Psychiatric and addiction: Dr. Harriet McMillan of McMaster University in Hamilton, ON Canada led a six-person team which studied the possible association between childhood spanking and subsequent behavior problems in adulthood. 3 They based their study on data collected as part of a 1990 population health survey by the Ontario Ministry of Health of 10,000 adults in the province. Five thousand of the subjects had been asked questions about spanking during childhood. Unlike many previous studies, the researchers deleted from the sample group anyone who recalled being physically or sexually abused. This left adults who had only been spanked and/or slapped during childhood. Incidences of adult disorders were:
Adult disorder
Never spanked
Rarely spanked
Sometimes/often spanked
Major depression
Alcohol abuse or addiction
More than one disorder *
* More than one disorder included illicit drug abuse, addictions & antisocial behavior.

Their results were published in the Canadian Medical Journal for 1995-OCT. 4 They reported that "there appears to be a linear association between the frequency of slapping and spanking during childhood and a lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems."
Degree of physical punishment
Violent inmates
at San Quentin


High School


Taking part in this survey were: 200 psychologists who filled out anonymous questionnaires, 372 college students at the University of California, Davis and California State University at Fresno, 52 slow track underachievers at Richmond High School. Delinquents were interviewed by Dr. Ralph Welsh in Bridgeport, Connecticut and by Dr. Alan Button in Fresno, California. Prisoner information was by courtesy of Hobart Banks, M.S.W., counselor of difficult prisoners at San Quentin Penitentiary, San Quentin, California.

Seventy percent of child abuse cases begin as spanking.

Spanking can lead to more bad behavior by children

A 1985 study of 1,000 families by family violence researcher Murray Straus found that parents inflicted nearly twice as many severe, and nearly four times as many total, violent acts on their teenage children than the other way around. 51 Other studies indicate Straus' findings may be conservative. A 1988 survey of 1,146 parents found that 80 percent of the children under age 10, two-thirds of the 10-14-year-olds, and one-third of the 15-17 year-olds were hit or struck by their parents within the previous year. Parents are nearly four times more likely to commit simple assault, and twice as likely to commit severe or aggravated assault, against their teenage children than the other way around. Two thousand to 5,000 children are killed by their parents every year, with most called "accidents."52

