In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban the corporal punishment of children. Earlier this year, Nepal became the 54th country to do so.
Now a new study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries around the world suggests such bans are making a difference in reducing youth violence. It marks the first systematic assessment of whether an association exists between a ban on corporal punishment and the frequency in which adolescents get into fights. And, says Frank Elgar, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Montreal, “The association appears to be fairly robust.” The study appeared in the online journal BMJ Open.
The data on fighting came from the World Health Organization’s Health Behavior in School-aged Children study and Global School-based health survey. These long-standing surveys of teen behavior included a question about whether, and how often, the teens had been involved in a physical fight in the past 12 months.
The association held true even after accounting for such factors as the differences in the wealth of the countries and the nation’s homicide rates, said Elgar. Even so, Elgar cautions, the study shows a correlation only, not a cause and effect.
“It could be that bans come into place in countries that have already generally accepted that spanking is not the best discipline method,” he said, or there may be other cultural factors involved. “We haven’t answered with certainty” the impact of the bans, he says, noting that more research is needed.
What research does show is the negative consequences of spanking. Physical discipline is not only ineffective, but it can also cause harm, says Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin who has been studying the impact of physical punishment on children for 20 years.
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