Dialogue:  An Exchange of Views
Between a Prospanker (Richard)
and an Antispanker (Chris)

Adopted from the alt.parenting.spanking UseNet newsgroup

Richard:   For those who keep demanding studies which support spanking I offer the following: 

        Chris: Not one of the "studies" you list below (some of which are merely the unsupported opinions of prospankers with doctorates) provides any affirmative support to spanking at all.  There is not one published, peer reviewed research study which shows evidence of any form of measurable long term benefit to children from spanking, either among your citations, or in the research literature as a whole.

1) Researchers John Lyons, Rachel Anderson and David Larson of the National Institue of Healthcare Research recently conducted a systematic review of research literature on corporal punishment and found:

a) 83 percent of the articles found in clinical and phychosocial journals were merely opinion driven editorials, reviews or commentaries. All devoid of of new empirical findings.
        Richard, you  "offer" us this in response to requests for "studies supporting spanking?"  The fact that 83% of articles found in clinical or psychosocial journals regarding spanking are editorials, reviews or commentaries does not constitute empirical evidence in support of spanking.  Yet studies in support of spanking are what you just promised us in the previous paragraph.  Furthermore, this 83% statistic does not negate the research which antispankers on the alt.parenting.spanking newsgroup have cited which does contain meaningful empirical findings.  You are off to a weak start.

b) MOST of the empirical studies which were found were methodologically flawed by grouping the impact of abuse with spanking.

        Actually, these "flawed" studies are quite relevant, Richard.  They refute the oft-repeated myth that lack of physical punishment correlates with aggression and crime.  In fact, the opposite is true.   People who were not spanked as children are the least likely to engage in assault or theft in adolescence or to commit child abuse or spousal abuse in adulthood (Straus, 1991).   The more violent, criminal behavior a person exhibits, the higher the statistical likelihood that they were physically punished as a child (Straus & Kantor, 1994).  There is a well established correlation between frequency of childhood physical punishment and later antisocial behavior (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997; Straus et al., 1997).

        You capitalize the word "most," thereby tacitly admitting that some studies have separated out legal spanking from extra-legal child abuse, as indeed they have.  For example, Strassberg et al. (1994) found that milder forms of spanking in the home correlated with aggressive school behavior to a significant degree, and that child abuse correlated with aggressive behavior at school to an even more significant degree.  Any child who had been abusively "hit" even once in their life was excluded from the "spanked" group, yet the correlation between spanking and school aggression remained significant.  These results are consistent with the view that spanking and abuse are points along a continuum of violence against children, and that higher dosages of such violence accompany greater measurable degrees of long-term harm.

c) The best studies demonstrated benefical (sic), not detrimental effects of  spankings in certain situations.(i)

        You give no citations of any of these "best studies" or any hint about the "situations" in which spanking allegedly has "beneficial effects."  (In fact, the only "beneficial effect" ever demonstrated for spanking is short term compliance with parental commands, an issue which will be addressed shortly.)  Your (i) citation is to an unpublished paper delivered at a meeting in 1993.  This paper is a review, not original research, and is hence part of the 83% you mentioned earlier which are "devoid of new empirical findings."  Not three sentences ago you dismissed papers which offered no new empirical findings.  Now you have just cited one.

        I have no idea how to obtain this obscure, unpublished review paper. And frankly, Richard, I don't believe you have ever read it.  I think you cited it because Trumball and Ravenel (1996) cited it on the Family Research Council website.  I don't believe you have any idea what the alleged "situations" are in which spanking is "beneficial," Richard, because you haven't read the (i) paper.  You have merely repeated what you saw in a ideologically-biased, tertiary source about what an obscure secondary source you haven't read allegedly said about some primary sources you know nothing about.

        You prefaced this note by announcing your intention to cite studies supportive of spanking.  You have yet to do so.

2) Researchers at the Center for Family Research at IOWA STATE  UNIVERSITY studied 332 families to examine corporal punishment and the effect it had played on three adolescent outcomes: AGGRESSIVENESS,   DELINQUENCY, and PSYCHOLOGICAL WELL-BEING. The researchers found a strong association between the quality of parenting and each of the three outcomes. CORPORAL PUNISHMENT, HOWEVER WAS NOT ADVERSELY RELATED TO ANY OF THESE OUTCOMES.

