The Science of Spanking! A Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff

As mt favourite philosopher says:  A person’s a person, no matter how small!

If doing something to a stranger is ‘assault and battery’, if doing it to your employee is ‘assault and battery’, then doing it to a child – even your own – is ‘assault and battery’.



17 Responses to “The Science of Spanking! A Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff”

  1. CodeSlinger Says:


    Spanking works. And it’s a lot quicker, cleaner and more honest than the sick psychological tortures people resort to in order to avoid spanking their children.

    Spanking works because we have evolved to respond to it. In nature, when the young misbehave, the correction takes the form of a growl and a cuff. In humans, this takes the form of a swat on the butt or a slap on the hand.

    It takes a few seconds. And then it’s over.

    But nowadays, we call that “violence” and we avoid it by resorting to cowardly, passive-aggressive ways of inflicting psychological pain instead.

    It goes on and on. And it leaves deep scars on the psyche.

    Not only is it disgusting, it’s no wonder why so many kids these days are growing up to become psychopaths.

    They learn it by imitating how their parents treat them when they misbehave.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Assault is assault is assault.

      And there is no need for some unspecified ‘psychological torture’ to be used.

      Plus violence – even minor violence – coming from the person charged with physically protecting you IS psychological (not physical) torture.

      I never needed to resort to either violence or psychological torture when raising my kids – nor when looking after other peoples’ kids, which I’ve done a lot of. Instead, reason, patience and humour are enough to raise kids well! Bonus: this method also inoculates them against the Cultural Marxism they get exposed to in school.

  2. CodeSlinger Says:


    Out of necessity, we do many things in the course of raising children that would constitute a violation of rights in interactions with adults. In order to raise them properly, we must not treat children as adults until they have matured to adulthood. This is why children do not have the same rights as adults.

    Therefore the “assault is assault” argument is vacuous. We aren’t talking about a brutal beating here. We’re talking about a simple spanking.

    A simple spanking is not assault.

    But the things we do to avoid spankings certainly are psychological torture.

    By psychological torture, I mean doing things we know will cause the child mental anguish, but which leave no physical marks, and therefore maintain plausible deniability. This is cowardly, deceitful, and cruel. All of which contributes to the damage done.

    I mean things like banishing them to their rooms, forbidding them to participate in activities, or turning our backs and refusing to talk to them. All of these involve making the kids feel bad and unloved for some extended period of time.

    Sitting there in their rooms, alone, the kids learn to think of themselves as bad people, and wonder why their parents hate them. It doesn’t matter how fervently parents claim otherwise, that’s where the kids’ feelings lead them. And that’s what does the bulk of the damage.

    Even worse in some ways is what people are reduced to when their kids misbehave in public. I see people pleading with their kids to behave, or offering to bribe them — all kinds of craven ploys — when all the time you can see the suppressed anger in their faces and hear the frustration in their voices.

    There is no quicker way to loose the respect of our children. And no way to prevent the kids from interpreting the suppressed emotion as hatred directed at them. All this teaches children very bad lessons about who they are and what are acceptable means to get your way.

    There is nothing good about putting parents in such a position of seething impotence. The children sense this combination of impotence, rage and resentment, and they take it on personally. And the outcome is always very bad in the long run.

    On the other hand, a moment of anger and a quick swat on the butt, followed by an immediate return to normal loving treatment, leaves no room for doubt that the punishment was a consequence of bad behaviour, not being a bad person or being unloved. There is no room for confusion about this.

    A properly executed spanking sends the very clear message “you did a bad thing.” The immediate return to normal sends the very clear message “I still love you.” The emotional honesty on both counts, and the clear separation between the two, is what makes spanking both clean and effective.

    But these modern non-physical modes of punishment are almost impossible to use without mixing in the message “you are a bad person and I hate you.” This ambiguity, combined with a cold, calculating infliction of mental pain, is what makes these methods repugnant, damaging, and ineffective.

    Just look at the abysmal results most people are getting with these methods.

