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The AAP says spanking 'harms kids': Parents on Twitter disagree

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has discouraged the practice of spanking for years. However, in a new policy statement, the organization takes a stronger stance.

In the statement, which was published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, the AAP says that “aversive disciplinary strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children, are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term. With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children.”

The AAP also “supports the need for adults to avoid physical punishment and verbal abuse of children,” the organization later says. The statement incorporates new research and updates the 1998 AAP clinical report that said, “Parents should be encouraged and assisted in developing methods other than spanking in response to undesired behaviors.” The latest statement also notes that several studies have linked spanking and aggressive behavior in kids, symptoms of depression in teens, and less gray matter in children’s brains.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has added to its guidelines on not spanking, saying the practice is “not effective” in the long term. (Photo by Getty Images)
The American Academy of Pediatrics has added to its guidelines on not spanking, saying the practice is “not effective” in the long term. (Photo by Getty Images)

Instead of spanking, the AAP recommends that parents use positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits, and setting expectations for children.

While plenty of people applauded the move on Twitter, others had strong negative reactions:

“My thought, personally, is that this has been a long time coming,” Charles Shubin, a board-certified pediatrician with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Pediatricians have not necessarily all subscribed to this principle, and we’re paying the price for that in terms of establishing a standard of using violence to try to solve our problems, virtually every day.”

Ashanti Woods, another pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, also tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he’s “in strong support” of the policy statement. “During a time that the nation and society is seeing an increase in violence and aggressive behaviors, pediatricians need to reemphasize the dangers and harm that exist in corporal punishment,” he says. “Pediatricians need to also point out the inefficiency of corporal punishment in the desired outcome from the parent who wishes to raise their child perhaps in a manner similar to the way they themselves were raised.”

Gina Posner, MD, pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she understands where critics are coming from — to a degree. “I got raised when spanking was considered OK, but study after study shows that spanking leads to more violent behavior with kids,” she says. “Spanking might work short term to stop an action, but long term, it leads to more problems and issues.”

Shubin stresses that “corporal punishment doesn’t work. It doesn’t change behavior. None of us respond to that.” Instead, he recommends that parents “find ways to reinforce acceptable behavior and ignore unacceptable behavior to extinction.”

“The human animal is astoundingly dependent on attention,” he says. “We demand it, insist on it, and can’t live without it. We will do anything to get it.”

It’s important to keep this in mind, per Woods: “Children will all misbehave at some point — guaranteed.” That’s why he says that parents “should be mentally prepared that their child will do something that will push their buttons and test their limit mentally.”

If a child is acting out and clearly doing it for attention, Shubin recommends acting as if the child isn’t there and talking about them — and not to them. That can include saying something like “If [child’s name] wants [whatever they want], they’ll have to [insert better behavior] first.”

“They will know what you’re doing and will shift gears,” he says. “You will see them change what they’re doing to try to find a better way to get your attention.” When a child lashes out, hits a sibling, or engages in dangerous behavior like trying to run into a street, Shubin says a time-out is completely appropriate and points out that “time-out is the withdrawal of attention in a structured way.” A loss of privileges (like digital devices, TV privileges, and restrictions on seeing friends) is also a good option, Woods says.

Making kids apologize for their behavior. Having them reiterate that what they did was bad (and explain why the behavior was bad) also helps, Posner says. She also encourages positive reinforcement when a child is doing the right thing. “In the end, it really does help,” she says.

Of course, if your children are putting themselves in a dangerous situation, for example, if they’re about to touch an open flame or run into a street, Posner says it’s OK to stop the behavior from happening. “There are situations where you may have to grab their hand or arm,” she says. “Sometimes the verbal doesn’t reach them in time.”

But to the people who insist that spanking is the right way to discipline a child, Shubin has this to say: “It doesn’t work. There are better ways.”

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