SALT LAKE CITY — The American Psychological Association has joined a long list of professional groups and even countries adopting no-spanking policies. They say spanking doesn't work in the long term to modify a child's behavior and that it may create lasting harm.
Instead, the organization recommends using proven techniques to help a child choose positive behavior over negative behavior.
Rosie Phillips Davis, president of the association, said use of corporal punishment has declined over the past half-century, but her group wants to aid further decrease in the practice by helping parents recognize forms of discipline that are more effective.
"Scientific evidence demonstrates that physical discipline of children by parents and other caregivers can harm children’s mental health and possibly increase their propensity toward aggressive behavior," says the resolution adopted Friday. "Instead, alternative forms of discipline that are associated with more positive outcomes for children — such as reasoning, time out, taking away privileges, warnings and ignoring misbehavior — are recommended.
“Research indicates that physical discipline is not effective in achieving parents’ long-term goals of decreasing aggressive and defiant behavior in children or of promoting regulated and socially competent behavior in children,” the resolution continues. “The research on the adverse outcomes associated with physical discipline indicates that any perceived short-term benefits of physical discipline do not outweigh the detriments of this form of discipline.”
In an announcement, the American Psychological Association said the resolution was drafted after "extensive review of the scientific literature" on disciplining children. The association now promises to educate the public about how physical discipline impacts children and teach effective methods of discipline. The group will also help fund national and international research into why some parents rely on physical discipline.
"Some of (the behavior) is age-related and expectations may be unrealistic," Dr. Paul Wirkus, president of the Utah Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Deseret News recently.
For example, he said, a 16-month old getting into things is "in the wiring. There are things related to a child's age that are developmentally appropriate. We have to work within those constraints. We are not raising babies. We are trying to raise trustworthy adults whom we love and respect. So how do we guide them and get them there?"
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently warned against both spanking and "shaming" children, which it says harms kids and doesn't work.
Opponents of spanking say it can increase aggressive, even abusive behavior by children as they get older, because they tend to model what they see parents do. They warn children can become defiant and that spanking may harm parent-child relationships. And they cite possible links with mental illness and other long-term harm.
Some countries have banned the use of physical punishment completely, calling it abusive. Not everyone agrees. And an August 2017 Utah Supreme Court ruling said labeling all physical punishment as abuse is "overly broad" and such a label requires proof of actual physical harm.
Whether spanking actually harms a child may be a contentious question, but experts say it also doesn't help in the ways parents may think it does.
As a Deseret News editorial noted, "The Journal of Family Psychology recently published a meta-analysis of 75 academic studies conducted over a five-decade period, with data on approximately 160,000 children. Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, summarized the findings as follows: 'We found spanking was related to less of all the good things,' she said. 'And it was not significantly related to compliance. … It doesn't achieve what parents want: compliance and acting appropriately in the future.'"
One challenge, as experts have told the Deseret News, is the inability for researchers to do randomized studies of discipline and outcomes, because it's not ethical to assign children to different types of discipline.
The American Psychological Association reports that "recent work has used strong research designs using multiple methods and has examined diverse samples," and the new resolution reads, "Thus, findings from these methodologically rigorous studies show that parental physical discipline use can be detrimental, and conversely that other forms of discipline promote positive child behavior over time."
Among the national, family-focused organizations opposing physical punishment of children are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the nation's largest group of pediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatrics; American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling, National Association of Counsel for Children, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and National Foster Parent Association.