    That alone should tell you there is something dreadfully misguided about them.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Hitting – in any way – a child who is dependent on you for everything is a horrible psychological torture which will inflict lifelong emotional scars.

      It is not necessary in good parenting and is not acceptable in a civilized society.

      Your assertion that the only alternative to violence and the accompanying emotional and psychological damage (we now know it shaves off some IQ points) is psychological or emotional trauma and ostracism is fatuous at best. A straw-man argument from the ground up.

      None of these tactics need to be employed by parents in raising their children – as I have said before: reason, patience, kindness, understanding. And humour.

      A lot of humour!

      Oh, and yes – respect. Children who are respected reciprocate by respecting their parents.

      That is all one needs to successfully and happily raise children.

  3. CodeSlinger Says:


    Well, I certainly won’t argue against respect, reason, patience, kindness, understanding, and humour!

    But in the real world, sometimes those are just not enough.

    As a society, we have gone way too far in condemning anything that even vaguely resembles violence.

    Violence is often the more respectful alternative – which is why two men who punch each other out in a back alley often end up having a beer together and becoming friends, but those who resort to craven, passive-aggressive back-stabbing usually remain bitter enemies for life.

    Sometimes, violence is the lesser evil.

    Too much violence hardens the heart and makes us callous, but too little makes us squeamish and cowardly. And no one is more insanely brutal than a squeamish, cowardly wimp who is driven to the point of violence.

    Thus the measured, tempered use of violence is just as important to the proper functioning of a civilized society as reason, patience and kindness.

    And the proper place for children to learn this is in the family.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Two consenting adults – or two consenting kids – having a bit of a fight, I ave no problem with that. We used to wrestle as kids all the time – it did not, in any way, diminish our friendship.

      And I even think it is good if parents play-wrestle with their kids, provided they use care and do no damage – age and size appropriate and all that.

      But the problem with corporal punishment like spanking is not in the physical pain (or damage) it will cause, but in the very real psychological harm it does.

  4. CodeSlinger Says:


    Well – regarding those things which you call straw men, but which I see people doing all the time – I have already explained why I think those things do much more psychological harm than a good swift smack on the butt could ever do. Not only are properly used spankings less harmful, but they are more effective, too.

    Let me quote from two excellent papers by Jason Fuller in the Akron Law Review (emphasis added by me). The first shows that the empirical evidence strongly supports my position, and the second deals with the underlying developmental psychology.

    Fuller, J M, 2009: The science and statistics behind spanking suggest that laws allowing corporal punishment are in the best interests of the child. Akron Law Review, 42(1):243-318.

    In 1979, Sweden started an international trend by becoming the first country to ban spanking. Since then, twenty-three more countries have outlawed it. Sadly, many policymakers fail to realize how Swedish laws have contributed to growing youth violence, and consequently, to public resentment of Swedish youths. The European Committee of Social Rights currently is urging all forty-five of its member nations to ban corporal punishment. In 2007 alone, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Uruguay, Venezuela, Spain, and Chile each enacted laws forbidding parents from using physical discipline. In that same year, California and Massachusetts also introduced legislation to ban spanking.
    Anti-spanking laws are proposed and passed with the hope that they will create a “cultural spillover” of non-violence, and a society that does not need correction. For instance, when Italy’s Supreme Court declared spanking unlawful, it said the very expression “correction of children” was both “culturally anachronistic and historically outdated.”

    While such lawmaking may seem harmless, even commendable, the empirical data indicate that a spanking ban is a grave mistake. With spanking bans have come increased rates of child abuse, aggressive parenting, and youth violence. Indeed, criminal records suggest that children raised under a spanking ban are much more likely to be involved in crime than other children.

    This makes sense. To function well in society, children need to learn that misbehavior has negative consequences. But not every child learns this the same way. If one child learns best about misbehavior through physical punishment, he should receive a spanking. If another learns this best through mental punishment, she should get a timeout. To keep any helpful discipline method from a child may restrict his ability to mature, and could make him an unnecessary burden on society.

