Study: Most Parents Don't Spank Kids

Generally, parental discipline is quite different these days from what most of us experienced while growing up.

Informed parents now have a wide range of options to address their kids when they step out of line and most do not involve physical punishment.

In the latest C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, the three most common discipline strategies parents report they are very likely to use include:

  • Explain or reason with the child – 88 percent
  • Take away a privilege or something the child enjoys – 70 percent
  • Put child in a timeout or grounding – 59 percent

"Results of this national study indicate that the vast majority of parents are choosing not to spank or paddle their kids," says Matthew Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases in the CHEAR Unit at the U-M Medical School.

"While physical discipline is an option for some parents, the majority of parents are opting for verbal ways to get their points across."

"Especially in light of recent research that points out how spanking can have negative affects on children, it's important to know that spanking and paddling are not the national norm among parents today," Davis adds.

Results of this poll show that 22 percent of parents report that they are very likely to spank their children, while 10 percent paddle their children. Parents of preschool children are more likely to spank than parents of older children.

Researchers also found differences in choices of discipline by region. Parents who live in the West (31 percent) and South (20 percent) are more likely to spank their children compared to parents in the Midwest (16 percent) and Northeast (6 percent).

"These regional differences are a reminder that parents' choices of discipline are rooted in strong cultural traditions," Davis says. "Even as national trends have shifted away from physical to verbal discipline, there are likely community cues and informal networks of parents and grandparents that influence how parents discipline their kids."

Davis adds, "These intergenerational factors can affect how discipline strategies change over time."

To understand parents' discipline strategies, the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health presented 1,532 parents from across the U.S. with a series of situations that they might face with their own children.

Parents were asked to select from a list of discipline choices, and could indicate as many choices as they wished. Parents were asked to report how likely they were to use a given discipline strategy.

"We found lower rates of spanking than reported by some other researchers in the past," says Davis, who is also associate professor of internal medicine and associate professor of public policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

"That is likely because we asked parents to answer questions about what they might do, rather than what they have actually done. Because spanking is more common at younger ages, it is likely that other studies that have asked parents about ever spanking their children would find higher rates."

Davis went on to say, "I think one of the most important results from this poll is that we learned that most parents consider more than one strategy when figuring out what discipline to use for their kids. Now, the research community needs to help parents understand what discipline strategies can be the most effective for children and parents, and in which situations."