The Long-Term Effects of Physical Punishment on a Child

Disciplining a child is a necessary part of parenthood. Although physical, or corporal, punishment is illegal in places such as Sweden, it is commonly practiced in America. A 1999 survey led by Murray A. Straus and Julie H. Stewart, called "Corporal Punishment by American Parents," reported that 94 percent of parents have spanked their child by age three or four, and 50 percent still spanked when the child was 13 years old. The survey also revealed that African-American and low-income parents were the most likely to use physical punishment. Although common, physical punishment does have negative lasting effects.

Time-out is a less damaging discipline technique than spanking. (Image: Barış URUNLU/iStock/Getty Images)

Aggression in Children

Physical punishment models aggression for children. According to Lynn Namka, EdD, physical punishment engenders more aggression in the child, even if it initially appears to stop the behavior. Children cannot always understand the difference between unacceptable physical aggression for which they get punished, such as hitting and shoving, and the physical aggression they receive as punishment. Corporal punishment can lead to increased aggression for kids in school, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Physical Abuse

Adolescents who receive physical punishment are three times more likely to grow up to abuse their own children, according to Straus. The study by Straus found that 7 percent of never-spanked adolescents grow up to abuse their children, compared to 24 percent of those who were spanked. Spanking teaches children that it's okay to hurt people and this can lead them to believe you solve problems by hitting. These children may continue this way of thinking into adulthood, causing them to hit their spouse or children, according to Ask Dr Sears. It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of people, whether or not they received physical punishment, are unlikely to abuse their children.

Impaired Cognitive Development

Physical punishment has an impact on cognitive development. A 1998 study by Murray A. Straus and Mallie J. Paschall, titled "Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Child's Cognitive Development," revealed that children who were spanked were less able to keep up with the cognitive development level expected for their age. It can even lower their IQ, notes Psychology Today. Spanking can reduce a child's brain's grey matter, which is a crucial since it influences learning abilities.

Impaired Emotional Development

Children who are physically punished can be impaired emotionally as well. Children who are verbally or physically abused are more likely to show psychological disturbances, according to Ask Dr Sears. Physical punishment that is considered child abuse can lead to low self-esteem, brain damage, attention disorders and substance abuse, states the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It can lead to poor social skills, anxiety and depression when children reach adulthood.

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