J. Durrant, University of Manitoba, Canada.  "Trends in Youth Crime and Well-Being Since the Abolition of Corporal Punishment in Sweden."  Youth & Society, 2000 Vol. 31, No. 4, 437-455  Found that Swedish youth have been less involved in crime, alcohol and drug use, rape, and have lower suicide rates since the 1979 ban on spanking in Sweden.
R.C. Herrenkohl, M.J. Russo, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA.  "Abusive Early Child Rearing and Early Childhood Aggression."  Child Maltreatment, 2001 6, 3-16. This research study found hitting children is associated with increased aggression in those children. 
H. MacMillan, McMaster, The Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, University in Hamilton, Ontario.  "Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample."  Canadian Medical Association Journal, October 5, 1999; 161:805-809  This study found increased rates of drug and alcohol problems, anxiety disorders, externalizing problems, and depression among adults who had been spanked as children.  Even those who were rarely spanked showed higher levels of these problems than never spanked subjects. 
E. Bachar, L. Canetti, Omer Bonne, Atara Kaplan DeNour, Arieh T. Shalev, Department of Psychiatry, Hadassah University Medical Center, Jerusalem, Israel.  "Physical punishment and signs of mental distress in normal adolescents."  Adolescence, 1997, Winter; 32(128):945-58.  Greater physical punishment was found to be associated with increased psychiatric symptoms and lower self-esteem.
Allen, D. M., & Tarnowski, K. J., Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. "Depressive characteristics of physically abused children." Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 17(1), 1-11. 1989  Found that children who are hit suffer more from depression, lower self-esteem, and greater hopelessness about the future.
M.A. Straus, Richard Gelles, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire.  "1985 National Family Violence Survey." American Family Data Archive, Volume I, 32. 1985 Found that physical violence between family members is more frequent than believed.
J.D. Bremner, S.M. Southwick, D.R. Johnson, R. Yehuda and D.S. Charney, National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, West Haven VA Medical Center, CT.  "Childhood physical abuse and combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans."  American Journal of Psychiatry, 150:235-239  1993  Found that Vietnam vets who were hit as children were more likely to experience posttraumatic stress disorder.
M.D. Haskett, J.A. Kistner, Department of Psychology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.  "Social interactions and peer perceptions of young physically abused children."  Child Development, Oct;62(5):979-90 1991  Found that children who are hit tend to be avoided by other children, and were viewed by teachers as more behaviorally disturbed.
E.P. Slade, L.S. Wissow, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy and Management, Baltimore, MD.  "Spanking in early childhood and later behavior problems: a prospective study of infants and young toddlers."  Pediatrics, May; 133(5):1321-30  2004  Found that children who are spanked frequently were substantially more likely to have behavior problems in school.
D.B. Bugental, G.A. Martorell, V. Barraza, Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.  "The hormonal costs of subtle forms of infant maltreatment."  Hormonal Behavior, Jan;43(1):237-44 2003  Found that infants who are spanked showed high hormonal reactivity to stress, which may alter the functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in ways that, if continued, may foster risk for immune disorders, sensitization to later stress, cognitive deficits, and social-emotional problems.
E.A. Stormshak, K.L. Bierman, R.J. McMahon, L.J. Lengua, Department of Applied Behavior and Communication Sciences, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.  "Parenting practices and child disruptive behavior problems in early elementary school."  Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, Mar;29(1):17-29.  2000  Found that spanking and physical aggression by parents were associated with elevated rates of all child disruptive behavior problems, especially aggression.  Parenting practices contribute to the prediction of oppositional and aggressive behavior problems.
M.A. Straus, J.H. Stewart, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.  "Corporal punishment by American parents: national data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and duration, in relation to child and family characteristics."  Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, June;2(2):55-70  1999  Found children are hit more often, and more severely, than is commonly perceived, or even recommended, by pro-spankers.  35% of infants, and 94% of 3-4 year olds, and over half of 12 year olds experience corporal punishment (slapping, spanking on the buttocks with or without an object, pinching, and shaking).
M.A. Straus, V.E. Mouradian, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.  "Impulsive corporal punishment by mothers and antisocial behavior and impulsiveness of children."  Behavioral Science Law, 1998 Summer;16(3):353-74  Found that parental spanking and slapping is associated with increased antisocial behavior and impulsiveness in children.  The more corporal punishment experienced by a child, the more likely the child will engage in antisocial behavior and to act impulsively, despite high maternal nurturance.
M.A. Straus, D.B. Sugarman, J. Giles-Sims, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, and Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX.   "Spanking by parents and subsequent antisocial behavior of children."  Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 1997 Aug;151(8):761-7.  Found that children who are spanked are more aggressive 2 years later.
M.A. Straus, M. Paschall, Family Research Laboratory,  University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.  "Corporal punishment by mothers and child's cognitive development: A longitudinal study."  Research on a nationally representative sample of 960 children presented at the 14th World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Canada, Aug.1, 1998.  Spanking found to be associated with lowered cognitive development, and lower IQs.

