Book Review

Beating the Devil Out of Them:
Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effect on Children

by Murray A. Straus, Denise A. Donnelly

Transaction Publishers; 2nd edition (September 1, 2001)

Click here to buy this book from

Dr. Murray Straus and coauthor Denise Donnelly have updated their 1994 _tour de force_ with new studies and data in a highly readable format for the general public. Professor Straus, of the University of New Hampshire, is one of the world's foremost researchers in the field of family violence, and it was his research on wife-beating in the 60's and 70's which led him to recognize the connectedness of all subtypes of family violence, including the "virtuous violence" against children euphemistically known as "spanking."

Spanking appears to "work" in the short run because the child stops doing whatever provoked the
parent's displeasure. But the research Straus summarizes in this important new book clearly shows
that in the longer run, spanking has no measurable beneficial effects at all, and is associated with a
variety of long term negative effects. The more children are spanked, the more they assault siblings
and other children. The more children are spanked, the more their rates of age adjusted antisocial
behavior increase over time. Spanking in childhood is associated with higher levels of alcoholism,
depression, masochistic fantasy, and suicidal ideation later in life.

As more family violence data accumulates, more evidence accumulates in support of Straus's view of normative forms of violence "spilling over" into criminal forms. Parents who spank their children are significantly more likely to also physically abuse them than parents who don't. Parents who spank their children are more likely to physically abuse each other. And physically abused children are even more likely to grow up to commit crimes against nonfamily members than spanked children, who are in turn more likely to do so than nonspanked children.

The mounting tide of research on spanking resembles the growth of research on the harmful effects
of cigarette smoking. In both cases, no single study settled the issue. Every study had its weaknesses and its strengths. But when all of the available studies are viewed as a whole, a grim picture emerges: of a widespread, culturally ingrained habit which causes grave harm, bit by bit, by subtle increments.

The parallels between smoking and spanking extend beyond the similarity of research study designs. Both are addictive practices justified by their practicioners in similar ways. "I've smoked for fifty years and I feel great!" "I was spanked and it never did ME any harm!" Bit by bit, the mounting evidence linking smoking with cancer eroded much of the cultural denial. Straus's book is at once a
recognition of a similar trend towards popular identification of spanking as a harmful, injurious act,
and an influence furthering that trend.

Every new parent who is planning to spank their child simply because that is how they were raised
should read this book and reconsider this thoughtless choice. The data which is emerging today in
the social sciences will take years more to penetrate fully into the public consciousness, just as the
awareness of the dangers of smoking did. By the time it does, today's spanking-aged children will be
teenagers or young adults, coming of age in a world which will view physical punishment of children
no more favorably than of forcing children to smoke cigarettes. They will retroactively judge today's
parents in light of the cultural norms in which they themselves come of age, rather than the cultural
norms of their early twenty-first century childhoods. They will want to know why their parents didn't
pay attention to information, of the type summarized in this book, linking spanking with a variety of
negative side effects and no long term benefits to children. Their parents will not be able to argue that they didn't know, because the information is already publically available now. They will only be able to say they are sorry, but the damage will have already been done.

Just because you don't resent your parents for spanking you doesn't mean your children won't.
Today's small children will take their place as adults in a non-spanking world. Read this book now,
and learn the facts about spanking rather than the myths. In the long run, it will be easier to do so
than to explain to one's children, twenty years hence, why one didn't.

-Christopher Dugan, M.A.

Return to Chris's Antispanking Page