    Yet many people want to deprive children of spanking, even though the most sound research suggests it is not harmful, and is often more helpful than other common discipline methods. On average, spanking seems to reduce aggression, defiance, and antisocial behavior better than mental punishments like timeout, reasoning, privilege removal, threats, verbal power assertion, ignoring, love withdrawal, or diverting.

    Fuller, J M, 2010: Corporal punishment and child development. Akron Law Review, 43(2):537-602.

    There is a general agreement that “the roots of the most serious and persistent forms of antisocial behavior lie in early childhood …” Beyond that, it seems “impossible cleanly to separate the parental and other causes of contemporary childhood dysfunction …” Nevertheless, it has become common to criticize certain trends of the last fifty years. We have become addicted to TV, movies, and video games. Substantially fewer parents stay home with their kids. And divorce rates are the highest in recorded history. At the same time, it has become politically incorrect to criticize the “tremendous decrease” of spanking during the past fifty years.

    Growing academic, political, and media pressure has persuaded twenty countries to ban physical discipline—that is, to take children from their families because of spanking. Even where corporal punishment is not outlawed (like in the U.S.), those same pressures have made spanking the target of things like child welfare investigations, parenting education, and custody disputes.

    However, if youth violence and dysfunction is increasing at the same time that corporal punishment is decreasing, we should be open enough to consider whether the two trends are related. Maybe there is no connection. But maybe lawmakers and child welfare workers should pay more attention to the research suggesting that physical discipline can be helpful in certain contexts.

    True, spanking is a primitive discipline method. But a child’s mind is also primitive. As researchers like Dr. Jean Piaget of the University of Geneva have popularized, kids learn from the tangible to the intangible—from the concrete to the abstract. It is during the tangible, concrete stages when physical discipline seems to be the most helpful.
    For instance, the Family Socialization Project at the University of California, Berkeley indicates that many of the best child-rearers use spanking when the child is young and concrete thinking. As the child begins to think more abstractly, they rely on it less and less; and they almost never use it during adolescence.

    In this light, perhaps it makes sense why youth dysfunction is increasing at the same time that corporal punishment is decreasing. To function in society, people must learn to control themselves enough to not break the law or harm other people. While not every child learns this the same way, a number of them seem to learn it through at least some corporal discipline—a tangible tool that can complement their primitive learning stages.

    • xanthippa Says:

      Yes, CodeSlinger, about 5% of the studies ‘out there’ do indeed show what you say.

      But, as the person interviewed in the video has done a ‘study of the studies’, looking precisely at how many studies find what and how, he concludes that these are in the minority. This does not mean they are wrong, but…

      As the studies cited in the video show, using spanking as a parenting tool does indeed have a measurable effect over the long run – it reduces the adulthood IQ of those spanked.

      And, as I have explained, I do not consider spanking to cause damage physically – rather, I (as well as many of the studies) propose that spanking causes psychological damage, to both the child and the parent.

  5. CodeSlinger Says:


    Actually, what these studies show is a correlation between lower IQ and higher incidence of spanking.

    But correlation is not causation!

    The correct conclusion to be drawn from these studies is that the stupider the child, the more often correction will have to take the concrete form of a spanking, and the less effective abstract discipline will be. Naturally. The same is true of young children, who have not yet developed the ability to reason abstractly.

    To use abstract methods in such situations is to set up the child to fail.

    Indeed, it sets up the child to fail in confusing ways which are beyond the child’s undeveloped ability to conceptualize. This is a subtle but extremely damaging form of abuse. It leads to vague, inarticulate feelings of being a bad person, being picked on by care-givers, being unloved and even unlovable… the list goes on, and on – and we see the outcome in widespread adolescent dysfunction, arrested development and sociopathy.

    Spanking does not lead to such consequences. Quite the contrary.

    Studies which come to the correct conclusions about spanking are in the minority for the same reason that studies which come to the correct conclusions about global warming are in the minority: politically correct apparatchik-editors will not publish them.

