Smacking is associated with more aggression, more antisocial behaviour, more mental health and cognitive problems, and poorer relationships with parents, according to the most comprehensive analysis of the research to date. And, it appears that the detrimental effects may also reach into adulthood.

2014 data from UNICEF revealed that around the world, 80 per cent of children are smacked or physically disciplined by their parents. It’s a controversial issue and the subject of hundreds of studies documenting the impact of corporal punishment on a range of emotional, behavioural, physical and cognitive outcomes.

The current research, published in Journal of Family Psychology, examined 50 years of work involving over 160,000 children. Defining smacking as “hitting a child on their buttocks or extremities using an open hand” Elizabeth Gershoff of The University of Texas and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of The University of Michigan, examined a range of studies in an attempt to draw more definitive conclusions about the consequences of physical discipline.

In a statement, Gershoff explained: “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Specifically, in childhood, smacking was associated with: more aggression, more antisocial behaviour, more externalising problems, more internalising problems, more mental health issues and poorer relationships with parents. It was also linked to lower cognitive ability and lower self-esteem.

Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor also highlighted the link between physical discipline and physical abuse. “We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviours,” explained Gershoff, of this finding. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

– Ariane Beeston

Read More: The verdict is in – what five decades of research has confirmed about smacking

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