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Real-Time Audio Of Parents Spanking Their Kids Reveals How Common The Practice Is


Spanking is far more common than parents like to admit.

That’s what researchers at Southern Methodist University found in a study published in the American Psychological Association.

Public attitudes about spanking may have changed, but the private practice of hitting children is still common, and parents aren’t following best practice guidelines.

SMU professor George Holden, who is a parenting and child development expert, led a study of 35 mothers who had children between the ages of 2 and 5. Each was given a tape recorder to take home and turn on in the evenings when they would be interacting with their kids.

“The major finding was that for those parents who were spanking, which was about half the sample, they were using it for trivial misbehaviors, not serious problems,” Holden says.

Spanking Guidelines Frequently Broken

Advocates of corporal punishment generally agree on best practices for responsible spanking, Holden says, which include the following:

  • It should be used for serious misbehavior.
  • It should be used a last resort.
  • It should not be used in anger.
  • It should be used rarely.

The audio recordings revealed spanking was not being used a last resort, and about half of the parents were spanking in anger.
The Problems With Spanking

While the majority of parents will occasionally spank or slap their children, Holden says it is both ineffective and potentially harmful.

“It’s only effective in the immediate few seconds after the hitting, it’s not effective ten minutes later,” he says.

Also, children who are spanked more learn to be aggressive with their peers and adults.

“It can also result in mental health issues such as anxiety or even depression. Children who are hit more are more likely to show depressive symptoms,” Holden says.

Education’s Role

Most parents, Holden says, are not aware of the research on the negative repercussions of spanking.

“So I think it’s partly an educational deficit that we need to work on to help better educate people that spanking is not a good parenting technique to use,” he says.

The findings are reported in “Eavesdropping on the Family: A Pilot Investigation of Corporal Punishment in the Home,” which was published online April 15 at by the American Psychological Association before it appears in a final print and online issue of Journal of Family Psychology.

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.