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AAP Warns Parents: Please, Don't Spank Your Kids!

Photograph by Twenty20

Kids love being the center of your universe, and what better way to get your attention than by pushing all of your buttons? But what if they accidentally push the "wrong" one after you've told them numerous times to stop banging their fork on the dinner table?

For many parents, the spanking depot is the next stop on their naughty train, but before you do something you might later regret, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a few words of advice: Don't spank your kids!

Not only is corporal punishment “ineffective” in teaching kids responsibility and self-control—and can instead lead to defiance, aggression and a negative parent-child relationship—new evidence suggests that it might actually affect a child’s normal brain development.

The AAP has also edited its position against corporal punishment to include the harmful effects of verbal punishment to a child, such as yelling, shaming or humiliation, which can elevate stress hormones, alter the brain's architecture and lead to mental health problems in preteens and adolescents.

According its policy statement, "Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children,” corporal punishment does the complete opposite of teaching kids right from wrong. Instead, it shows them how to lash out—at home, with friends or in school—when they don’t get what they want.

Corporal punishment does the complete opposite of teaching kids right from wrong, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In fact, previous research showed that young children who were spanked more than twice a month at age 3 were more aggressive at age 5. Those same children at age 9 still exhibited negative behaviors and lower receptive vocabulary scores.

As if that weren’t enough, the AAP says corporal punishment is also associated with an increased risk of mental-health disorders and cognitive problems. The more stressed a family becomes (economic challenges, mental-health problems, intimate partner violence or substance abuse), the harsher the punishment to the child.

"There's no benefit to spanking," says Dr. Robert D. Sege, past member of the AAP committee on child abuse and neglect, and author of the policy statement. "We know that children grow and develop better with positive role modeling and by setting healthy limits. We can do better."

Despite evidence suggesting that spanking, yelling, shaming or humiliation is harmful to kids (not only physically and mentally, but also in how they perform at school and how they interact with other children), Sege says corporal punishment remains legal in many states.

“The good news is, fewer parents support the use of spanking than they did in the past," Sege says. The bad news: Not everyone is on board, but experts hope to change that by helping families come up with a more effective system for disciplining a child.

"It's best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior," says Dr. Benjamin S. Siegel, FAAP and co-author of the policy statement. "Parents can set up rules and expectations in advance. The key is to be consistent in following through with them."

The AAP also encourages pediatricians to use their influence during office visits—sharing age-appropriate strategies with frustrated parents who just want their kids to behave.

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