A recent study by the University of Michigan in the US found a link between spanking and an increased risk of behavioural issues.
The researchers studied five decades of data involving over 160 000 children, and found that those who were spanked become more aggressive and anti-social.
The research also revealed that the more a child is spanked, the greater the likelihood of anti-social behaviour, mental health issues and aggression.
Children who are spanked are also more likely to spank their own children, the report revealed.
According to The Boston Globe, the researchers noted that there was no evidence that spanking has any positive effect at all on a child’s behaviour or development.
“Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” co-author of the study, Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Social Work, told the newspaper.
Many people still believe that spanking a child is an effective form of discipline.
Makhanani Mbambu, a trainee auditor with two children, says she spanks her children because that is the way she was brought up.
“I grew up being spanked. My mother would always give you an opportunity to do something wrong twice – sort of a two-strikes-type system and you would be spanked for doing that thing a third time, your third strike. It was always done as a way of showing that you had done wrong enough times to be punished,” she says.
Mbambu says she smacks her children to remind them to behave.
“It is a kind of reminder that when you don’t behave you will be punished. I don’t do it in public though. I do it at home so that the child understands that it is punishment and never does it again,” she explains.
There has been a backlash against spanking led by several organisations that believe spanking children is tantamount to abuse. The Department of Social Development (DSD) intends to propose amendments to the Children’s Act, Number 38 of 2005, which will outlaw corporal punishment in the home context.
This motion has been encouraged by The South African Human Rights Commission, which asked the government to fast-track changes to legislation that will outlaw corporal punishment
“All adults in South Africa are protected from assault‚ no matter how ‘minor’; children, in fact, require greater protection due to their smaller stature,” the commission said when handing down an order to the Joshua Generation Church to change its stance on corporal punishment in the home.
Lecturer and mother of two Cindy Mashaba* says she spanks because because she does not want her children to turn out badly.
“I’ve seen first-hand the results of not spanking. Half my cousins are adults on drugs, committing petty theft and are still dependant on their mom. Mind you, some are older than me. Their parents gave them a talking to, but never spanked them,” she says.
Sandton-based clinical psychologist Candice Cowen says discipline itself is not a bad thing. It should be used to provide your child with boundaries and stability, and to teach them consequences.
“If spanking is part of your discipline and it is done on a consistent basis and the child can predict it, then it is good. If the child knows that if I break a window or if I lie, my parents will spank me because they have spanked me before, that is good,” she says.
Cowen says making the reason for the spanking clear is also important. “If the child doesn’t understand why they are getting a spanking, they might rebel,” she warns.
Mashaba says she never spanks out of the blue and also never uses spanking as a first option. She often warns her children prior to a spanking, and talks to them so they understand what they’ve done wrong.
“I believe spanking to be a good form of discipline if done correctly, namely: never smack in anger, only use the palm of the hand, and don’t choose spanking as the first option. It’s important to warn the child, to give second chances and to help him or her understand why what they are doing is wrong. If the disobedience continues, then a spanking is used,” she explains.
Because children are different Cowen suggests that parents tailor their discipline strategy to suit each child’s temperament.
“Kids are born with their own temperaments. You can have a very difficult temperament, which is a very high-maintenance child, or an easygoing temperament which is a very happy-go-lucky child. If a child is more prone to needing external reinforcement, they might react better to spanking than than one who needs internal motivation. Maybe with them you can reason a little bit more,” she says.