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Physically punishing kids doesn't lead to better behavior, study finds

Experts say that getting physical with children can lead to more unwanted behaviors

Photo (c) PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin evaluated the effects of physically punishing kids for bad behavior

According to the team, getting physical with children isn’t likely to lead to improved behavior. Instead, corporal punishment may negatively impact children’s overall well-being and ultimately lead to poorer behavior long term.  

“There is no evidence that physical punishment is good for children,” said researcher Elizabeth Gershoff. “All the evidence indicates that physical punishment is harmful to children’s development and well-being.” 

Avoiding physical punishment

To understand the effects of physical punishment, the researchers analyzed nearly 70 earlier studies that dove deeper into the topic. The team learned that there were no benefits associated with parents physically punishing their children. Though the practice remains legal in the U.S., children’s behavior didn’t improve when their parents used physical force as a means of discipline. Instead, the analysis showed that bad behavior remained for longer periods of time, and the children were more likely to experience neglect. 

“Parents hit their kids because they think doing so will improve their behavior,” Gershoff said. “Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behavior and instead makes it worse.” 

The researchers found that the longer the physical punishments lasted, the worse the outcomes were for the children’s overall well-being. Moving forward, the researchers hope these findings help change the laws surrounding physical punishment. 

“This is a public health issue,” said researcher Anja Heilmann. “Given the strength of the evidence that physical punishment has the potential to cause harm to children, policymakers have a responsibility to protect children and legislate to end the use of physical punishment in all settings.” 

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