British Columbia

Why you shouldn't spank your kids, according to decades of research

Studies show spanking can lead to increased levels of defiance, aggression, and anti-social behaviour.

Studies show spanking can lead to increased levels of defiance, aggression, and anti-social behaviour

(AFP/Getty Images)

A B.C. father's recent conviction for spanking his daughter with a belt after she was caught sexting has one psychologist urging parents to look for alternative forms of punishment.

Nearly 80 per cent of children across the globe are spanked or receive some form of physical punishment.

In fact, spanking your children in Canada is legal, but limited — parents cannot strike children with the intent to harm them, nor can they spank a child younger than two or older than 12.

However, even a law-abiding spanking can do more harm than good, according to family life psychologist Vanessa Lapointe,

"The science of child development has so clearly come out in opposition to using punishment, either physical or emotional ... to try to steer children down the right behavioural path," Lapointe told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's B.C. Almanac.

"We know that it affects brains in very negative ways," said Lapointe.

Lapointe maintains that all forms of corporeal punishment should be thrown by the wayside, but says spanking in particular can be an extremely traumatic experience for children and leave a lifelong imprint on their psyche.

Earlier this year, a report released by the American Psychological Association analyzed five decades worth of studies, including data from over 160,000 children.

Researchers found that the more children were spanked, the more likely they were to experience antisocial behaviours, mental health problems, and displays of aggression. They were also more likely to abuse their children in the future.

The study found no indication of improved child behaviour due to spanking.

Discipline and technology

Lapointe admits punishing your children can be difficult, especially in the midst of what she calls an "ongoing technical revolution."

She says children will often defer to technology because it gives them a form of self-worth that they might not be able to find elsewhere.

"It's a very, very potent source of instant gratification for us as human beings, whether we're adults or children, to be getting affirmation in the world of social media," she said. 

"That's the difficulty that we're running up against — we've become literally intoxicated by that source of affirmation, and we can't put our phones down and we can't get off social media as a result."

Keeping a set of eyes on what your child is doing online — and who they are interacting with — can be difficult. And finding out can be frightening.

But that doesn't mean you should abuse your children to keep them from misbehaving when using technology, says Lapointe.

"Think about what their underlying needs might be, and find a way to keep the child safe by putting appropriate boundaries and safeguards in place."

That means putting restrictions on what apps and websites they can access, as well as spending quality time with your kids — so they don't look for attention and personal connections elsewhere.

And most importantly, if you find yourself having to take away the phone, tell your child why.

"Explain that to them, not as a consequence, but rather as 'this is part of my job as your parent. I am going to be alongside you in all of this ... and make sure that this is all playing out the way that we need it to so that you're safe.'"

With files from CBC's B.C. Almanac