The negative impact of ‘spanking’

Pun 100% intended!

OK – this is usually a very heated debate, which has bubbled up to the surface (yet again) because of the release of a new study which claims to prove that people whose mothers reported spanking them grow up to have a lower IQ.

Those who would discredit this study have been quick off the mark:  and, I really don’t know if the study is any good or not.  That is why I am not linking to it:  while I have a lot to say about the topic in general, I do not wish to get ‘boxed in’ and limited to this study.


…here are a few thoughts for your consideration which listening to the discussions this topic has raised have popped into my mind.

1.  Whose intelligence is being measured, anyway?

The study said that mothers were to self-report the discipline methods they used on their kids over a certain period.  Then, years later, the now-grown-up-kids intelligence was measured – and those whose mothers had reported not spanking averaged higher on the IQ scale: is this an indirect IQ test of the mothers?

We know that people who are intelligent often have kids who are intelligent. Could it be that more intelligent mothers do not resort to spanking their kids?

2.  HOW could ‘spanking’ affect ‘intelligence’?

‘Intelligence’ is defined many ways by many people:  however, the definition I like most defines ‘intelligence’ as ‘an ability to learn’.  In my never-humble-opinion, this means that there are three major components to ‘intelligence’:

  1. The genetic potential:  as in, how good the ‘blueprint’ for one’s brain is
  2. Nutrition/health: the proper building blocks must be provided in the food to ‘build’ the brain to the best potential of the ‘genetic blueprint’ – illness can interfere with this process
  3. Desire to learn

It is the third one that I think can be affected by spanking.

After all, spanking – corporal punishment in general – tends to discourage ‘asking questions’.  And, ‘not asking questions’ – whether out of fear or habit – will necessarily limit one’s intelligence.

So, without passing judgment on this particular study:  I find it plausible that spanking a child can, indeed, lead to that person not growing into their full intelligence potential.  Not proven – just plausible.

Now, having set this ‘study’ aside, I would like to make a few comments on using corporal punishment to discipline children – in general.

This issue is very emotionally charged for people, for all the obvious reasons!  Therefore, any discussion of ‘spanking’ becomes extremely emotional, early on into the debate.  So, how do we approach the issue and discuss it, without sinking into the emotional quagmire?

Personally, I think it is best to ‘remove’ the situation from the ‘particular’ to the ‘general’:  do we, as a society, approve of corporal punishment?  Not just of ‘children’ – but of every citizen/resident.  Do we, as a society, approve of using caning or whipping or other forms of corporeal punishment?

For example, should an employer discipline an employee using corporal punishment?


Or, should nursing-home care-providers use corporal punishments to’ teach’ their elderly patients, who may have diminished mental capacities and might not understand long explanations, to comply with the nursing home’s rules?


Now, regardless of what your answers were, ask yourself if you think that a country’s laws ‘ought to’ protect every individual equally.

I think they must!  Our very civilization is founded on the principle that all people are equal in the eye of the law!

Or, at least,we ought to be…many of our lawmakers have been forgetting this bit lately, giving some groups privileges over others.  So far, these privileges do not include the right to inflict corporal punishment…. so why are these already existing laws not enforced when the victims are the most vulnerable members of our society:  children?!?!?

As my favourite philosopher wrote, a person’s a person, no matter how small!

P.S. Before anyone raises the ‘hot stove & other immediate dangers’ objection, arguing that it is important to make kids avoid ‘immediate danger’ so it is acceptable to hit them to make them comply with associated rules…  That is the worst possible argument EVER!!!  ESPECIALLY in situations of potential ‘immediate danger’, it is really, really important that children – from the moment they learn to crawl – are taught to UNDERSTAND what is dangerous, instead of being taught to OBEY rules!

How could replacing the understanding of danger (and, even infants can learn to understand danger!) with a mere arbitrary-sounding rule keep a child ‘safer’?  Rules will be broken… so making rules to cover dangerous situations is setting the child up for failure!  A dangerous failure, to boot!

Why not just take the easy way out and teach the child to understand the danger?  It’ll make them safer – and might just increase their intelligence in the process!

4 Responses to “The negative impact of ‘spanking’”

  1. captainff Says:

    The only problem I have is this:

    If you replace physical punishment with mental or emotional punishment what are the long term effects going to be?

    As any adult who was smacked as a child will probably tell you the punishment escalated over time as lower levels of violence didn’t produce the required results. Escalating mental and emotional punishments could result in a seriously screwed-up generation. And that might be worse than a generation of people who grow up and then smack their kids as they were once smacked.

    Xanthippa says:
    Ah, but… any and all punishment is going to be both mental and emotional punishment: corporal punishment included!

    I would go much further than that: the REAL impact of corporal punishment, when delivered by the very person who is supposed to be protecting the physical well-being of a child, is not the physical pain. Not at all. It is an unmistakable form of rejection: I am in power over you and the only one to protect you and if you do not please me, I can and will withdraw my protection and even go out of my way to cause you pain! And NOBODY will help YOU! NOBODY will protect YOU from ME! That is why I can hit you with impunity – so learn that you are not in pain only at my sufferance!

    And, whenever you hit your child, THAT IS the message you are delivering, whether you realize it or not. I certainly remember conceptualizing it as such when I was spanked as a child.

    If that is not mental and emotional abuse, what is?

    What about ‘time outs’? Time to think and cool off…explained exactly as that…would this screw people up more, or less?

  2. Astilith Says:

    I bookmarked this link. Thank you for good job!,

  3. The Psych Dude Says:

    Word to the wise.

    Read the study before blogging about it.

    • xanthippa Says:

      OK – I thought I made it clear at the beginning of my post: I was NOT making a comment of the study itself, but on the DEBATE which – rightly or wrongly – ensued.

      P.S. – I had a real problem that the study used such an unreliable data collection as ‘self reporting’ by mothers about their ‘spanking’ – or absence thereof. That is a very unreliable method….

      That study clearly stated that they permitted all the mothers to use their own ‘cultural interpretation’ of what ‘spanking’ means when they self-reported if they ‘spanked’ their kids or not. And if one does even a minor digging into these ‘cultural interpretation’, it becomes clear that ‘slapping’ or ‘smacking’ or ‘one swift palm-slap to the cheek or back of the head’ does not qualify as ‘spanking’ among most cultures, where ‘spanking’ is considered only that whole formal thingy of removing one’s pants (lifting skirt), being bent over and repeatedly struck over the buttocks.

      So much for the objectivity of this type of self-reporting!

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