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Smacking children ‘has no benefits and makes kids aggressive’ study claims

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Nearly two thirds (63%) of children across the world are regularly subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers, the study found. However, the researchers at University College London (UCL) and other centres across the world discovered such physical punishment is harmful to children.

Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.

Dr Anja Heilmann

And they’ve backed a growing campaign to end physical punishment of children in all settings, including the home, in England and Northern Ireland. It was made illegal in Scotland last year, and a bill has already been passed to make it illegal in Wales from 2022.

Lead author Dr Anja Heilmann, of the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.

“We see a definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and antisocial behaviour.

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“Physical punishment consistently predicts increases in these types of behavioural difficulties.

“Even more worrying are findings that children who are the recipients of physical punishment are at increased risk of being subjected to more severe levels of violence.”

The team of experts analysed 20 years of research on the topic, looking at 69 studies worldwide, reports Gloucestershire Live.

The research followed children over time and analysed data on physical punishment and a range of different outcomes.

In addition to Scotland and Wales, some 60 other sovereign countries have banned smacking.

But the researchers believe others should follow suit and more can be done to protect children.

Dr Heilmann concluded: “This is a public health issue. But physical punishment is not only harmful – it also violates children’s human rights.

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is clear that children should have the same level of protection from all forms of violence that adults have.

“Countries where physical punishment is still legal must act and honour their obligations under the UNCRC by prohibiting physical punishment in all settings.

“In the UK this means that England and Northern Ireland should follow the example of Scotland and Wales and give children equal protection in law.”

The findings suggest the link between physical punishment and increased behaviour problems is causal.

No study found physical punishment reduced problem behaviour or promoted positive outcomes.

However, some parents use physical punishment as they believe it will lead to better behaviour.

Senior author Elizabeth Gershoff, Amy Johnson McLaughlin Centennial Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, added: “Parents use physical punishment with their children because they think doing so will lead to better behaviour.

“But our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behaviour and instead makes it worse.”

The results have been published in medical journal The Lancet. 

When looking at data over time, no improvements were found in children’s attention, cognitive abilities, relationships with others, reactivity to stress, prosocial behaviour or social competence among children who were physically punished.

The study found the detrimental outcomes associated with physical punishment occurred irrespective of the child’s sex, ethnicity, or the overall parenting styles of the caregivers.

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