        The fact that this study failed to find evidence of long-term harm in these areas hardly constitutes "support" for spanking.  No procedure which caused physical pain and fear in children would ever be accepted merely because it didn't show evidence of certain types long-term harm in one study. Setting broken bones, filling cavities, and pulling out splinters from little feet all cause pain and fear in children - but the long-term benefits of these procedures are easy to demonstrate.  And in no other case except spanking is the infliction of pain the central goal of the procedure rather than an unavoidable side effect. You have yet to document any long term benefit from spanking.  But don't feel badly about this.  No one else has ever done so either.

        Incidently, the National Family Violence Surveys (Straus & Gelles, 1990) used a sample size nearly twenty-five times larger than the 332 subjects in the study above, and did find correlations with aggressiveness and delinquency.   MacMillan (1999) also used a much larger sample and found significant correlations between spanking in childhood and psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems in adulthood. Other smaller studies have also failed to replicate the Iowa State results.

The study proved that the quality of parenting is the chief determenent (sic) of favorable or unfavorable outcomes.   AGGRESSIVENESS HAS BEEN MORE CLOSELY LINKED TO MATERNAL PERMISSIVENESS AND NEGATIVE  CRITICISM THAN TO EVEN ABUSIVE PHYSICAL DISCIPLINE. (ii)

        The fact that some negative experiences are even more damaging for a child than being hit by their parents hardly constitutes evidence in "support" of spanking.  Analogously, being shot in the face at point blank range is worse than being punched in the nose, but this hardly constitutes evidence in support of  punching people in the nose.

3) A study published in PEDIATRICS shows that most parents who spank do not spank on impulse, but purposefully spank their children with a belief in its effectiveness. The study goes on to reveal no significant  correlation between the frequency of spanking and the anger reported by mothers. (iii)

        I have read the study referred to above, and been influenced by it.  It does not "support" spanking.  The fact that mothers in the study were ideologically committed to spanking, and that there was no correlation between spanking frequency and anger reported by mothers, is irrelevant in this context.  You said you would present studies which "support" spanking, but this one doesn't address the issue of whether or not spanking has long-term benefits or harmful effects.  It is simply about the attitudes of mothers who spank.  Thus it lends no weight to your claims.

4) In studies from the Journal of Personal Social Psychology, and from  Child Development Today and Tommorrow, the clear inference is given that some degree of power assertion and firm control is ESSENTIAL for optimal child rearing. (iv) (v)

        "Power assertion and firm control" do not equate to physical hitting of children.  One does not necessarily imply the other.  Once again, you have failed to present evidence which clearly and unambiguously "supports" the practice of hitting and hurting children, despite having told us at the beginning of your note that you would do so.

 5) Spanking as reccomended (sic) by most primary care physicians (vi) is not considered to be violence.

        This is an appeal to authority, a classic invalid argument, and not meaningful evidence in "support" of anything.  The issue of whether or not spanking harms children or whether there are any demonstrable benefits to the practice cannot be settled by taking a poll, even of "experts."   Polling data only provides evidence about the prevalence of various opinions, not about the validity of those opinions one way or the other.

        And for what its worth, primary care physicians are not even "experts"  on the subject of spanking.  Exposure to the research literature on the subject of spanking is not part of medical school training or residency training.  Primary care physicians who are prospankers were most likely prospankers when they entered medical school and were prospankers when they graduated.  The majority of the US population are prospankers, and the majority of primary care physicians are no different.

        Finally, if you insist on treating the unsubstantiated opinions of physicians as "evidence," you only undermine your own position.  The American Academy of Pediatrics, the professional association of U.S. pediatricians, officially took a stand against all forms of spanking back in April of 1998.

        Once again you have failed to cite any evidence of benefit to children from spanking.

Calling spanking ,violence, only deepens the confusion of the debate (vii).

