New study on negative effects of smacking children

Courier Mail: Smacking children ‘lowers their IQ’

After studying 800 toddlers aged between two and four over a four-year period, he found those who were subjected to smacking had an IQ five points lower than that of a child who wasn’t physically disciplined.

“The results of this research have major implications for the well-being of children across the globe,” he said.

“All parents want smart children. This research shows that avoiding smacking and correcting misbehaviour in other ways can help that.”

Children aged five to nine years who were smacked regularly had an IQ 2.8 points lower. Dr Straus said children who constantly faced physical punishment lived in fear and suffered stress, which was associated with poorer academic performance.

The study is by Murray Strauss, co-author of the Conflicts Tactics Scale (CTS) couples study that MRAs so like to misquote and misuse. [1] Strauss and his team have also produced a version of the CTS that looks specifically at parents and children.

Strauss appears to be one of those researchers who is very good at getting positive press for his work. It will be very interesting to read reviews from his peers regarding this research.

1. It’s worth noting again for this post that Strauss rejects the MRA claim that his work shows that women are just as violent as men (CTS results do show that based on self-reports, women are just as likely to assault their partners as men, but it also shows that women are far less likely to batter their partners than men – MRAs tend to gloss this crucial distinction (and implicitly support and justify responding to a slap or shove with a closed fist)).

Categories: relationships, Science, violence

11 replies

  1. I haven’t read the original study – do you know where it was published? All I can find is that it was a conference report (International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma), and they can be as suspect as all get-out, having not been through peer review.
    I wonder what they controlled for? Socioeconomic status would be the obvious one, along with education and IQ of the parents. I’d also wonder about whether the parents who ended up smacking intended to at the outset; another potential confounder, more difficult to control for, would be whether the more ‘difficult’ (and/or persistent, curious, dissenting, etc) children ended up being smacked more. Whether the more ‘difficult’ children might cluster to lower or higher IQs, I don’t know.
    And then there’s the almost-uncontrollable-for, the potential association of frequent smacking behaviour with other parental behaviours, like not being tuned in to the kid’s needs, taking what looks like the quick ‘n’ easy way out, parenting the way they were parented without putting any constructive thought and planning and self-control into it, and so on.
    Overall, I’m much more interested in whether hitting kids tends to produce adults who are more accepting of violence and more embracing of family dominance structures, than in a couple of IQ points here or there, but it’s all grist to the mill.

  2. Yes I must say when I read it, I wondered if perhaps it was parents with lower IQs being more likely to smack, and the lower IQs correlating with the parents’ lower IQs and not, in fact, the smacking.

  3. Lots of devil possible in the detail we don’t know.
    Far too many variables possible.
    And I’ve never been happy with the way IQ is used and abused [and I’ve given hundreds of IQ tests in my not so proud past].

  4. Dr Straus said children who constantly faced physical punishment lived in fear and suffered stress, which was associated with poorer academic performance.
    I realise this is a tangent, but this really makes me wonder how much of the smacking vs not smacking debate comes down to a different idea of what that means. Doing it often enough to be described as in any way a constant threat doesn’t sound like what I would describe as smacking at all.

  5. minna: I’m not sure what you’d describe as “smacking” – can you elaborate? Plenty of smackers I’ve known hit their kids more than weekly, even more than daily, and don’t think they’re doing anything other than “smacking”.
    Perhaps more pertinently, hitting doesn’t have to occur often or “constantly” for it to remain a constant _threat_ in the child’s life.

  6. Smacking means hitting a child. To me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s once a month or twice a day – it’s still unacceptable.

  7. @lauredhel
    The difference between smacking a child and hitting them, as was used in our house, was that the point of smacking is the shock, not the pain. We were never smacked for a first offence, were told if we would be for doing it again, and it was only pulled out for things that were actively dangerous to us or someone else. Only time it happened after I was five was when I forgot to put on my helmet before riding off the lawn and onto the road. I was smacked on probably half a dozen occasions growing up (I’d pretty much forget things when I was excited unless I’d gotten smacked for them or the danger seemed really obvious), and smacked my youngest sister twice while she was in my care, and only because she’d done it before, knew it wasn’t allowed and exactly why. The only time I remember my kid sister being smacked was when she went through a vicious biting period.
    Also, the only time I was hit hard enough to leave a mark was when I very, very nearly got myself hit by a car at about five, which my mother apologised for and made very clear to me that she’d crossed a line and that it wasn’t okay just because she was my mum.
    If my experiences with it are unusual, which it looks like they are, I really need to rethink my general position. :/
    Absolutely that’s true re:fear, and that’s why I’m so horrified, honestly.

  8. @rebekka
    I respect that position, but I was both hit and smacked as a child and the difference in emotional impact was huge to me even when I was quite small, so it doesn’t quite resonate with me.
    Then again, mine is hardly the entire realm of human experience, and if the majority of children receiving physical punishment are responding badly, I’m hardly so attached to the idea I wouldn’t vote against it, regardless of the variables making it that way.

  9. After telling my children this morning that I was leaving and they could stay home without me (it only worked because they are three and six) which resulted in tears, desperate cries of “No Mummy!” and hurried dressing I have concluded that smacking is only one of the myriad ways you can fuck up your children.

  10. @minna, I don’t think it’s about the emotional impact, I think it’s about the ethical lesson you’re teaching the child – that it’s okay for someone larger than them to use physical force to get what they want.
    If you think about the possibilities when a child generalises that lesson, they’re not good.

  11. @rebekka Huh. I agree with that, actually.

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