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Go Ask Mom

Survey finds 'staggeringly high rate of spanking' in North Carolina

Posted June 28, 2011

About a third of North Carolina mothers of children less than two years old say they have spanked their children in the last year, according to a new survey from the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

The survey also found that 5 percent of North Carolina mothers of three-month-old babies say they have spanked their infants. And more than 70 percent of mothers of 23-month-old children say they have spanked too. The study appears this month in the Frontiers in Child and Neurodevelopmental Psychiatry, an open-access online journal.

“We were pretty surprised by the staggeringly high rate of spanking,” said Dr. Adam Zolotor, lead author of the study, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and a core faculty member of the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center, in a press release. “We need to do a better job as a society teaching parents how to teach their kids what they need to learn without fear, pain, or coercion.”

About 3,000 mothers of children born in North Carolina between Oct. 1, 2005 and July 31, 2007 completed the anonymous telephone survey. It was conducted from October 2007 to April 2008.

“The very young children that are the focus of this study are not developmentally sophisticated enough for willful misbehavior,” Zolotor said in the press release. “Family physicians, pediatricians, and parent educators must start much earlier at helping parents understand child behavior and develop disciple strategies.

I know the topic of spanking and discipline can spark a lot of debate. There's plenty of discussion on both sides here.

Why is spanking not the best choice? Here's what the American Academy of Pediatrics says:

  • Spanking may seem to "work" at first, but eventually loses impact.
  • Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent.
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
  • Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and then regret their actions later.
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even grow to the point of harming the child.

"It is true that many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted and caring people today," the academy says. "However, research has shown that, when compared with children who are not spanked, children who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence. These adult outcomes make sense because spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you're frustrated or want to maintain control—even with those you love. A child is not likely to see the difference between getting spanked from his parents and hitting a sibling or another child when he doesn't get what he wants."

The Academy offers alternatives to spanking, including time outs and withholding privileges. Click here to find out more.

On the other hand, parenting expert John Rosemond does not advocate spanking, but at the same time says it's an option for some parents and children, especially those between the ages of 2 and 6 (who are older than those covered in the UNC survey).

On his website, he writes: "I believe that spanking is a reasonable option in certain situations, with certain children. The research indicates that spanking is most effective between ages 2 and 6, and is most effective when paired with another consequence, such as removal of privilege. It should go without saying that the more a parent spanks his or her child, the less effective any given spanking will be."

To read more about Rosemond's thoughts on spanking, click here (and scroll to the bottom of the page).

So what do you think? Should kids less than two years be spanked?


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  • aprilmiller Jun 30, 2011

    can't agree with the writers of this blog/article --- willful disobedience definitely starts before 23 months. i think it's probably individual for each child but if anyone knows when a child has moved into willful disobedience it's the mother.

  • Objective Scientist Jun 30, 2011

    For any meaningful interpretation of this topic and the survey... was a DEFINITION of spanking provided for those surveyed? The term "spank(ing)" for some includes a fairly light "pop on the but" to get the attention of the child. For some the use of "switches", belts, paddles, etc. could be in THEIR definition of "spanking". Parents need to "agree" on what "spanking" is and/or is not. When I was married and my children small I used the light (very) "pop on the but" with an open hand only to "get my son/daughter's attention when it seemed nothing else worked. I discovered after both children reached adult age and confided in me that when I was at work or away from home for any reason that their mother and for many years now my EX-wife wielded a belt with viciousness... even having the buckle end striking them... and threatened even worse if they told me about it. She had some "issues" - that is why we are no longer together. Point... an agreed upon standard definition is crucial!!

  • The Fox Jun 30, 2011

    [This is GREAT!!! I can have slaves if you read Leviticus 25:44-45: Timbo]Timbo - there are 8 Covenants covered in the Bible, between God and man. We've moved on to number 8 - the New Testament. Some of the other covenants were fulfilled and were for a different time and peoples.

  • The Fox Jun 30, 2011

    Ya'll need to go to time out.

  • bigpinkstork Jun 30, 2011

    "ever a good enough reason," not every--typo!

  • bigpinkstork Jun 30, 2011

    You know, I grew up ratting around in the open back of a pickup truck, and I'm alive to tell the tale. Does that mean that riding in the back of a pickup is a good idea? The fact that you or your children "turned out okay" is not an effective argument. Spank or don't spank as your conscience dictates, but don't think that "we've always done it that way" is every a good enough reason.

  • rachel6 Jun 30, 2011

    I can't imagine anytime spanking a 3 month old would be okay. I DO spank...but very rarely and as a very consistent punishment for very specific offense. My children only get spanked for lying or willful disobediance. My children know the clearly defined punishment as well. I have a 7yr old and a 6yr old that have each only been spanked maybe 3 times. I also have a 4yr old and almost 2yr old. It is rare that, between all four children, I ever spank more than once per month. It has been very effective (probably because it happens rarely, consistently, even the kids know I hate doing it, and NEVER in anger.) I always send my kids to their room first, wait until I am calm, go in and give them the opportunity for them to tell ME what happened, give them my perspective, and then ask them to come to me for the one time spank.

  • 27615 Jun 30, 2011

    i was spanked and I turned out fine

  • ProudBlackSingleMother Jun 30, 2011

    I like Leviticus 11:10 Eating shrimp is a sin.

  • EarlyChildhoodLady Jun 30, 2011

    Carrboroyouth -- Clearly, you know what is best for you own child. Being an educated early childhood professional, I happen to know what is best for MOST children, which is the information I have relayed here.