    Finally, I don’t suppose I need to remind you that this epidemic of spoiled, narcissistic adult-children, resulting from the breakdown of traditional family structure and child-rearing methods, is just what the totalitarian nanny state needs to justify its existence…

    Coincidence? I think not!

    • xanthippa Says:

      The children start out with same intelligence, the spanked ones fall behind…

      CodeSlinger, I don’t disagree with you that bad parenting methods ought not be promulgated.

      I just argue that one bad parenting method ought not be replaced by another bad parenting method.

  6. CodeSlinger Says:


    That’s an interesting claim. I would love to know how that was determined, and how confounding factors were factored out to allow a valid inference to be drawn regarding “spanked because stupid” versus “stupid because spanked” or “spanked and stupid because of something else” and so on.

    Sex is a very important confounding factor which such studies are typically blind to, because of the researcher’s feminist biases. When you put boys in schools designed for girls, the boys don’t do well, intellectually or behaviourally. This leads to all kinds of fallacious conclusions about pedagogy and discipline.

    There is no longer any place for boys to express their natural male physicality and at the same time receive praise for intellectual achievement. This introduces another confounding factor, because it pushes very physical boys (who respond better to spankings) into a peer group that exerts a strong anti-intellectual peer pressure.

    A similar argument can be made in regard to girls and natural female physicality (as distinct from the shallow hyper-sexuality which modern feminism instils instead).

    So, if you can recommend a study that takes proper account of such factors, I would love to see it.

    Regarding bad parenting methods, I can only reiterate that it is in the interest of the increasingly totalitarian state to promote the worst possible methods of parenting and education, and thus psychology and education programs are designed to turn out useful idiots who have been trained to do just that.

    To be clear, I am objecting to the doctrine that says spanking is never called for.

    Too much spanking is harmful, too little spanking is no less harmful, and the proper balance changes with age as the child advances from concrete to abstract ways of being and experiencing the world.

    The people best situated to judge this balance are the parents, and violating their right to do so according to their own best judgement and conscience is one of the main ways in which the oppressive nanny state destroys of the family.

  7. CodeSlinger Says:


    Fair enough. But I would still like to see a credible study showing that judiciously-applied spanking causes more harm than good, or at least that its harm-to-good ratio is worse than that of mental punishment.

  8. CodeSlinger Says:


    By “mental punishments,” I mean things like timeout, reasoning, privilege removal, threats, verbal power assertion, ignoring, love withdrawal, or diverting.

    I would be interested to see credible research showing that such methods are less susceptible to abuse than spanking, and that limiting disciplinary options to such methods leads to better child-rearing outcomes than retaining the option of spanking.

    • xanthippa Says:

      ‘Spanking’ is a form of ‘love withdrawal’ as well as diminishing the trust of being secure with the parent – a fundamental obstacle to the development of successful bonding.

      I am not promoting the other parenting methods which are harmful – but I cannot advocate replacing them with one just as harmful.

      Children are much more reasonable than most adults give them credit form – and from a much younger age than we suspect.

      For example, during a visit to my mom’s when my baby was just under 18 months old, she complained that he is disobedient…she told him to stop picking his nose, but he would not, he’d just stare at her. So, I walked over and said: ‘Please, stop touching your mucous membranes!’ He looked up, and exclaimed – ‘Aha – spread germs!’ And – he stopped touching his mucous membranes…

      See, when you lead them to reason out why they ought to avoid a certain activity on their own, children, even young ones, will be much more likely to behave well rather than telling them or ordering them to do or not do certain activities. It may seem harder, but, in the long run, it is easier and happier for everyone, parent and child alike.

  9. CodeSlinger Says:


    You are exceptionally intelligent, and you are blessed with exceptionally intelligent children.

    Also, your son was (and probably still is) very willing to do as you ask, but most children are much less accommodating.

    When it comes to child-discipline, you had it easy.

    But you are very much the exception, and what worked for you will certainly not work for most people.

    Why? Because the tools you used to such good effect are too complicated for them.

    And that explains what we see in society today: ordinary people are failing at child-rearing because they are forced to use tools that are too complicated for them.

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