Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, University of Texas at Austin - Long-term Effects of Spanking

Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin examines long-term outcomes among children subjected to spanking.

Elizabeth Gershoff is an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. As a developmental psychologist, Gershoff studies how parental discipline affects child development and how parenting affects children differently within contexts of poverty and low income, neighborhoods, schools, and culture. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.

About Dr. Gershoff

Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff - Long-term Effects of Spanking

Why is it against the law to hit an adult, but perfectly acceptable to hit a child, as long as it is called "discipline"? This double-standard in our laws and public attitudes about the physical punishment of children spurred me to study its effects on children for the last 15 years. Proponents of physical punishment argue that it is effective in teaching children how to behave, so I asked in my research, is that true?

I conducted what is called a meta-analysis of all of the research on physical punishment and examined the average associations between physical punishment and 11 child outcomes. What I found was definitive, and disturbing. The more children are physically punished, the more likely they are to be defiant, to have behavior problems, to have mental health problems, to have strained relationships with their parents, and to be physically abused.

These findings are consistent across studies and across cultural groups. There is a popular argument that physical punishment is better for children within cultures where it is most normative, and I have also examined whether this is true. Using a national, longitudinal sample of over 10,000 children, I found that parents' use of spanking predicts increases in children's behavior problems over time, over and above their initial levels of behavior problems, and most importantly, in the same way across race and ethnic groups. In other words, spanking predicts more behavior problems equally among White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American families.

I know these results will not change American parents' beliefs about or use of spanking overnight, but as these findings accumulate, norms about physical punishment have begun to change.

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