‘Physical punishment harmful to children, doesn’t improve behaviour’

Angela Onwuzoo

A review of recent studies on children has revealed that physical punishment does not improve the behaviour of children but rather harmful to them.

The review conducted by an international group of scientists and published in The Lancet indicated that physical punishment of children is not effective in preventing child behaviour problems.

The researchers looked at 69 studies most of which were from the United States and revealed that instead of promoting positive outcomes, physical punishment increases behaviour problems and other poor outcomes over time.

According to the researchers, 63 percent of children between the ages of two and four worldwide – approximately 250 million children – are regularly subjected to physical punishment by caregivers.

Sixty-two countries, they noted have banned the practice, which is increasingly seen as a form of violence.

The researchers looked at studies involving physical punishment such as spanking and excluded any behaviours that could constitute child physical abuse. 

They found ample evidence to support a United Nations statement from the Committee on the Rights of the Child that recommended countries end the use of all types of physical punishment on children.

The scientists found that physical punishment was not associated with any positive outcomes for children and increased the risk that children would experience severe violence or neglect.

 They pointed out that negative outcomes associated with physical punishment, such as behaviour problems, occurred no matter the child’s sex, race, or ethnicity and regardless of the overall parenting styles of the caregivers. 

The authors also found evidence that the magnitude of negative outcomes for children increased the more frequent physical punishment was used.

Senior author of the paper and Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin,

Elizabeth Gershoff, said physical punishment makes children’s behaviour worse.

“There is no evidence that physical punishment is good for children.

 “All the evidence indicates that physical punishment is harmful to children’s development and well-being.”

“Parents hit their children because they think doing so will improve their behavior.

“Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse”, Gershoff said.

The Lead author of the paper who is an associate professor at University College London, Anja Heilmann, said, “Given the strength of the evidence that physical punishment has the potential to cause harm to children, policymakers have a responsibility to protect children and legislate to end the use of physical punishment in all settings.”

In a 2017 study published in the Sciencedaily, the researchers found that children who have been spanked by their parents by age five show an increase in behaviour problems at age six and age eight relative to children who have never been spanked.

The researchers suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and makes children’s behaviour worse.

They warn that spanking at any frequency is potentially harmful to children.

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