Many mothers believe in spanking their toddlers and report that they do it frequently. But contrary to some assumptions, they don’t necessarily spank their children on angry, unthinking impulse, according to a study published this week in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
They spank because they believe it is the right thing to do, said Dr. Rebecca Socolar, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and an author of the study.
That’s disturbing news to child advocates who point out that other studies have found spanking can cause a wide range of problems for children - including aggressive behavior, depression and low self-esteem.
The study included 204 mothers with children younger than 4 at two New York sites. It did not examine fathers’ attitudes and practices regarding corporal punishment.
“You are resorting to physically hurting and hitting someone. There is absolutely no reason to do this,” said Linda Chastain, coordinator of parent education for the Child Abuse and Neglect Council of Oakland County (Mich.). “I don’t believe in spanking at all at any age.”
Socolar said: “Several professional societies have come out with anti-spanking statements, yet the vast majority of parents and even practitioners believe it is appropriate.” She referred to other research that has found many pediatricians approve of spanking.
‘Among the findings of Socolar and co-researcher Dr. Ruth Stein, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.:
74 percent of mothers interviewed said they believe it is appropriate to spank children ages 1 to 3.
42 percent said they had spanked their child in the past week.
19 percent said it is OK to spank a child less than 1 year old.
43 percent said it is appropriate to spank somewhere besides the buttocks.
19 percent said spanking with something other than a hand is all right.
8 percent said that it is OK to spank so hard that it leaves a mark.
About half of the women interviewed in the study were clients at the inner-city Bronx Municipal Hospital Center’s pediatric clinic and half were clients at a private pediatrician’s office in nearby suburban Westchester County.
Socolar said that while the number of mothers surveyed was small and the sample may not have been representative, the responses were similar to those of parents in other studies.
The study found that the mothers believed more strongly in spanking for dangerous misbehaviors than for annoying ones. Mothers who were spanked as children also had a stronger belief in the appropriateness of spanking.
Belief in spanking, not anger, was found to be the strongest reason the mothers spanked.
Women at the inner-city clinic had a greater belief in spanking and spanked more frequently, but Socolar said the research could not conclude why.
xxxx CASE FOR SPARING ROD The U.S. surgeon general in 1985 said corporal punishment should be discouraged at home and forbidden in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has urged that it be outlawed in schools and avoided at home.