Friday, October 11, 2019

"Scientific studies" on spanking

I'm going to quote some representative excerpts of "scientific study" on spanking and corporal punishment:

However, this perspective began to change as studies found links between “normative” physical punishment and child aggression, delinquency and spousal assault in later life...Physical punishment is associated with a range of mental health problems in children, youth and adults, including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, and general psychological maladjustment.26–29 These relationships may be mediated by disruptions in parent–child attachment resulting from pain inflicted by a caregiver...

75% of substantiated physical abuse of children occurred during episodes of physical punishment. This finding was replicated in the second cycle of the study (CIS 2003).40 Another large Canadian study41 found that children who were spanked by their parents were seven times more likely to be severely assaulted by their parents (e.g., punched or kicked) than children who were not spanked. In an American study,42 infants in their first year of life who had been spanked by their parents in the previous month were 2.3 times more likely to suffer an injury requiring medical attention than infants who had not been spanked. 

1. There's been a highly successful movement by secular progressives (cheered on by "progressive Christians") to use the totalitarian power of the state to deny parental authority and Christian ethics, even in the private sphere of the family.  

2. I don't concede the premise that you need a scientific study to be justified in many of your common sense beliefs. 

3. I'm of two minds about scientific studies. On the one hand, there's a need for scientific studies on many topics. On the other hand, many scientific studies are unreliable. Many influential studies, which became the received wisdom in academia and certain professions, studies which became the basis for law or public policy, have been debunked over the years. Consider the replication crisis in the social and life sciences. So just quoting a study or studies has no particular cachet with me. It's an unfortunate dilemma. We need studies, but which studies can be trusted, given their checkered track-record? It's not possible to endorse scientific studies in general. 

4. In addition, some studies are like the professional expert witness hired by defense attorneys. You can hire someone with impressive credentials to defend both sides of any position. 

5. A basic flaw in the study is the equivocal use of "physical punishment". Needless to say, that ranges along a very wide continuum. You can't lump all forms of physical punishment, then tar a light spanking with the same consequences. There are degrees of physical punishment, from slight to severe. It's willfully methodologically irresponsible not to draw necessary distinctions. 

Take the difference between swatting a child on the backside with your hand 1-3 times and whipping him on the backside with a belt or ruler. Those just aren't comparable. 

6. Likewise, I doubt pain is the primary factor in the efficacy of spanking. Breaking your arm when you fall from a tree or scraping your knees when you fall off your bike is far more painful then getting swatted on the backside by hand. Do scientific studies which hype the psychological harm of spanking say the same thing about painful childhood accidents? 

I suspect the impact of spanking is primarily psychological rather than physical. Because young children are so emotionally dependent on their parents, to be physically rebuffed by a parent is (temporarily) traumatic. It's easy to reduce a child to tears. 

7. Apropos (6), in biblical anthropology, mothers and fathers play different roles. They have overlapping roles, but there are differences as well as commonalities. In a qualified sense, it's not bad for kids to be afraid of their fathers. I don't mean they should live in a state of fear. But it's good for them to fear the paternal reaction if they cross certain lines. To take a comparison, although a lion protects his cubs, cubs must be more respectful to the lion than the lioness. You don't mess with the lion! 

8. The studies need to be far more selective. For instance, what's the long-term impact of spanking an extroverted, strong-willed boy? Children vary in temperament. Likewise, there are stereotypical psychological differences between boys and girls. What's effective discipline for one child may be ineffective for another.   

9. Do the studies screen out other variables for delinquency, depression, self-harm, domestic abuse, substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide? What about kids from high-crime areas? Kids from broken homes? Fatherless boys (due to divorce and maternal custody)? Kids with stepdads? Kids where mom has a live-in boyfriend, or string of boyfriends? 

10. How do rates of delinquency, depression, self-harm, domestic abuse, substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide for kids who experience moderate spanking compare with their counterparts in secularized nations where spanking is illegal? What's the comparative data? 

11. Do psychologists and sociologists who deplore spanking think a propensity for violence is innate–or the result of social conditioning? Do they think a violence-free society is possible with different socialization?

12. What's their model of a socially well-adjusted or maladjusted male? Consider the faddish misdiagnosis/overmedication for attention deficit syndrome for rambunctious boys. Do they think an aggressive streak is "toxic masculinity"? 

Suppose an aggressive streak or potential for violence is a necessary trait in males who take the initiative. What if the nature of boys to be adventurous, inventive, competitive, and take a risk is inseparable from an aggressive streak or potential for violence?  

13. Is there any correlation between declining crime rates and declining levels of testosterone? Is there any correlation between declining crime rates and a graying population? During the baby boom, young males were a larger percentage of the population. 


  1. If its anything from Alfie Kohn, be very, very, suspicious.

  2. One difficulty I have is that in fifties there was something of a widespread rash in juvenile delinquency, when presumably corporal punishment was still the norm. However, I guess it's not meant to be a perfect solution to every problem. Also, I think societal norms were beginning to change at the time.