Newsweek Blog December 30, 2009 By Po Bronson
In NurtureShock, we described some extensive cross-ethnic and international research on spanking by Drs. Jennifer Lansford and Ken Dodge. Their data suggested that if a culture views spanking as the normal consequence for bad behavior, kids aren’t damaged by its occasional use. To explain this shocker, the scholars suggested that in cultures or communities where spanking is common, parents are less agitated when administering spankings. Spanking almost never—when combined with losing your temper—can be worse than spanking frequently.*
But what about the third option: not spanking them at all? Unfortunately, there’s been little study of this, because children who’ve never been spanked aren’t easy to find. Most kids receive physical discipline at least once in their life. But times are changing, and parents today have numerous alternatives to spanking. The result is that kids are spanked less often overall, and kids who’ve never been spanked are becoming a bigger slice of the pie in long-term population studies.
One of those new population studies underway is called Portraits of American Life. It involves interviews of 2,600 people and their adolescent children every three years for the next 20 years. Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe is working with the first wave of data on the teens. It turns out that almost a quarter of these teens report they were never spanked. So this is a perfect opportunity to answer a very simple question: are kids who’ve never been spanked any better off, long term? Gunnoe’s summary is blunt: “I didn’t find that in my data.”
…What she discovered was another shocker: those who’d been spanked just when they were young—ages 2 to 6—were doing a little better as teenagers than those who’d never been spanked. On almost every measure.
..Gunnoe doesn’t know what she’ll find, but my thoughts jump immediately to the work of Dr. Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, whom we wrote about in NurtureShock. Schoppe-Sullivan found that children of progressive dads were acting out more in school. This was likely because the fathers were inconsistent disciplinarians; they were emotionally uncertain about when and how to punish, and thus they were reinventing the wheel every time they had to reprimand their child. And there was more conflict in their marriage over how best to parent, and how to divide parenting responsibilities.