Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Spanking Studies Get a Time Out from the Wall Street Journal: Spanking Doesn't Make Kids Dumber

We all know spanking is not the preferred discipline method. Recent studies suggest spanking may lead to another worrisome outcome - cognitive impairment, like diminished intelligence. 

Spanking makes kids dumber? 

That's a stretch according to Carl Bialik, aka "The Numbers Guy" at the Wall Street Journal who's looked over evidence from three of those reported spanking studies - "New Research on Spanking Might Need a Time Out."  The main problem?  These are observational studies, not experiments, and with these come all sorts of issues related to teasing apart confounding factors - other variables that might be responsible for the relationship between spanking and cognitive development:

Statistical analysis of spanking's effects on cognition are clouded by many complicating factors. Effects can be attributed to the wrong cause, statisticians say; rather than spanking causing problems in children, it is possible that their existing cognitive problems can make spanking more likely. Moreover, any effects of spanking are difficult to measure and probably small. And unlike, say, a study on prescription drugs that removes a misleading placebo effect, no ethical study can assign some children to be spanked. Instead, parents must be trusted to remember and share their disciplinary practices.
Think about it.  The possible explanations (other than spanking CAUSES lower IQ) are many.  And what about parents who spank.  Do any of your friends spank their children?  Could you even ask that question without offending them? 

An interesting aside: Den Trumbull, the vice president of the American College of Pediatricians thinks physical discipline "gets a bad name of late, because parents tend to use it reactively, when having a bad day."  Dr. Trumbull delineates "appropriate" spanking (done in privacy after ignored warnings about specific behaviors) from inappropriate (motivated by anger).  Is there a difference?  Most likely.

Is it always wrong?  I want to say yes, it's always wrong, but frankly, I got "spanked" once or twice as a child (my parents report they barely even touched me, it was used more as a warning tactic) and as far as I can tell, I survived and suffered no long-term effects, though it installed a distaste for the practice. 

But I still can't endorse any form of physical punishment of the sort - so please, hold the hate comments or emails. 

FYI, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended against any physical discipline in 1998.   This organization is not to be confused with the American College of Pediatricians, who split with the AAP over the issue of gay partners marrying and raising children.  The ACP appears to be in the pre-politically correct phase of using the term "homosexual".  If you think I'm being nit-picky, "gay" has been the preferred term (specified by the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association - that most scholarly journals follow) for over a decade.  But the ACP is another issue altogether...

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