The topic of spanking is not one I have thought much about - after all, most of my research surrounds birth and babies, and who (heaven forbid!) spanks a baby?! But new research suggests there are parents out there who are in the habit of spanking their 2-year-olds -- and it may very well be impacting these little ones in detrimental neurological ways.
It makes sense - we know through ample research that the natural parenting techniques as old as humanity itself - such as babywearing and breastfeeding - dramatically increase neuro development and functioning, resulting in higher IQ, among other beneficial things. So it is not too shocking that the antithesis of peaceful parenting -- forthright aggression on babies and children -- may have just the opposite impact on their rapidly developing brains.
While completing graduate work in clinical psychology, I regularly administered personality inventories and IQ tests on 'troubled' children, and was then required to make recommendations per their treatment. Rarely was I afforded the opportunity to look into their home life -- or examine more closely how these children were treated by family members or raised by their parent(s). I was required to 'treat' the problem, while never fully getting to the root of the cause.
The latest research from the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of New Hampshire claims a discovery has been made into one (small?) component of mental health and human intelligence. The results are intriguing. Murray Straus, who led the last two studies, says that spanking actually decreases IQ, and to a significant degree. Yes, you read that right: Spanking your child impacts intelligence (at least that which we can measure using intelligence tests and methodological quotients).
Straus led two recent studies - one conducted on a national level in the United States, and one on an international level. Parents of 1,500 young American children participating in an IQ research project were asked how often they spanked their children. Responses were compared with IQ results.
Results showed that children (age 2-4) who were not spanked at all had IQs that were, on average, 5 points higher, (and stayed higher for the next 4 years over the course of the study), than children who were spanked. Children to the age of 10 were included in the study and the same trend was found for older children as well. The impact of spanking on IQ, however, was most pronounced in the younger children. I suspect this may be in part because the brain is most rapidly developing (and most significantly impacted) until the age of about 5 years old when it is 98% complete.
[Side note: This is also likely the reason that natural, child-led weaning occurs around the same time - around the age of 5 - in the majority of the world and throughout human history, when breastfeeding-phobic social pressures do not cut it short. The developing brain is supplied with just the right concoction of building blocks via mother's milk the entire time it is in rapid formation mode.]
Straus' results are being published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma. In addition, Straus and colleagues are presenting the findings of their second (international) study on spanking and intelligence at a San Diego based conference on abuse and trauma this week.
In the international study, Straus interviewed university students in an examination of corporal punishment and IQ. After conducting research across 32 countries around the world, results showed a lower national IQ in countries where corporal punishment is common.
In the U.S. study various factors (such as parental education level and economic status) were adjusted for. The negative correlation between spanking and IQ held true (the less spanking, the higher the IQ; the more spanking, the lower the IQ). In the international study, parent's education level and economic status were more difficult to adjust for.
Straus is a long time supporter of peaceful parenting and using multiple proactive strategies for discipline that do not include aggression or violence against babies and children. He has researched extensively on subjects such as aggression, violence, rape, and abuse within families.
These latest findings echo what we have seen in other studies: Peaceful Parenting (or Attachment Parenting) leads to lower stress hormones (such as cortisol) in babies and children, greater trust (in parents/each other/the world), secure attachment, and more complex neurological development and brain activity, among other things.
In the end, it may just be true that babies and children were born to be loved and tenderly, gently cared for - not physically acted upon in any form.
If you would like a pdf copy of these latest studies, message me and I will be happy to pass them along to you. A great deal of Straus and colleagues research on aggression and violence among children is available here.
Why Love Matters: How Affection Shapes a Baby's Brain [book]
The Science of Parenting: How today's brain research can help you raise healthy, emotionally balanced children [book]
The No Spanking Page provides alternative ideas to spanking
How Spanking Changed My Life
Why Spanking is Never Okay
Top 10 Parenting Controversies of 2010
Discipline Books and Resource Collection
Attachment Parenting International
International Breastfeeding Journal