        In this instance, you cite the opinion of prospank author and theorist, Robert Larzelere.  Larzelere is as entitled to his opinion as you or I.  But this willingness to publically assert that one may hit a child hard enough to cause pain, while at the same time not being "violent" towards that child, is not evidence that this is so.  All spanking involves hitting, and all hitting involves violence.  Those who euphemize and obfuscate the violence they do to their children in the name of "discipline" are the ones deepening the confusion of this debate, not the ones who call hitting "hitting."

6) When combined with reasoning , the use of negative consequences (including spanking) does effectivly (sic) decrease the misbehavior recurrences with preschool children. (viii).

        What no one has yet demonstrated is that reasoning alone is works any less well than reasoning-plus-hitting.  Hence, this is not evidence in "support" of spanking.

7) In clinical field trials, where parental spanking has been studied, it has CONSISTENTLY been found to reduce the subsequent frequency of noncompliance with time-out. (ix)

        The only level on which spanking definitely "works" is in altering a child's immediate short-term behavior, such as staying on a chair when told to do so.  But no one questions that hitting and intimidating a child "work" on this kind of ultra-short-term basis.  Anyone of any age would be more likely to continue sitting in a chair if a person four times their size were standing over them waiting to hit them the moment they stood up.  Hitting and hurting does "work" to intimidate people in the short run.   The question is, does it really "work" in the medium-run and in the long-run?  The burden of proof is on you, Richard, and you have yet to shoulder this burden.

8) Dr Diana Baumrind of the Institute for Human Development at the University of California-Berkley, conducted a decade long study of parenting of children 3-9 years old. She found that parents using a balanced disciplary (sic) style of firm control (including spanking) and positive encouragement experienced the best results. (x)

        Baumrind's research data does not "support" spanking.  She divided parents into three categories: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.  All three categories of parents in her sample used physical punishment on their children.  Hence, her research tells us nothing about spanking per se.  (Indeed, I would predict that if the "authoritative" parents, who experienced the best results, stopped hitting their kids, they would experience even better results.)

9) The apprach (sic) of using occasional spanking is advocated by several child rearing experts. (xi) In the hands of a loving parent a spanking to the buttocks of a defiant toddler in appropriate settings is a powerful motivator to correct behavior and an effective deterrent to disobidience (sic).

        This is argument from authority and argument by assertion.  The opinions of James Dobson and the other parenting authors you cite does not constitute "evidence" that spanking is harmless and beneficial.  (And indeed, in the case of Dobson I believe  the man is living proof of how badly a spanked child can turn out... see "James Dobson: Dog Abuser"). 

10) Further the study which is often quoted by Murray Straus at the the University of New Hampshire (anti-spanker)  are based upon theoretical models and survey results of adults recalling spankings as teenagers.

        Straus's research publications date back to the 60's.  He has scores of peer-reviewed journal articles and studies to his credit.  Just precisely which "study" are we being referred to here?  Frankly, Richard, I doubt if you yourself know.  You are just repeating what you read in (xvi), aren't you?

        The claim that Straus's data is only about teenagers is an erroneous assertion which prospank author John Rosemond likes to repeat.  All one need do is to begin reading some of Straus's work to see that this claim of Rosemond's is not true. Straus's studies have looked at corporal punishment in children as old as 17 and as young as less than one year of age (cf. Straus & Gelles, 1990).


        Correct.  Straus studies representative non-clinical population samples.  Such research is far more relevant than polling clinical populations.  Clinical populations are self-selected, and heavily skewed in the direction of dysfunctions of various kinds.  If you have any real bone to pick with Straus's large non-clinical studies, let's hear it, Richard.  As it stands, placing a trivial observation in all caps followed by eight exclamation points doesn't constitute a substantive rebuttal.

Further many researchers feel his conclusions go far beyond any data collected by him.

        Argument from authority again...  Merely taking an opinion poll of researchers does not amount to meaningful evidence in "support"  of spanking.  And you haven't even done that. Straus argues, correctly in my opinion, that the issue of spanking is a "blind spot" for most adults in the USA today.  Most of us were spanked, and we don't want to believe that we may have been harmed or that our parents did something harmful to us or that we ourselves did this same harmful thing to our own children.  Psychologists and family sociologists are no more immune to this blind spot than anyone else.

