Recently the Liberal Party of Canada have floated the idea of banning spanking, so I’m going to write a bit on spanking.
I’ve read many of these studies over time, and the primary problem with these studies is that they are always observational. Nobody sets up controlled, randomized studies of spanking (getting parental consent and cooperation would likely be prohibitively difficult). A superficial examination of the problem, ignores other more likely factors for increased aggression among those children who are spanked.
Another problem with most of these studies is that they look at physical punishment, and do not distinguish between spanking and abuse. Most “spanking” studies would lump together breaking your kids nose in a fit of rage and smacking our child’s bottom with your hand in a controlled manner after a ‘this hurts me more than this hurts you’ talk as both being corporal punishment. The studies would then find out that, very obviously, there were negative effects from “physical punishment” (ie. beating the shit out of your kid) which was then translated as spanking harms children. When the form of physical punishment is controlled for, controlled spanking ranges from harmless to beneficial.
Back to the primary problem, the correlational approach misses two related explanatory factors that I think would be more likely explanations than ‘lovingly-enacted disciplinary swats on the bottom permanently scar children’.
The first is that aggressive and impulsive kids get spanked more often and more harshly. Lots of these studies find that those children who are spanked more are more aggressive (and maybe even less cognitively able) and assume that they are aggressive because they are spanked. But wouldn’t the reverse causation be more likely. Wouldn’t you be more likely to physically discipline a more aggressive child? One study on the causation question found that it was both, aggressive kids were physically disciplined more and physically disciplined kids were more aggressive. They say early childhood spanking starts the cycle, but I can not access the study to check. (Note, the data for this study do not distinguish between forms of spanking).
The second is that those parents who engage in physical correction, particularly the more violent forms thereof, are likely those parents who are less self-controlled and more aggressive themselves. Aggression and self-control are largely heritable. It stands to reason that the kind of parents who physically discipline children are the kind of parents who would have more aggressive and more impulsive children.
I find it doubtful that moderate spanking is in itself harmful. I think it likely that aggressive children were born that way due to naturally aggressive parents who use aggressive parenting to control them. (Note: I am using aggressive as a continuum here, not a dichotomy).
Like many things though, the people controlling the discussion are liberal elites. The children of self-controlled puritans and Jews at Harvard and Yale likely don’t need physical discipline. These children are likely naturally non-aggressive, self-controlled, and intelligent, and need only minimal discipline. So banning spanking will work fine for them, it is a luxury they can indulge in.
On the other hand, when upper class sentiments meet the lower classes of naturally aggressive and impulsive Scots-Irish and blacks, a ban on spanking probably will not work out as planned. Time-outs and lectures probably won’t work as well at controlling, directing, and teaching morality to the aggressive, impulsive children of aggressive, high-time preference people.
I would hypothesize that applying cultural elite values on spanking to lower classes will be harmful to the lower classes. The parents probably know their children and their temperments better than disconnected elites and will be more apt to properly punishment their children. Forcing an unnatural ban on spanking on populations where spanking may be necessary could be counter-productive.
Of course, to say for certain some proper studies would need to be conducted and that is unlikely to happen.
Until then though, instead of assuming lower-class parents are abusive for their, to-us, violent methods of parenting, maybe we should consider that they know how to properly raise their own children. Maybe for those children with less natural self-controlled, the application of violence is necessary to teach lessons that more naturally self-controlled children would learn after a firm lecture.
One side note: I find it somewhat amusing that the sorts of people who are strongest against spanking are also the sorts of people that are happy to put their children on mind-altering drugs. I would think that latter would be more abusive than the former, n’est-ce pas?