Is spanking a black and white issue?

SMU Psychology Professor George Holden says stress may be the key factor in how parents decide when, or whether, to spank their children.

The question of who spanks their children and who doesn’t goes far beyond race. Psychological and sociological studies on child-rearing disparities between black and white parents don’t provide clear answers: Although many studies find that black parents do spank more often, other research finds no differences between races.

More revealing are the studies that take into account other critical factors, like the parents’ upbringing, stress levels, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status and region of the country. These have shown that parents most adamantly committed to the practice of spanking tend to be from the South. They have less education and less wealth, and they experience more stress. They are likely to take literally the Proverbs’ call for a "rod of correction," and they typically were spanked by their own parents.

Parents who spank – black or white – do so because they inaccurately believe that corporal punishment results in improved child behavior. The pressure to spank can be loud and forceful, amplified by frustrating child behavior and unexamined child-rearing assumptions, along with misguided advice from extended family members, neighbors, teachers and preachers.

Yet research on the consequences of spanking children of every race could not be more clear. Beyond its immediate impact on behavior, spanking increases children’s long-term aggression toward peers and others. Parents who spank are, in fact, modeling violent behavior, which young children in my own studies have described as unfair and ineffective. Spanking also is linked to a host of harmful effects on children’s well-being: increased anxiety and depression, impaired cognitive development and academic performance, lower self-esteem and, sometimes, bruises and broken bones.

Any perceived gap between races on discipline is closing as more people in this country are slowly but surely changing their beliefs. A study found that from 1986 to 2008, the percentage of women who agreed or strongly agreed that it is sometimes necessary to give a child a “good, hard spanking” dropped to 65 percent from 82 percent; for men, these answers decreased to 77 percent from 84 percent. And as of this year, 31 states have banned corporal punishment in schools. As parents and community members, we’re learning that we can best teach and socialize our children through nonviolent discipline.

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See the story at the New York Times website.