Want to raise your child’s IQ by 5 points right now? Don’t spank them anymore.
So says the results of yet another study looking at the negative effects of spanking on children. This one tracked IQ changes in 1,400 children ages 2 to 9 over 4 years. The results? Children who had been spanked — even infrequently — suffered from an average 5-point deficit on the IQ test.
In a 2002 meta-analysis of 88 spanking studies, 90 percent of them found that spanking had negative effects on the child. These effects ranged from later mental health problems (such as ADHD and depression) to anti-social behavior and increased aggression. Yes, you read that right — rather than help curb aggressive or inappropriate behavior, spanking actually seems to increase these unwanted behaviors.
Despite these data, other studies have shown that somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of survey respondents believe that spanking is a beneficial punishment for children. That means that the vast majority of you reading this article believe in the usefulness of spanking, despite the data. Why? Because spanking brings immediate punishment for an immediate wrong. And because many of us have been spanked ourselves, with the claim of “no ill effects.”
But maybe we’re missing the bigger picture here, because the data look so convincing…
Could dumber kids simply be more likely to be raised in a household or family that is more likely to spank?
“It could be that lower IQ causes parents to get exasperated and hit more,” Straus says, although he notes that a recent Duke University study of low-income families found that toddlers’ low mental ability did not predict an increase in spanking.
“I believe the relationship [between corporal punishment and IQ] is probably bidirectional,” says Straus. “There has to be something the kid is doing that’s wrong that leads to corporal punishment. The problem is, when the parent does that, it seems to have counterproductive results to cognitive ability in the long term.”
There has been no study, however, that has specifically address the question of causality and directly answers the question. Stress and reactivity by the parents are predictors of increased spanking, as is the parents’ own upbringing (e.g., if they spanked as a child), negative moods, etc.
In a study that surveyed nearly 1,000 mothers about their attitudes toward spanking, Walsh (2002) found that mothers were more likely to spank when they “perceived more intense messages to spank, less intense messages opposing spanking, had younger children, and were of lower socioeconomic status.”
But lower socioeconomic status alone is not a predictor of spanking, as Holden et al. (1995) showed in his study of 39 college-educated mothers:
The majority of [subjects] reported spanking an average of 2.5 times per week. Of 537 serious child misbehavior incidents, described in detail, 88 incidents ended in spanking. Certain types of misbehavior, notably aggression, were more likely than other misdeeds to elicit spankings. No relation was found between child gender and spanking. However, parent effects were more evident. Positive attitudes toward spanking, and to a lesser extent, negative moods were linked to spankings.
This only goes to show that the stereotype that only poor, uneducated mothers spank their children is just that — a stereotype. When about 80 percent of the population “believes” in the value of spanking, you better believe that crosses all ethnic and sociodemographic lines.
The current researchers looked at IQ not just in America, but across many different countries and came to a stunning conclusion:
Straus also found a lower national average IQ in nations in which spanking was more prevalent. His analysis indicates the strongest link between corporal punishment and IQ was for those whose parents continued to use corporal punishment even when they were teenagers.
I’m not really sure what value there is in connecting spanking and “national average IQ” (given the hundreds of different factors that may explain such variations), but it makes for a very sexy finding that almost every news organization reported on. If we found higher IQ nations ate more cheese, would we then be saying that cheese causes higher IQ? A silly correlation that the researchers shouldn’t have really spent much time on.
Decades worth of research on spanking generally shows a negative effect on children’s well-being and development. The latest study adds a wrinkle to this data by adding the suggestion that you’re child’s IQ may be negatively impacted by this disciplinary method.
There are many, many tools to discipline a child. Spanking should not be one of the tools in that arsenal. Because when in doubt, why would you take that chance in harming your child’s future?
Read the full article: Spanked Children Have Lower IQ
Holden, G.W., Coleman, S.M., & Schmidt, K.L. (1995). Why 3-year-old children get spanked: Parent and child determinants as reported by college-educated mothers. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 41(4), 431-452.
Walsh, W. (2002). Spankers and nonspankers: Where they get information on spanking. Family Relations, 51(1), 81-88.