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Parental Bullying Creates Bullies
by Wendy Priesnitz

If you hit your kid, you give them a message that it’s okay to hit others. And a study examining the case histories of almost 2,500 American children confirms that spanking breeds bullies. Lead author Dr. Catherine Taylor of Tulane University and her team factored out the influences such as maternal mental health and use of drugs, domestic violence, neglect, income, age, race and education. And spanking emerged as the most important factor in determining which three-year-old children developed into aggressive five-year-olds.

The study used respondents to the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study, conducted in 20 U.S. cities between 1998 and 2005, and was published in the journal Pediatrics.

More than half of the three-year-olds spanked more than twice in the previous month by their mothers) turned into aggressive five-year-olds, even when accounting for the child's level of “natural” aggression at age three. Forty percent of the kids spanked only once or twice in the previous month turned into bullies by age five.

Previous studies have connected spanking and aggression in children, although this is the first and one of the largest and demonstrates just how powerful the link is. In 2002, psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff of Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty analyzed 62 years of data and found spanking leads not only to childhood aggression but other antisocial behaviors such as lying and cheating, and other types of misbehaviors behind their parent’s backs.

Unfortunately, spanking is legal in both Canada and the U.S. and most parents say they approve of and have used spanking as a form of child discipline. In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, spanking happens at least once a week in 25 percent of two-parent, middle-class families. Twenty-four countries ban spanking, including Sweden, New Zealand and Spain.

“If we really want a peaceful and compassionate world, we need to build communities of trust where all children are respected, where home and school are safe places to be and where discipline is taught by example.” ~ Desmond M. Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2006.

Learn More

Project NoSpank

Center for Nonviolent Communication

Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the causes of our children's acting-out behavior by parenting and educating the way nature intended by Laurie A. Couture (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2008)

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn (Artria Books, 2005)

For Your Own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence by Alice Miller (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990)

The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effects of Cruel Parenting by Alice Miller (W.W. Norton, 2006)

Wendy Priesnitz is the co-founder and editor of this magazine. (Books and other resources recommended in this article are provided for information purposes; they are not sponsored by the authors or publishers and we receive no money when you purchase them.)


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