Straus' focus (sic) his research on the spanking of TEENAGERS not on young children.

        This assertion is false. Counterexamples abound.  The 1975 National Family Violence Survey looked at children from age 3 to age 17.  The 1985 National Family Violence Survey looked at children from age 0 to age 17 (Straus & Gelles, 1990).   Straus et al. (1997) looked at children aged 6-9.  Straus & Mouradian (1998) used a sample of children aged 2-14.

        The fact that Trumball and Ravenel (xvi) repeat this false charge undermines their credibility.  The fact that you, Richard, dutifully repeat this charge because they repeated it, further undermines yours.

Most parents could have predicted the results of that research before it was ever done!!!!

        I seriously doubt if most parents would have predicted that spanking would correlate so strongly with later increases in antisocial behavior.  Straus and his coauthors have made numerous and important contributions to human knowledge.

11) Dr. Robert E. Larzelere, a director of research at BOYS TOWN (I bet this guy know (sic) a lot) present evidence supporting a parent's selective use of spanking. Particularly thoser (sic) 2 to 6 years old. (xii) Larzelere concludes that any association between spanking and antisocial behavior is INSUFFICIENT and ARTIFACTUAL!!!!!

        Significant correlations have been found between physical punishment and later statistical likelihood of various antisocial behaviors in multiple studies by various different researchers.  If Larzelere wants to disregard all this evidence and continue to hold fast to his prospank dogma, that is his prerogative.  But his statements of opinion are not evidence of anything except his opinion.  If you want to demonstrate that all the evidence is "insufficient and artifactual," Richard, you are welcome to try.  However, simply quoting someone with whom you agree, whom you say "knows alot," and then putting your assertions in all caps followed by five exclamation points does not amount to a bonafide debating position.

12) Dr. Leonard Eron after a decade long study of children 3rd grade and up found no association between punishment (including spanking) and later aggression. "Upon follow-up 10 years after the original data collection , we found that punishment of aggresive (sic) acts at the earlier age was no longer related to current aggretio (sic), and instead, other variables like parental; nurturance and children's identification with parents were more inportant in predicting later aggression. (xiii)

        This gets back to my earlier response to the Iowa State study.  Even if hitting and hurting small children really didn't correlate with later aggressive behavior, that alone would not constitute "support" for doing it.  Furthermore, other researchers have failed to replicate this negative finding.  I suspect that Eron's results were at odds with those of  other researchers because he did something which you yourself, Richard, earlier dismissed as "methodologically flawed:" he lumped spanking in with other forms of punishment (in this case, noncorporal forms).  This would explain the lack of significant correlations with aggression; the effect washed out when corporal punishment was diluted with non-corporal punishment.

13) In a letter to the editor of Pediatrics in a 1995 issue, Drs.Lawrence S. Wissow and Debra Roter of Johns Hopkins University's pediatrics department acknowledge that a definitive link between spanking and child abuse has yet to be established (xiv)

        In other words, correlation doesn't equal causation.  Everyone already agrees.

        Why do you offer this as if it constitutes "support" for spanking, Richard?  It doesn't.

        Furthermore, subsequent longitudinal studies not yet published in 1995 at the time the above letter appeared have now satisfied the criteria (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997; Straus et al., 1997; MacMillan et al., 1999).

14) Now finally the SWEDISH EXPERIMENT to reduce child abuse with strict government policies is failing. In 1980 one year after the SWEDISH ban was adopted, the rate of child beatings was 2 times that of the United States. According to a 1995 report from the government organisation Statics Sweden, police reports of child abuse by family members rose four fold (1984-94) while reports of teen violence rose six fold!!!!!(xv)

        To the best of my knowledge, Sweden does not keep statistics on child abuse as a specific category of violence the way the USA does.  As for the rest of this paragraph, it looks suspiciously like a tissue of half-truths and irrelevancies.  Why is 1980 data (assuming that it actually exists at all) being compared with US data instead of with Swedish data from before the law passed?  Why is the year 1980 chosen, just one year after the spanking ban took effect and long before even the most doctrinaire antispanker would have predicted that any major societal change should be discernible?  We aren't even told if the "child beating" rate in Sweden went up or down.

