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Study: Spanking May Do More Harm than Good

February 22, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida parents who struggle with difficult behavior in their children may cause more harm than good by resorting to spanking, according to a new report. The study, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, analyzed 20 years of research and concludes that spanking causes aggressive behavior and may even lower a child's intelligence.

Dr. Edward Christophersen, a clinical psychologist and professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who treats young children, says most of his clients realize that spanking doesn't work. When some tell him they wind up doing it out of frustration, he advises against it.

"What the research shows is that 75 percent of the time that kids are physically abused, the parents started out by spanking them, and it got out of hand."

Because spanking can harm children, the Canadian researchers conclude, doctors should be counseling parents against it. Others contend that no one should interfere with the way parents discipline their children.

Spanking is not as commonplace as it used to be, Christophersen says, adding that many people still need parenting skills.

"A lot of families have stopped hitting their kids and they're substituting yelling at them. I'm not so sure that yelling at them isn't just as injurious."

When children get on parents' nerves, he says, it's best to make sure they are safe and walk away from them. He says it's all about giving them the right kind of attention.

"Pay attention to the behavior we want to see more of, and ignore the behavior we want to see less of."

Christophersen describes one exasperated mother who brought an aggressive child to see him. He reminded her that children learn by imitating what they see - so, he prescribed some drastic changes:

"No television, no video games, no rough-housing - no rough-housing with neighbors, friends, relatives - and when the mom came back two weeks later, she said, 'He's so much calmer.' "

More than 190 countries have ratified a United Nations treaty that protects children "from all forms of physical and mental violence." The only members who have not signed on are Somalia, Sudan and the United States.

The Canadian study is online at cmaj.ca, a paid-subscription site.

Jennifer Evans, Public News Service - FL