Four sentences into her Wall Street Journal article on recent research into spanking (“Spanking for Misbehavior? It Causes More!” Dec. 17, 2017), the author, Susan Pinker, makes two grievous errors: first, she says that children under 7 cannot master their emotions; second, she says a fair amount of misbehavior from a young child distinguishes him from a robot.

So, here we go again with a typical post-1960s parenting canard: proper discipline, which should instill reasonably good emotional control into children as young as 4, turns children into unquestioning robots. I heard this claptrap in graduate school, courtesy of professors who were enamored with new ideas concerning children.

Pinker references a 2016 survey found that two-thirds of U.S. parents are in favor of at least occasional spankings. According to her, that’s bad news because another 2016 study — a meta-analysis of five decades of research — found that spanking is associated with increased “acting out” and future mental health problems. In fairness, Pinker admits that these correlations do not prove a cause-effect relationship. But she points out that a study from the University of Texas, Austin, strengthens the argument that spankings cause psychological and behavior problems.

It is interesting to note that a meta-analysis of 50 years of media coverage of spanking would certainly find that the mainstream media has been quick to publish any research that maligns spanking but has consistently turned a blind eye to research by credible, respected researchers like Diana Baumrind (UC-Berkley) and Robert Larzelere (Oklahoma State) finding that occasional, moderate spankings by loving parents, are associated with better behavior and improved psychological well-being.

Having said that, I’ve taken a close look at UTA’s study and have no problem with its basic finding. First, I think most parents who spank make a mess of it and accomplish nothing, so the behavior problems worsen. Second, as research finds and common sense confirms, disobedient children are not happy. So, it makes perfect sense that researchers find that spanking is associated with increased misbehavior and later mental health problems.

The real problem is that today’s parents do not know how to convey authority. It is accomplished via a proper attitude, not proper methods. Calm, confident composure is a universal leadership quality. That attitude causes a child to invest trust in his parents, even if they occasionally spank him.

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