        Also, the nation of Sweden is not a controlled experiment.  Numerous variables impinge on child abuse rates and crime rates.  For example, your argument ignores the fact that Sweden experienced a severe economic recession during the 1984-1994 period with high unemployment, a factor well known to be associated with higher crime and child abuse rates.  Sweden's entrance into the European Union and the lowering of trade barriers increased the availability of drugs of abuse, another factor associated with crime and child abuse.  Sweden's membership in the EU also resulted in a large influx of immigrants of other ethnicities, which likely fed racial tensions during a period when jobs were scarce.  We have no way of knowing, given the multiple variables in play, if child abuse and crime rates might have risen more in the absence of the 1979 no-spanking law than they allegedly did.

        I say "allegedly" because the increase in child abuse reports may not necessarily reflect an increase in the underlying rate of child abuse itself.  Indeed, the increased rate of child abuse reports has always been viewed by Swedish authorities as one of the clearest and most easily-demonstrable ways in which the no-spank law is working  (Haeuser, 1990).  A no-spanking law improves child abuse reportage.  Haeuser (1990) quoted a Swedish child abuse official as saying "if only babies could talk."  He was referring to how many additional bonafide child abuse reports Swedish agencies were receiving from children since the passage of the no-spank law.  Once children understand that all hitting of children is unlawful, they are much more likely to report instances of severe child abuse of the sort which was already illegal before the no-spank law went into effect.  So the child abuse reportage should be expected to rise after the passage of a no-spank law, even if the underlying rate of child abuse  remained the same or dropped somewhat.

        The authors you cite have taken one of the most clear-cut successes of Sweden's no-spank law and by means of rather clumsy rhetorical legerdemain have attempted to use it as proof that the law is "failing."  But only the already-converted are likely to be fooled...

Many thanks to the FRC and Drs. Den A Trumball M.D. and S. DuBose Ravenel M.D. whose article I got much of this information from.(xvi)

        Come now, Richard... you got all of your information from that article.  Admit it. :-)

Dr. Rumball (sic) is a boart (sic) certified pediatrician in private practice in Montgomery Alabama. He is a member of the Section on Development and Behavioral Pediatrics of the American Academy of Pediatricians (sic).

Dr Ravenel is a board certified pediatrician in private practice in High Point North Carolina. He served for 11 years on the pediatric faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine prior to entering private practice.

        I am unimpressed with the fact that these two Bible-belt fundamentalist prospankers, writing for a publication of an organization which serves as a lobbying front group for James Dobson's "Focus On The Family Organization," are pediatricians.  Pediatricians are physicians specializing in the diseases of childhood.  They are not trained in issues such as child discipline or the long term effects of various methods.  And neither of these individuals has published a single peer reviewed research paper on spanking, child discipline, or any other related topic.

        In conclusion, while you claimed you were going to present studies which support spanking, you have failed to cite a single such study.  I would like to thank you, Richard, for helping me publically demonstrate the bankruptcy of the prospank position.  By trumping up a long list of "evidence," all of which crumbles under critical scrutiny, you have underscored the complete lack of empirical data linking spanking with any measurable long-term benefit to children.

Chris Dugan


        Richard's References:

(i)Lyons, Dr John., Anderson, Rachel L.,and Larson, Dr. David B. "The Use and Effects of Physical Punishment in the Home: A Systematic Review." Presentation to the Section on Bio-Ethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics at annual meeting, Nov. 93.

(ii)Simmons, Ronald L. Johnson, Christine, and Congar, Rand D. "Harsh Corporal Punishment verses Quality of Parental Involvment as an Explanation of Adolescent Maladjustment" Journal of Mariage and Family, 1994; 56:591-607

(iii)Socolar, Rebecca R. S. M.D. and Stein, Ruth E.K., M. D. "Spanking Infants and Toddlers: Maternal Belief and Practice", PEDIATRICS 1995, 95:105-111.

(iv) Hoffman , Martin "Parental Discipilne and Child's Moral Development" Journal of Social Phychology, 1967 5:45-57.

