Shehryar Alam Khan

Shehryar Alam Khan

Shehryar is a witty budding psychologist, studying clinical psychology, with ambitions towards teaching and practicing as a counselor, he likes to read and write about theology, philosophy, and social related issues.
Shehryar Alam Khan

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There is a deadly practice that parents utilise to discipline their children (or so they say) in Pakistan. Spanking is the most commonly used technique used to discipline children or to make them do things that their parents require them to do.

Spanking is defined by Gershoff as “hitting a child on the bottom with an open hand”. Though this version of spanking is usually more common in the west, people here, parents and teachers prefer to slap children or hit them with something or their hands or feet, or anywhere else we can find to hit them on. It can easily lead to further aggression that can cause serious damage and it does.

Hitting children to reduce undesirable behaviour and discipline is physical abuse, it’s a form of child abuse, and it can scar children for a life. Hitting children undermines their well-being in the long term, and it sustains its maladaptive effects on them even after they reach adulthood.

Often times, we hear or see videos of teachers hitting children, and most time very violently, causing permanent damage to many children at the cost of their lives. Even if done softly it’s still causing damage, to their emotional states and their personalities and the traits they learn, and the coping mechanisms they will develop later in their adulthood.

But it’s so common and so widespread, there must be some evidence for its practical application; does it work? Or have we just accepted this cycle of abuse, and continue it without a second thought.

Researchers have looked at effects on three undesirable behaviours in children who are spanked: non-compliance in the short term, non-compliance in the long term, and aggression.  Researches have been conducted to test the efficacy of spanking/hitting children to improve behaviour and discipline, and almost all of them agree on the fact that spanking causes more damage than it fixes.

In one study conducted on children measured the effects of spanking and timeout in increasing compliance on 30 tasks assigned by their mothers. The results postulated that timeout worked just as well for immediate compliance. The results also reflected that long-term compliance is drastically reduced with the use of spanking. (Gershoff, 2002; Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2013).

So what about using parental aggression (spanking) as a means to reduce aggression in children, as ironic as it sounds. The analysis might surprise you. Researchers conducted to test the effects of spanking on a reduction of aggression among children showed that spanking tends to increase aggression in children.

“Spanking predicted increases in children’s aggression over and above initial levels [of aggressive behaviour]” and “in none of these longitudinal studies did spanking predict reductions in children’s aggression over time”. Instead, spanking predicted increases in children’s aggression.

 Children would learn better from an intervention that teaches them how to behave properly and gives them positive guidance, while spanking (punishment) only teaches them how not to behave if the threat of punishment is at hand. Effective interventions such as positive and negative reinforcement techniques provide children with positive guidance and shows them actions that work and they lead to a sense of belonging and competence. Children learn from what’s around them, and what they see, active practice has the cordial impact.

Spanking harms a child psyche very badly, it undermines their trust, and when children lose trust on their parents, they are more prone to not even trusting anyone in their adulthood, effecting their relationships negatively. Children learn to actively mistrust people primarily in social situations. It leads to children having active expectations as adults, they are more likely to aggress in any situation, then be aggressed upon, such as husbands beating up their wives for perceived disobedience, because that’s what they’ve learned as children.

Spanking also is a huge threat to the mental health of children, it can cause depression, anxiety, stress, and other issues, many of them serious such as suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideations, or aggressive tendencies, because spanking has been seen to increase aggression, furthermore it increases child delinquency and criminal behavior as adults. What’s worse is that it opens up a child to being more prone to be physically abused by people other than parents or guardians.

Longitudinal studies show that spanking increases aggression in any child, no matter what their background or what the common practices of their community are (Berlin et al., 2009; Gershoff et al., 2012).

So if you are a parent or a teacher and have previously used spanking or hitting as a means of intervention please understand the relative negative consequences of it, and instead use other means of intervention that guide the child towards positive behavior and positive compliance instead of punishing them and opening them up to mental health issues, and social withdrawal and maladaptive coping mechanisms as adults.