The New York Times asked SMU Psychologist George W. Holden to give his opinion on corporal punishment for the newspaper’s “Room for Debate” column.

A professor in the SMU Psychology Department, Holden is a leading advocate for abolishing corporal punishment in schools and homes and recently led organization of the Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and Promoting Positive Discipline.

For his outstanding dedication and service to the mental health needs of children and adolescents, Holden will be honored Sept. 21 with The Lightner Sams Foundation Child Advocate Award presented by Mental Health America of Greater Dallas.

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By George W. Holden

The question of who spanks their children and who doesn’t goes far beyond race. Psychological and sociological studies on child-rearing disparities between black and white parents don’t provide clear answers: Although many studies find that black parents do spank more often, other research finds no differences between races.

Parents most adamantly committed to spanking tend to be from the South; they have less education and less wealth, and they experience more stress.

More revealing are the studies that take into account other critical factors, like the parents’ upbringing, stress levels, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status and region of the country. These have shown that parents most adamantly committed to the practice of spanking tend to be from the South. They have less education and less wealth, and they experience more stress. They are likely to take literally the Proverbs’ call for a “rod of correction,” and they typically were spanked by their own parents.

Parents who spank — black or white — do so because they inaccurately believe that corporal punishment results in improved child behavior. The pressure to spank can be loud and forceful, amplified by frustrating child behavior and unexamined child-rearing assumptions, along with misguided advice from extended family members, neighbors, teachers and preachers.

Yet research on the consequences of spanking children of every race could not be more clear. Beyond its immediate impact on behavior, spanking increases children’s long-term aggression toward peers and others. Parents who spank are, in fact, modeling violent behavior, which young children in my own studies have described as unfair and ineffective. Spanking also is linked to a host of harmful effects on children’s well-being: increased anxiety and depression, impaired cognitive development and academic performance, lower self-esteem and, sometimes, bruises and broken bones.

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