(v) Baumrind, Diana, PhD. "Rearing Compentent Children" Damon W (Ed) Child Development Today and Tommorrow 1989; pp 349-378 SF California; Jossey-Bass

(vi) McCormik, Kenelm F. M.D."Attitudes of Primary Care Physicians toward Corporal Punishment" Journal of the American Medical Association" 1992; 267:3161-3165

(vii) Larzele and Merenda "The Effectiveness of Parental Discipline..." Family Relations 1994;43

(viii) Eron, "Theories of Aggression: From ...." Huesmann , L.R. Aggressive Behaviors Current Perspectives, 1994 Plelum Press

(ix) Roberts and Powers "Adjusting Chair Time out enforcement..." Behavioral Therapy 1990 21:257,, and Bean and Roberts "The effect of Time Out..."Journal of Abnormal Phychology 1981; 9-95-105

(x) Baumrind, Dr. Diana "The development of Instrumental ...."Minn. Symposia on Child Phychology. 1973; 7:3-46.

(xi) Austin, Glen "Love and Power; How to Raise Competent Children" 1988 Robert Erdmann Publishing Also Dobson James "The Strong Willed Child" 1985 Illinois Tydale House Publishers and Cooperssmith Stanely "The Antecedent of Self Esteem 1967 New York, Consulting Phychologists Press.

(xii) Larzelere Dr. Robert E. "Should use of Corporal Punishment be used as Child Abuse" Masion M Grambill , Debating Chilfdren's Lives1994 Sage Publications.

(xiii) Eron, "Theories of Aggression: From ...." Huesmann , L.R. Aggressive Behaviors Current Perspectives, 1994 Plelum Press

(xiv) Wissow and Rotter. Letter to editor, reply to corporal punishment. Pediatrics 1995;96(4) 794-795

(xv)  STATISTIC SWEEDEN, KR Info. May 1995, pp 1-6, Stockholm Sweeden

(xvi) Trumbull and Ravenel (Drs.) , Spare the Rod? New Research Challenges Spanking Critics" Family Policy, FRC, Vol. 9 Number 5 October 1996.

        Chris's References

Gunnoe, M.L. & Mariner, C.L.  1997.  "Toward a Developmental-Contextual Model of the effects of Parental Spanking on Children's Aggression." Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 151:768-775.

Haeuser, A.A.  1990.  "Banning Parental Use of Physical Punishment: Success in Sweden."  Presented at the Eighth International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect, Hamburg, Germany, 2-6 September.

MacMillan, H.L.; Boyle, M.H.; Wong, M.Y.Y.; Duku, E.K.; Fleming, J.E. and Walsh, C.A.  1999.  "Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample."  Canadian Medical Association Journal 161(7):805-809.

Straus, M.A.  1991.  "Discipline and Deviance: Physical Punishment of Children and Violence and Other Crime in Adulthood."  Social Problems 38(2):133-155

Straus, M.A & Gelles, R. J..  1990.  Physical Violence In American Families: Risk Factors And Adaptations To Violence In 8,145 Families.  New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Straus, M.A & Kantor, G.K.  1994.  "Corporal Punishment of Adolescents By Parents: A Risk Factor in the Epidemiology of Depression, Suicide, Alcohol Abuse, Child Abuse, and Wife Beating."  Adolescence 29(115):543-561.

Straus, M.A. and Mouradian, V.E.  1998.  "Impulsive Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Antisocial Behavior and Impulsiveness of Children." Behavioral Sciences & The Law 16(3):353-374.

Straus, M.A.; Sugarman, D.B. and Giles-Sims, J.  1997.  "Corporal Punishment by Parents and Subsequent Anti-Social Behavior of Children" Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 151(8):761-767.

Strassberg, Z.; Dodge, K.A.; Petit, G.S. & Bates, J.E.  1994.  "Spanking in the Home and Children's Subsequent Aggression Toward Kindergarten Peers." Development and Psychopathology, 6:445-461.

Trumbull, D.A. & Ravenel, S.D. (1996)  "Spare the Rod? New Research Challenges Spanking Critics" Family Policy, FRC, 9(5), October 1996.

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