Parents aren’t spanking their kids quite as much anymore, and are now more in favor of using timeouts as a form of discipline. But despite this drop, spanking is still a concern among pediatricians, according to the journal Pediatrics.
Since 1988, middle-income parents who considered spanking an acceptable form of punishment decreased by about half, a study at Georgetown University found. During this time, mothers who put their children in timeout went from 51 percent to 71 percent. And a majority of moms today—about 81 percent—endorse using a timeout as punishment (up from 41 percent in 1988).
"Parents seem to be using more reasoning and nonphysical discipline strategies with children, which is in line with what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended in 1998," said lead researcher Rebecca Ryan, an associate professor of psychology at Georgetown.
Even though cultural attitudes toward physical punishment have steadily declined over the years, the study found that many parents still believe spanking and hitting is the best way to control bad behavior.
In fact, more low-income parents believe this, but the study shows that like wealthier parents, low-income parents are at least using timeouts more. About a third of low-income parents still hit their children.
A warning about the dangers of spanking children published by the American Academy of Pediatrics midway through the Georgetown study may have helped lower the incidences of physical discipline by parents, researchers say. However, child psychologists warn that the figures could be flawed, since many parents may not admit to spanking their children.
The encouraging news, researchers said, is that more parents in the study overall were aware of how beneficial it can be to use non-violent discipline methods.
Dr. Heidi Feldman, a professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Stanford University’s School of Medicine, praised the study, saying it’s encouraging that over the past 30 to 40 years, parents have been looking to different forms of punishment that do not involve hitting or spanking. She wrote in an editorial that accompanied the study that she’s glad to see this trend happening across all income levels.
Feldman also said she’d also like to see the pediatric association update its guidelines with some specific suggestions to urge parents to consider non-violent forms of punishment.