling sorry after misbehaving or not getting along with teachers.


The study found that the higher levels of antisocial behavior were independent of other traits that could affect that behavior, such as a family's socioeconomic status and the amount of support parents give their children.

Parental warmth and support do tend to lessen the effects of spanking but do not cancel them, Straus said.

The results of this study are likely to be debated, because previous research has shown that 90 percent of U.S. parents spank their children. A majority of pediatricians and psychologists also do not discourage occasional corporal punishment.

In addition, corporal punishment in the classroom is still legal in 23 states.

Many parents spank only as a last resort and say they feel horrible about it afterward. Some would rather use other forms of discipline, if only they would work. Parenting classes offer advice about alternatives, because occasional swats can sometimes lead to harsher hitting.

Psychologist Irwin Hyman, author of the book "The Case Against Spanking," agrees with Straus' study.

"There is never a reason to spank a child, period," Hyman said. "There's no other place in society where someone can ... smack another person. So why should we be able to do this to children?"

But Ted and Andrea Fouriezo, who have four children under the age of 6, defend spanking as a necessary means of setting and enforcing limits with their kids.

"We feel that the parents have to be the parents," Andrea Fouriezo said. "You can't let the children run circles around you, which they will. Kids want to push their limits."

"There (are) also times where they're trying to hurt themselves and we just have to stop them, especially when they were (at) the toddler stage -- touching hot plates or trying to get themselves up on the stove," said Ted Fouriezo.

Correspondent Pat Etheridge and Reuters contributed to this report.

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