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

About a third of North Carolina mothers of children less than two years old say they have spanked their children.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

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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