Parents should not spank their children, the American Academy of Pediatrics said on Monday in its most strongly worded policy statement warning against the harmful effects of corporal punishment in the home.
The group, which represents about 67,000 doctors, also recommended that pediatricians advise parents against the use of spanking, which it defined as “noninjurious, openhanded hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior,” and said to avoid using nonphysical punishment that is humiliating, scary or threatening.
“One of the most important relationships we all have is the relationship between ourselves and our parents, and it makes sense to eliminate or limit fear and violence in that loving relationship,” said Dr. Robert D. Sege, a pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center and the Floating Hospital for Children in Boston, and one of the authors of the statement.
The academy’s new policy, which will be published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, updates 20-year-old guidance on discipline that recommended parents be “encouraged” not to spank. The organization’s latest statement stems from a body of research that was unavailable two decades ago.
A 2016 analysis of multiple studies, for example, found that children do not benefit from spanking.
“Certainly you can get a child’s attention, but it’s not an effective strategy to teach right from wrong,” Dr. Sege said.
Recent studies have also shown that corporal punishment is associated with increased aggression and makes it more likely that children will be defiant in the future. Spanking alone is associated with outcomes similar to those of children who experience physical abuse, the new academy statement says.
There are potential ramifications to the brain as well: A 2009 study of 23 young adults who had repeated exposure to harsh corporal punishment found reduced gray matter volume in an area of the prefrontal cortex that is believed to play a crucial role in social cognition. Those exposed to harsh punishment also had a lower performance I.Q. than that of a control group.
Although the study was small in scope, it can help provide a biological basis for other observations about corporal punishment, Dr. Sege said.
So what is the best way to discipline children? That largely depends on the age and temperament of the child, experts say.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Christina Caron