Study: Do Spanking Bans Lead to a Decrease in Teen Violence?

“Do you spank your kids?” For most parents, this question comes down to some mixture of personal ethics, your own upbringing and biblical hermeneutic. But a new study adds a layer of data to the question, and also raises some interesting questions about what governments should and should not do.

Earlier this year, Nepal became the 54th country to ban spanking kids (the first was Sweden in 1979). Now, a new study of 400,000 kids from 88 countries from the World Health Organization’s Health Behavior in School-aged Children study and Global School-based Health Survey has found a “fairly robust” positive correlation between spanking bans and a decrease in teen violence. [h/t NPR]

Of the countries included in the study, 30 have passed laws fully banning physical punishment of children, both in schools and in homes. The rates of fighting among adolescents were substantially lower than the 20 countries with no bans in place: by 69 percent for adolescent males and 42 less for females.

There were 38 other countries in the study with a “partial” ban on spanking, forbidding it in schools. That includes places like the U.S., Canada and the UK. In those countries, females showed a 56 percent decrease in physical fights, when males showed no significant change.

The study’s results held true even when controlled for things like wealth and crime rates, but the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Montreal Frank Elgar cautions against reading causation into the correlation. “It could be that bans come into place in countries that have already generally accepted that spanking is not the best discipline method,” he told NPR, and said more research was needed before definitively answering the question of what impact the bans have on young people in these countries.

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However, the question of how spanking affects children on an individual level has been answered, and pretty consistently shown to be negative. “We found [spanking] linked to more aggression, more delinquent behavior, more mental health problems, worse relationships with parents, and putting the children at higher risk for physical abuse from their parents,” says Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. She’s studied spanking and how it affects kids for two decades.

“People often ask, why didn’t you look for positive aspects?” she told NPR. “My answer is, we did, and there were none. We see consistently that the more children are spanked, the more behavioral problems they have in the years ahead.”

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