UT professor’s analysis confirms negative effects of spanking on children

Elizabeth Huang

Elizabeth Gershoff, UT human development and family sciences associate professor, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, published an analysis of 50 years of research which confirmed spanking children can cause low self-esteem, weak relationships with parents and other negative outcomes.

“The main question we had was whether spanking achieves a parent’s goal,” Gershoff said. “Does it really make children better behaved over time?”

The study analyzed the strength of the relationship between spanking and 17 different negative outcomes, said Grogan-Kaylor. The research consisted of 75 individual published studies spanning 50 years. 

“Many of those negative outcomes were associated with spanking,” Grogan said. “Notably, child aggression and child mental health problems such as depression and anxiety were associated with spanking.”

Gershoff said the most troubling outcome of the analysis was children who were spanked were more likely to be physically abused by their parents.

“There is a continuum of violence against children and spanking, and abuse are just points along that continuum,” Gershoff said. “They both involve hitting and hurting children, and they’re associated with similar outcomes for children.”

Gershoff said the U.S. is behind on its treatment of children in comparison to the rest of the world. 

“Children deserve protection because they’re vulnerable and dependent on adults,” Gershoff said. “The U.S. has not ratified what’s called the conventional rights of the child and we’re the only country in the world that hasn’t. The rest of the world is moving ahead.”

Grogan said he considered other influences that could cause the same effects, but concluded spanking is responsible for outcomes like anti-social behavior and low self-esteem.

“A number of important longitudinal studies of spanking … have paid careful attention to whether some other factor might account for the relationship,” Grogan said. “Such studies find that spanking is associated with negative outcomes for children, even when we account for other factors.”

Business freshman Mason Sheu said his parents used physical punishment when he was younger, but as he got older his parents used a different approach.

“They decided to just try and talk to me for a change, and see why I made certain decisions and explained why they thought I should do what they advised,” Sheu said. “It made me a much better person since I learned to take responsibility for my own actions and think it through.”