American College of Pediatricians Challenges Spanking Report

MAY 26, 2009

Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D. authored a report, Physical Punishment in the United States, published by Center for Effective Discipline. This report presents flawed research to build a biased case against the use of spanking of children by their parents and to advocate for a ban on its use. Unfortunately, medical organizations have endorsed the report’s conclusions even though it is based primarily on her misguided 2002 meta-analysis of corporal punishment research. Her analysis fails to answer these crucial questions:

  • Do all forms of “corporal punishment” (from abusive, injurious physical attacks to disciplinary spanking by parents) produce the same effect upon children?

  • What are the effects of non-abusive spanking on children? And does effectiveness depend on the child’s age, the situation, cultural context, etc.?

  • If parents choose to spank, what is the most effective method and setting?

  • How do the effects of spanking compare with alternate disciplinary tactics (such as time-out) that parents might use instead?

Of the six scientific reviews of physical discipline of children published between 1996 and 2005, her review is the only one of the six that supports an absolutist anti-spanking conclusion. The other reviews conclude that the outcome of physical discipline depends upon how and when it is used, and further conclude that non abusive spanking can be an effective component of a comprehensive disciplinary plan with children between the ages of 2 and 6 years.
Effective discipline is based on a foundation of a positive, loving parent-child relationship and the skillful use of a variety of disciplinary measures. Parents need to prudently use the mildest effective tactics in responding to misbehavior. When necessary, disciplinary spanking of young children can be useful, effective, and harmless.

Parents need reliable information about how to effectively discipline their children. Dr. Gershoff fails in this effort.

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