Here's What Getting Spanked as a Kid Did to Your Personality, According to Science

Source: StockSnap
Source: StockSnap

If you got spanked as a kid, it probably didn't do you any good. In fact, it may have made your behavior even worse, new research suggests.

The more kids get spanked, the more likely they are to "defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties," according to experts at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan. 

Their study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, analyzed five decades of spanking research representing around 160,000 children, according to a news release

The study focused on "what most Americans would recognize as spanking, and not on potentially abusive behaviors," researcher Elizabeth Gershoff said in a statement. Spanking was defined as "an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities." 

The results were not good: Gershoff and her co-author, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, discovered that the more adults were spanked as children, the more likely the were to develop a range of negative outcomes later in life — including mental health issues. 

"We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children," Gershoff said.

Adults who were spanked as children were also "more likely to support physical punishment for their own children." On and on goes the cycle.

But it gets worse: Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor also compared the negative effects of spanking with those of "physical abuse" against children. Both were associated with the same harmful outcomes, according to the news release.

"We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors," Gershoff said. "Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree." 

And yet spanking continues: In 2010, researchers at the University of North Carolina published the results of a 2002 survey on corporal punishment. Nearly 80% os U.S. preschoolers experienced spanking as a form of discipline, and nearly half of 8- and 9-year-olds were hit with objects such as paddles or switches.

A 2013 poll found that 81% of Americans "say parents spanking their children is sometimes appropriate," according to NBC News.

If those numbers sound high, know that corporal punishment inside the home is "technically legal" in all 50 states, NBC News reported:

"Statutes vary from state to state but generally say that the physical punishment must be reasonable or not excessive, although Delaware passed a law in 2012 that said it couldn't cause any injury or pain. Proposed legislative bans in several states have failed to pass, and courts have generally upheld parents' right to spank."

Laws aside, the researchers hope their findings will make parents think twice about spanking their kids.

"We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline," Gershoff said.

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Jordyn Taylor

Jordyn is an editor on Mic's news desk. She previously worked at the New York Observer, and is a graduate of Hamilton College and New York University. Jordyn is based in New York, and can be reached at jht@mic.com.

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