Search Google Appliance

Bridgewater State University - logo

Hands Off

News Feature

News & Events

January 6, 2014

It might seem obvious to some that spanking a child is a bad thing. But Dr. Emily M. Douglas set out to prove why.

Dr. Douglas, an associate professor in BSU’s School of Social Work, has co-authored a new book: The Primordial Violence: Spanking Children, Psychological Development, Violence and Crime (Routledge 2014) with child and family researchers, Drs. Murray Straus and Rose Anne Medeiros.

The book analyzes the results of studies on more than 7,000 families from 32 nations. It is a summary of research on corporal punishment over 20 years, and its effects. Although there has been a decline in spanking since the mid 1990s, that decline has occurred mostly among older children, says Dr. Douglas.

The book links spanking to behavioral problems and violence and crime later in life. The authors argue for eliminating spanking, suggest policy change and offer practical advice to reduce it.

Dr. Douglas is in her eighth academic year at BSU, having started in the fall of 2006. Her interest in the topic began in 2002, when she was on a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Straus at the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

Dr. Douglas says she was surprised by how conflicted parents are when it comes to spanking. “Most people don't necessarily approve of spanking, but they believe that it can and should be used as a last resort,” she said. “What we are recommending is, it shouldn't even be a last resort. It shouldn't be anywhere on our radar. ... One of the things that continues to be most surprising is that even when people don't necessarily think that it's a great thing, parents continue to use it, and they continue to use it on pretty young kids.”

Twenty nations have laws outlawing spanking, Dr. Douglas said. Sweden outlawed it in 1979 as part of its civil code and saw a rapid decline. “The purpose was actually from a public education point of view, so there were billboards that said 'don't spank your child,' and on milk cartons ...  it said 'never spank a child.'”

The U.S. has a long way to go.

Brookline, Mass., is the only place in the country that has outlawed corporal punishment, Dr. Douglas said. “In the U.S., people still want to be able to retain the right to be able to hit their kids. And that varies quite a bit by region.”

Dr. Douglas and their book offer alternatives to spanking, including time-outs, explaining situations to children (depending on their ages) and preventing children from being in situations in which spanking might be considered. “Those kinds of parenting disciplinary techniques are not associated with the negative outcome from spanking,” Dr. Douglas said.

Read more about Dr. Douglas' new book. (Story by Steve Ide, University News)