E.E. Whipple, C.A. Richey, School of Social Work, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.  "Crossing the line from physical discipline to child abuse: how much is too much?"  Child Abuse and Neglect, 1997 May;21(5):431-44  Found that "relative exposure" to spanking is positively related to greater risk for child abuse.
Gershoff, E. T., National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University, New York, NY.  "Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review." Psychological Bulletin, 2002 Jul;128(4), 539-579  Found that corporal punishment of children was related to decreased internalization of moral rules, increased aggression, more antisocial behavior, increased criminality, weakened parent-child relationships, decreased mental health outcomes, increased adult abusive behaviors, and increased risk of being victimized in abusive relationships in adulthood.  This study is an analysis of 88 research studies on corporal punishment of children.
J. L. Sheline, B.J. Skipper, W.E. Broadhead, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC.  "Risk factors for violent behavior in elementary school boys: have you hugged your child today?"  American Journal of Public Health, 1994 April;84(4):661-3  Found that parents of violent boys were more likely than those of matched control students to use spanking for discipline.
C.E. Joubert, University of Alabama, Florence, AL.  "Antecedents of narcissism and psychological reactance as indicated by college students' retrospective reports of their parents' behaviors." Psychological Report, 1992 Jun;70(3 Pt 2):1111-5  Higher psychological reactance (feeling threatened) scores on the Narcissism Personality Inventory and the Hong Psychological Reactance Scale correlated with more spanking by fathers.
C.E. Joubert, University of North Alabama, Florence, AL.  "Self-esteem and social desirability in relation to college students' retrospective perceptions of parental fairness and disciplinary practices." Psychological Report, 1991 August;69(1):115-20  College women were found to view their parents as being less fair if they had been spanked by them as children.
D. Levinson, Yale University, New Haven, CT.  "Physical punishment of children and wife beating in cross-cultural perspective."  Child Abuse and Neglect, 1981 5: 193-195  Found that societies in which physical punishment of children is rare or infrequent, the existence of wife beating is also rare.

D. Yankelovich, DYG, Inc., sponsored by Civitas, Zero to Three, and Brio Corporation. "What Grown-Ups Understand About Child Development: A National Benchmark Survey" written about in the New York Times, October 24, 2000.  This national survey of 3,000 adults found that about 60% of parents spank, even though they concede the punishment is ineffective.
M.T. Teicher, Developmental Biopsychiatry Research Program, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA.  "Wounds that time won't heal: The neurobiology of child abuse." Cerebrum, vol.2, no.4:Fall 2000.  Found a higher incidence of abnormal EEG tests (measure of brain waves) in adults who had been hit as children, and impaired brain development. (scroll down to "Wounds...")
J.F. Geddes, G.H. Vowles, A.K. Hackshaw, C.D. Nickols, I.S. Scott, H.L. Whitwell, Department of Histopathology and Morbid Anatomy, Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel, London, UK.  "Neuropathology of inflicted head injury in children: II. Microscopic brain injury in infants." Brain, 200l 124:1299-1306  Found that babies can be injured and killed from even mild shaking or hitting, primarily from damage to the part of the brain that controls breathing.
M.A. Straus, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.  "Spanking teaches short-term lesson, but long-term violence." Project NoSpank, July 24, 1999.  Research of statistics revealed that the US states that permit the most legal corporal punishment of children are the states with the most homicides committed by children.
M.A. Straus, Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH.  "Family Training in Crime and Violence."  Crime and the Family, 1985.  A study of 1,000 families found that parents inflicted nearly twice as many severe, and nearly four times as many total, violent acts on their teenage children than the other way around.
L.R. Huesmann, L.D. Eron, M.M. Lefkowitz, L.O. Walder, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.   "The stability of aggression over time and generations."  Developmental Psychology, 1984, 20, 1120-1134. Aggressive children often become aggressive adults, who often produce more aggressive children, in a cycle that endures generation after generation.
D. Button, M. Katz, B. King, A. Simpson, D. Figuaroa, California State University, Fresno, CA.  "Some Antecedents of Felonious and Delinquent Behavior." Research presented at the Western Psychological Association, Portland, OR, April 1972.  Juvenile delinquents were found to have parents that used a lot of physical punishment.
A.A. Haeuser, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  "Swedish parents don't spank."  Mothering, Spring 1992.  Harsh beatings of children are much less common since the passage of the 1979 law against corporal punishment of children.  The law has also facilitated earlier reporting and intervention.  Violent crimes have decreased, and adults are considerably more optimistic about Sweden's children than a decade ago.  Few minor infractions have been reported by spiteful neighbors or children, putting to rest the speculation that such a law would create chaos by turning minor parental infractions into government cases.
M. Main, C. George, University of California, Berkeley.  "Responses of Abused and Disadvantaged Toddlers to Distress in Agemates."  Developmental Psychology, May 1985, p.407.  Toddlers raised with violent treatment showed no empathy to others and exhibited violent behaviors to other toddlers.
T.G. Power, M.L. Chapieski, University of Houston, TX.  "Childrearing and impulse control in toddlers: A naturalistic investigation."  Developmental Psychology, 1986 22:271-275.  Toddlers who were observed to be subject to mild physical punishment were more likely to ignore maternal prohibitions, to manipulate breakable objects, and to show low levels of nonverbal competence 7 months later, than toddlers who were not hit.
P.M. Bays, C.D. Frith, S.S. Shergill, D. Wolpert, University College London, England; and Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London, England. "Two Eyes for an Eye: The Neuroscience of Force Escalation." Science, Vol.301, Issue 5630, 187, 11 July 2003.  Test subjects were found to increase levels of physical pushing force by an average of 38% each turn, when asked to return, in equal force, the pushing they received from their partners.  People are not good judges of how much physical force they are using, typically using significantly more force than they believe they are using.
G. Margolin, E.B. Gordis, Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA.  "The effects of family and community violence on children." Annual Review of Psychology, 2000 Vol.51:445-479.  Children's exposure to violence can disrupt typical developmental trajectories through psychobiological effects, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), cognitive consequences, and peer problems.
A.M. Graziano, J.L. Hamblen, W.A. Plante, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo, NY.  "Subabusive violence in child rearing in middle-class American families."  Pediatrics, Oct. 1996; 98:845-848  Found that 85% of parents surveyed expressed moderate to high anger, remorse, and agitation while administering corporal punishment to their children, and say they would rather not spank if they had an alternative in which they believed.  This refutes the common admonishment to parents to refrain from spanking in anger. 1-800-422-4633 or 1-888-463-6874 to order an issue. 


