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 AAP’s new guidelines also note “the harm associated with verbal punishment, such as shaming or humiliation,” and indeed, many parenting experts and psychologists have promoted positivity as a way of changing kids’ behavior. Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center and a former president of the American Psychological Association, has called spanking “a horrible thing that does not work,” and says that what does work is enthusiastic approval of good conduct. “When you get compliance, if that’s the behavior you want,” he told my colleague Olga Khazan in 2016, “now you go over and praise it … very effusively.” The idea is that such praise will encourage better behavior in the future.
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