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More Spanking, More Problems

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Most of us agree that less spanking is better—even those of us who have used this nuclear option of discipline. While the results of a spank are typically faster than, say, listening and empathizing with your child, a new study shows that there are unintended consequences as well. A whack on the butt is supposed to make for a more thoughtful and better behaved child. In fact, with enough spanking, you wind up getting exactly the opposite.

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The New York Times's Well blog looked a study based on interviews with nearly 2,000 parents of 3-year-olds. Researchers asked, among other things, whether they spanked their child; they also drilled down for details about parents' kids' behaviors. The same parents were interviewed again when their children turned 5. Again, they were asked about spanking and various questions about how their child behaved at home, with friends and at school.

What they found was that most kids had been spanked by the time they were 3—two-thirds of the mothers reported that they had spanked their kids. One-third of the fathers reported this as well. They also found that, as the children neared 5, spanking decreased.

The good news is that spanking is on the decline.

The most recent information gathered for the report, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, came from tests of the children at the age of 9, using questions to test for aggression, rule-breaking and also vocabulary. What they found was a strong association between spanking at the age of 5 and aggression and rule-breaking at 9. Researchers controlled for things like birth weight, income, race, etc. The 9-year-olds who were spanked at 5 also tended to have lower scores on the vocabulary tests.

It's not exactly what you meant when threatening your kid with a swat just to get her to pick up her toys or stop fighting with her siblings.

The good news is that spanking is on the decline. Still, a vast majority of adults think it's an appropriate option, according to a recent Harris poll. Around 67 percent of adults raising the next generation have used spanking as a form of discipline or punishment—which is very much down from parents on record for previous generations.

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But is it really working? I guess it depends on if your goals are long- or short-term. Spanking gets immediate results. And then backfires, apparently, for years and years and years.

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