"Spanking... increases the rate of street entries by children", wrote Dr. Dennis Embry in a letter to Children Magazine.

Since 1977 I have been heading up the only long-term project designed to counteract pedestrian accidents to preschool-aged children. (Surprisingly, getting struck by a car is about the third leading cause of death to young children in the United States.)

Actual observation of parents and children shows that spanking, scolding, reprimanding and nagging INCREASES the rate of street entries by children. Children use going into the street as a near-perfect way to gain parents' attention.

Now there is a promising new educational intervention program, called Safe Playing. The underlying principles of the program are simple:

1. Define safe boundaries in a POSITIVE way. 'Safe players play on the grass or sidewalk.'
2. Give stickers for safe play. That makes it more fun than playing dangerously.
3. Praise your child for safe play.
These three principles have an almost instant effect on increasing safe play. We have observed children who had been spanked many times a day for going into the street, yet they continued to do it. The moment the family began giving stickers and praise for safe play, the children stopped going into the street.

Dennis D. Embry, Ph.D.
University of Kansas
Lawrence Kansas

Robert E. Larzelere is the director of research at Boys Town, NE, and a skeptic of the anti-spanking position. He analyzed what he considered to be the eight strongest studies of corporal punishment (CP). 8 He found that they showed that spanking and other forms of violence short of actual abuse had "beneficial outcomes." However, the study seems almost without value when closely examined:

Seven of the eight studies measured only the child's short term compliance to the parent's request. There is probably a consensus among therapists, child psychologists, researchers and parents that spanking does make the child behave, at least for a little while. What these studies did not examine are the long-term effects of spanking observed by other studies: increasing non-compliance by the child, increased anti-social behavior with other children, and long range emotional and addictive problems as an adult. It is worth noting that in five of the seven cases, the effectiveness of spanking was compared to alternative methods of discipline. Spanking offered no advantages.

The eighth study did show long-term beneficial results from spanking. However it dealt only with a single child who had a severe conduct disorder, and who might be suffering from schizophrenia. Thus, one cannot extrapolate the study's results to the general population of children. In addition, most of the study dealt with training the mother to reinforce the child's positive behaviors and to be more confident and consistent in issuing commands to the child. One might speculate that an equivalent or even better beneficial result might have been observed if the spanking were replaced by an alternative form of discipline.

Other helpful  links: