How do you punish a child?
Spanking isn't the answer, according to a study conducted by experts at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan.
Published in April's Journal of Family Psychology, the study – which uses data from 50 years of research on over 160,000 children – found that children punished using spanking were more likely to experience negative consequences such as aggression and antisocial behavior. Further, the more frequently children were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit these undesirable behaviors.
Researchers say the study is "the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spanking," according to a press release. Previous studies focused more broadly on the effects of physical punishment as opposed to just spanking. In the study, spanking is defined as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities.
"The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do," explained associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work and study co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor in the release.
In fact, the study revealed that spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same negative outcomes.
"We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors," said co-author Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, in the release. "Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree."
The release, citing a 2014 UNICEF report, notes that as many as 80 percent of parents worldwide spank their children.
"We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline," Gershoff added.