Children who are spared a spanking grow up to have higher IQs than those who are physically disciplined, according to a study by one of North America's leading scholars on family violence.
Murray Straus examined the IQ scores of more than 1,500 children, divided in two groups – ages 2 to 4, and 5 to 9 – and compared them with IQ scores from four years later.
Straus found young children who had been slapped or spanked scored an average of five points lower on IQ tests than those who hadn't been hit. The discrepancy among the older age group was about 2.8 points.
"The bottom line is, kids need a lot of guidance and instruction. They just don't need to be hit," he said.
He presented his findings Friday at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego, Calif.
"This shows that spanking kids slows their development of mental ability," Straus, a professor at the University of New Hampshire's family research laboratory, said yesterday.
Straus, who co-authored the study with California-based professor Mallie Paschall, said being hit is a traumatic experience, causing stress that could disrupt cognitive skills and impede learning.
So, rather than spanking a child who has done something wrong, it would be better to tell him that what he did was wrong, Straus said.
"Corporal punishment impacts everything: self-esteem, intelligence, both emotional and intellectual," said Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada.
The study defined corporal punishment as hitting a child at least three times a week with the intention of discipline, not injury.
The practice is criticized by the United Nations and banned in 24 nations across the world, including Sweden, New Zealand and Spain.
In Canada, however, a 2004 Supreme Court ruling upheld section 43 of the Criminal Code, allowing parents and caregivers to use reasonable force when disciplining a child no younger than 2.
Shortly after the court's decision, a Liberal Senator proposed a bill to prohibit corporal punishment, which passed its third reading in the Senate in June 2008. But the bill never became law because Parliament dissolved. "If you're over the age of 18 and I lay a hand on you, that's assault," Dudding said.
"But if you're younger than 18 – that's justifiable by our Criminal Code."
He said the new study adds to the arsenal of international research showing corporal punishment can have harmful lasting effects.
Straus said the study, which will be published in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, shows evidence that younger children are more affected by being struck because "their brains are in a point of rapid development."
The study found a correlation between how often a child was hit and how slow his mental development was, even when Straus factored out other agents that could affect development, such as wealth and parents' level of education.
In his research, he also examined nearly 18,000 surveys from university students in 32 countries, including Canada.
He found, by and large, that in countries with high national-average IQs, spanking is not socially acceptable.
commentary by the OttawaMensCentre
The study is seriously flawed. The higher IQ kids would not take part in the survey, it fails to differentiate between the various levels and or severity of the spanking. It also fails to deal with the prejudice that kids suffer if not disciplined. It also fails to deal with the horrible effects of psychological or emotional abuse or the effect of children observing a violent parent. Its a junk article.