Pediatricians’ Group Says Spanking is Ineffective, Potentially Harmful

Guest blog by Brenda Patoine

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Photo: Shutterstock

It’s official: spanking is out. Time-outs are in.

That’s the lead message of a new policy statement from the largest pediatricians’ group, in its strongest warning yet against the use of spanking or other harsh punishments–ever–by parents and others charged with caring for children. It’s the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) first update to its policy guideline on discipline since 1998, when it discouraged but did not specifically proscribe spanking. This time, the message is clear: spanking doesn’t work and may cause harm. Ditto for harsh verbal reprimand that shames or humiliates.

The policy, which is intended to guide clinicians in their interactions with parents, cites 20 years of scientific research it says overwhelmingly demonstrates that corporal punishment is not only ineffective as a disciplinary measure, but may be harmful. Spanking in and of itself is associated with adverse outcomes that are similar to those seen in physical child abuse. Continue reading

A convergence of science and Supernanny

I admit it: I watch Supernanny. And the British parenting coach now has yet another reason to tell parents to stop spanking and instead have their kids spend some
time alone in the naughty chair.

A new
article from Scientific American
details an American Psychological Association (APA) task
force’s recommendations against physical punishment for children.

“Psychologist Sandra
A. Graham-Bermann of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, who chairs the
task force, announced the recom­mendation in August at the APA’s annual
meeting,” the article reads. “In a presentation, she explained that the group
of 15 experts in child development and psychology found correlations between
physical punishment and an increase in childhood anxiety and depression, an
increase in behavioral problems, including aggression, and impaired cognitive
development—even when the child’s prepunishment behavior and development were
taken into consideration.”

The conclusion wasn’t
unanimous, and the APA is currently reviewing both sides of the argument before
issuing a final recommendation. But Graham-Bermann’s conclusions make sense:
Several studies have shown that parenting styles can have a significant impact
on the physiology of the brain.

Michael
Meaney
of McGill University has studied the
mothering styles of rats, discovering that pups of
rats that frequently licked them were less anxious and more curious. These pups
“had higher concentrations of ‘glucocorticoid receptors,’ the molecular locks
that trigger a compensatory braking action by the hippocampus. The more of
these receptors the rat pups had in the hippocampus, the more efficient was
their regulation of the stress response,” we report in a news article on
the research
.

In humans, too,
parental behavior seems to alter genes that impact the brain. A 2008 study led by Cathi Propper of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found
that infants who carry a gene for a dopamine receptor related to risky
behaviors later in life showed a showed a typical heart rate increase in
stressful situations by the time they were a year old when they had “sensitive
mothers.” Those with “insensitive mothers,” however, showed a muted response.

These studies suggest
that even something as seemingly temporary as a stinging bottom can have
dramatic and long-lasting effects on the brains of infants. What seem like
innocuous decisions made by new parents can continue to affect their children
for decades.

No wonder parenting is
often called “the world’s hardest job.”

-Johanna Goldberg

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