Smacking children makes them ‘more aggressive and antisocial’, say scientists

Josh Gabbatiss
The Scottish government has confirmed smacking will soon be banned in Scotland [stock image]: Monkey Business Images/Rex

Smacking makes children’s behaviour “worse not better”, according to a new study.

US researchers found that the practice makes youngsters "more aggressive".

The study, which follows less than a month after Scotland joined the list of countries to ban smacking children altogether, adds to a growing case against the use of corporal punishment.

Dr Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin, who led the study, has conducted extensive research into the use of smacking on children and has concluded that it is “making them more aggressive and more antisocial”.

Past studies have also linked corporal punishment in children to the onset of depression, anxiety and drugs and alcohol abuse.

In the latest study, published in Psychological Science, Dr Gershoff and her collaborators recorded the behaviour of children whose parents did not smack them and those that did, as reported by their teachers.

Their findings showed a clear distinction between the groups, with an increase in behavioural problems from the age of five to eight.

“It affected how often they argue with other children, fight, act impulsively and disturb activities in the classroom,” said Dr Gershoff.

Conducting a controlled experiment to find the effects of smacking on children is unethical, as it would involve telling parents to smack their children.

However, by dividing the 12,112 participating children into smacked and non-smacked groups, and then pairing them according to various characteristics, the researchers were able to approximate an experimental setup.

Dr Gershoff says one of the main links between smacking and bad behaviour is that children don’t have to learn self-control.

“What smacking teaches them is that when the parent is around, they should behave, otherwise they will be hit,” she said. “The child does not learn how to manage themselves when the parent is not around.”

As it stands, 53 nations currently have a total ban on smacking children.

Many have taken the view that banning physical assault of children is merely providing children with the same protection from violence that is afforded to adults.

Nevertheless, there are voices opposing bans on corporal punishment. The campaign group Be Reasonable Scotland is calling for the current laws in the country to remain unchanged on the ground that “parents should decide whether to smack their children, not the Government”.

However, Dr Gershoff said that a key message of her work is that corporal punishment simply “doesn’t work”.

“All of us get frustrated when things don’t go our way. Our job as parents is to teach children how to handle that,” said Dr Gershoff.

“Smacking isn’t teaching those things.”

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