Spanking could be harmful in the long term, U.S. pediatricians say

Studies have associated physical punishment in childhood with increased aggression and brain changes in young adulthood, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.

Studies have linked physical punishment with increased aggression and changes in the brain

The American Academy of Pediatrics says evidence shows spanking is not an effective form of punishment and that other methods should be used to discipline children. (Yuganov Konstantin/Shutterstock)

A U.S. pediatricians' group has strengthened its advice against spanking and other physical punishment because of the potential for long-term harm.

In an updated policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics says those harms can include aggression, brain changes, substance abuse and suicidal behaviour in adulthood.

The academy said research since its 1998 discipline policy led to the update.

Spanking is falling out of favour among parents, it said, especially those with young children. While some parents still believe it can lead to short-term improvements in behaviour, studies show spanking is no more effective than non-physical punishment, including timeouts, setting firm limits and establishing unwanted consequences.

The academy suggested alternative punishments, such as putting favourite toys away or reducing screen time.

"Although many children who were spanked become happy, healthy adults, current evidence suggests that spanking is not necessary and may result in long-term harm," its policy academy advised.

Studies published in the past two decades have bolstered evidence that spanking can make young kids more aggressive and defiant.

Other studies have linked physical punishment in childhood with later brain changes in young adults, including reduced grey matter and elevated levels of stress hormones. Suicidal behaviour, substance abuse and anger are among other potential long-term consequences of spanking, studies have suggested.

The academy also warned against harsh verbal abuse including shaming kids, citing research linking it with depression and behaviour problems in teens.