Corporal punishment – ‘smacking’ – of young children triggers behavioural problems in later life such as anger issues, says a report from University College London (UCL) released this month.
“We see a definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and antisocial behaviour,” says Dr Anja Heilmann from the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, “Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.”
The report published in medical journal The Lancet took in twenty years of research from 69 different long-term international studies. The epic scope was intended to address issues around detail in previous examinations of the subject.
Globally, two-thirds of two to four year-olds currently experience corporal punishment. The report insists though that smacking is ‘ineffective’ in preventing future bad behaviour and can even encourage it. Moreover, it is heavily linked to future aggressive behaviour as physical reactions become normalised. Most chillingly of all, smacked children are more likely to be victims of physical violence or abuse in later life.
The issues remained even when parenting styles could otherwise be considered healthy.
Another UCL study published earlier this year linked both smacking and harsh parenting in general to “externalising problems”, including scrapping with other children, mendacity and deceit, and hyperactivity. And in April this year Harvard University identified maladaptive fight or flight responses in smacked children. The test subjects interpreted neutral facial expressions as aggressive, and the activity in their brains was identical to a threat response. Similar issues are seen in domestic violence victims and other post-traumatic stress disorders.
Despite being illegal now in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, smacking remains permitted in England as long as no marks are left.
Child-raising experts cite consequential punishment as the most effective form. This involves demonstrating the consequences of bad behaviour within the adult world – for example, if a child snatches a toy from another they are specifically not allowed to play with that toy for a period.
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