The prestigious American Academy of Pediatrics has just released (November 2018) a policy statement claiming 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 question begs, “Which researchers, exactly?” to which the answer is “Researchers who bring an ideological bias to the issue and whose research, therefore, does not qualify as science.”
Note how the AAP disingenuously lumps yelling at and shaming children — which no rational person would endorse — with spanking, which more than 40 years of research done by individuals who have meticulously maintained their objectivity has found to be a valid and nonharmful disciplinary option when (a) not used as the primary disciplinary method, (b) administered moderately (two or three swats to the buttocks with open hand as opposed to belts, switches, and so on, and (c) administered by parents who love their children unconditionally.
In the 1970s, the AAP decided to use the research of one individual — Murray Straus of the Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire — who was later credibly accused of bias by his very own research assistant as the gold standard when it came to the issue of disciplinary spanking. Since then, it has stubbornly turned a blind eye to any research that contradicts their no-spanking-under-any-circumstances position.
The research in question finds, for example, that children who are occasionally spanked by loving parents score higher on measures of overall well-being than children who are never spanked. Also noteworthy is the fact as the percentage of parents who spank has declined significantly, so has the mental health of America’s children. That doesn’t mean that spanking is essential to childhood mental health, mind you, but it does mean that the AAP is not taking all the available evidence into consideration.
The AAP supports groups that advocate for anti-spanking legislation — groups like End Physical Punishment of Children and the World Health Organization — which would make it a crime for a parent to spank. Again, the blind eye is turned to findings by objective researchers (Diana Baumrind, Robert Larzelere) to the effect that when parents are prohibited (or prohibit themselves) from spanking, child abuse actually increases.
In effect, the AAP believes that government bureaucrats should be the final authorities on what forms of discipline parents should be allowed. Significant in this regard is the AAP’s broad indictment of any form of discipline that is “aversive,” meaning punitive.
By sanctioning only “positive” forms of discipline (i.e., praise and reward), the AAP subtly and arrogantly claims the moral high ground. To paraphrase Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), “If you cannot answer a man’s arguments, all is not lost; you can always demonize your opponent.”
The American College of Pediatricians was formed in 2002 by a group of physicians — including a former AAP president — concerned that the AAP was abandoning scientific objectivity and embracing political correctness when it came to social issues that impact child rearing and the family. The ACP’s response to the AAP’s policy statement — Spanking: A Valid Option for Parents (Nov. 7, 2018) — is well worth reading. It can be accessed at www.acpeds.org/spanking-a-valid-option-for-parents.
Family psychologist John Rosemond can be reached at www.johnrosemond.com.
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