Someone needs to tell the spanking abolitionists to take a course in research design. A new study by one of the chief abolitionists purports to show irrefutable evidence that spanking causes future aggression in children. The study utilized a clever design, which was meant to distinguish those children who were already aggressive and then got spanked from those children who weren’t aggressive UNTIL being spanked. It was a nice try…for a high school research project.
But asserting that spanking causes aggression is like saying
that eating causes cancer.
Researchers like this who study spanking continue to make a
fundamental error: neglecting to separate the confounding variables. That is,
the phenomena that go along with spanking are the more likely causes of
aggression that they found. When researchers ignore these variables, it
invalidates their research. They continue to infer a causal relationship
between spanking and aggression, when in fact they have not demonstrated a
causal connection at all.
Some parents who spank do so with rage, in an out of control
manner. They physically dominate the child with a hostility that communicates
loathing, not love. These parents often use no other discipline tool but
spanking. Their model is “spank all the time for anything, anywhere, and to
whatever degree I feel like it.” These parents also tend to exhibit aggression
toward spouses, pets, and other adults. This model of aggression is indeed likely
to teach the child to be aggressive. To the parents in this group, I say: knock
it off. Stop abusing your child and get some help.
On the other hand, plenty of parents spank without any of
the negative side effects. They remain in control, communicate the express
purpose of the punishment, and utilize other means of discipline when
appropriate. They are not indiscriminate and keep the physicality or violence
of spanking to a minimum. It is neither brutal nor injurious. Children spanked
in this manner do not feel abused because they are not being abused. They are
being loved. This kind of parenting and spanking is perfectly appropriate,
healthy, and largely effective. To the parents in this group, I say: keep doing
what you’re doing and ignore the bad science.
Any research that does not distinguish these two
fundamentally different patterns is either willfully deceptive or ignorant;
either way, it should be ignored. Unfortunately, I have not seen any spanking
research that makes the crucial distinction.
Try again, spanking abolitionists. Next time, try good
science, not junk science.