Spanking a child leads to bad behaviors, not the better manners some parents may think a smack on the bottom will elicit, a new study suggests.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan analyzed 75 studies involving more than 150,000 children that spanned 50 years.
"This is a wide swath of children and the findings are incredibly consistent," study author Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff told CBS News. "This shows there is a correlation between spanking and negative outcomes and absolutely no correlation between spanking and positive outcomes."
Spanking doesn't make kids behave better right away and it leads to worse behavior in the long run, said Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. And spanked kids are more likely to be aggressive and antisocial.
"The irony is that many parents spank when their kids are aggressive. So the child thinks you can use spanking to get what you want - kids learn that," she said.
Even though some may think spanking is an antiquated parenting technique at this point in time - over the past decade or two, parenting books have touted a gentler, kinder parenting technique involving positive reinforcement - Gershoff said spanking still goes on in lots of households.
"There's research showing that by the time most kids get to high school, at least 85 percent have been spanked. So, most kids are being spanked," said Gershoff.
They may not be spanked as often as, say, their parents' generation was paddled, "or with objects," said Gershoff, but spanking is alive and well.
Dr. David Pollack, a pediatrician with several of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's primary care locations in the Philadelphia area, told CBS News he even witnesses parents spank. "I may, on rare occasion, actually see it happen in my office, where most parents are trying to be on their best behaviors."
The episodes trigger family discussion about discipline alternatives, he said.
Some people spank because they were spanked - it's passed down from generation to generation, Gershoff said. Others may do it because their religious background suggests it's okay.
"To make ourselves feel better about it, we use spanking as a euphemism, but it's still hitting. There's no way to define spanking without using the word hitting," said Gershoff.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, looked specifically at spanking alone versus lumping in all forms of physical punishment.
"Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors," explained Gershoff.
They defined spanking as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities, and reported that it was linked with 13 out of 17 outcomes -- all negative -- including defying parents, acting aggressive, and exhibiting mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.
The healthy approach is to discipline and to emphasize the positive, said Gershoff. "It's not one single technique. It's a host of behaviors parents should do. They involve the relationship between a parent and child and rewarding the child when they do the right thing."
She said, "People think if you don't spank you're a pushover, but you can be a firm parent with high expectations for children. You don't have to hit them to show you have power."
CHOP's Pollack said, "Discipline is derived from the word 'disciple' or teacher, and our goal is to teach kids right from wrong, to have them always engage with others in a positive and productive way, to live by the golden rule."
Parents should be role models, he said. They should behave as they would wish their kids to behave.
"Our society is becoming increasingly violent and angry; we should try to do everything possible to minimize that culture around our children," he said.
The Harvard education professor Howard Gardner once advised Americans, “Learn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.”
Following his recommendation, I enrolled my 7-year-old son in a primary school in Joensuu, Finland, which is about as far east as you can go in the European Union before you hit the guard towers of the Russian border.
OK, I wasn't just blindly following Gardner — I had a position as a lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland for a semester. But the point is that, for five months, my wife, my son and I experienced a stunningly stress-free, and stunningly good, school system. Finland has a history of producing the highest global test scores in the Western world, as well as a trophy case full of other recent No. 1 global rankings, including most literate nation.
In Finland, children don't receive formal academic training until the age of 7. Until then, many are in day care and learn through play, songs, games and conversation. Most children walk or bike to school, even the youngest. School hours are short and homework is generally light.
Unlike in the United States, where many schools are slashing recess, schoolchildren in Finland have a mandatory 15-minute outdoor free-play break every hour of every day. Fresh air, nature and regular physical activity breaks are considered engines of learning. According to one Finnish maxim, “There is no bad weather. Only inadequate clothing.”
One evening, I asked my son what he did for gym that day. “They sent us into the woods with a map and compass and we had to find our way out,” he said.
Finland doesn't waste time or money on low-quality mass standardized testing. Instead, children are assessed every day, through direct observation, check-ins and quizzes by the highest-quality “personalized learning device” ever created — flesh-and-blood teachers.
In class, children are allowed to have fun, giggle and daydream from time to time. Finns put into practice the cultural mantras I heard over and over: “Let children be children,” “The work of a child is to play,” and “Children learn best through play.”
The emotional climate of the typical classroom is warm, safe, respectful and highly supportive. There are no scripted lessons and no quasi-martial requirements to walk in straight lines or sit up straight. As one Chinese student-teacher studying in Finland marveled to me, “In Chinese schools, you feel like you're in the military. Here, you feel like you're part of a really nice family.” She is trying to figure out how she can stay in Finland permanently.
In the United States, teachers are routinely degraded by politicians, and thousands of teacher slots are filled by temps with six or seven weeks of summer training. In Finland teachers are the most trusted and admired professionals next to doctors, in part because they are required to have master's degrees in education with specialization in research and classroom practice.
“Our mission as adults is to protect our children from politicians,” one Finnish childhood education professor told me. “We also have an ethical and moral responsibility to tell businesspeople to stay out of our building.” In fact, any Finnish citizen is free to visit any school whenever they like, but her message was clear: Educators are the ultimate authorities on education, not bureaucrats, and not technology vendors.
Skeptics might claim that the Finnish model would never work in America's inner-city schools, which instead need boot-camp drilling and discipline, Stakhanovite workloads, relentless standardized test prep and screen-delivered testing.
But what if the opposite is true?
What if high-poverty students are the children most urgently in need of the benefits that, for example, American parents of means obtain for their children in private schools, things that Finland delivers on a national public scale — highly qualified, highly respected and highly professionalized teachers who conduct personalized one-on-one instruction; manageable class sizes; a rich, developmentally correct curriculum; regular physical activity; little or no low-quality standardized tests and the toxic stress and wasted time and energy that accompanies them; daily assessments by teachers; and a classroom atmosphere of safety, collaboration, warmth and respect for children as cherished individuals?
Why should high-poverty students deserve anything less?
One day last November, when the first snow came to my part of Finland, I heard a commotion outside my university faculty office window, which is close to the teacher training school's outdoor play area. I walked over to investigate.
The field was filled with children savoring the first taste of winter amid the pine trees. My son was out there somewhere, but the children were so buried in winter clothes and moving so fast that I couldn't spot him. The noise of children laughing, shouting and singing as they tumbled in the fresh snow was close to deafening.
“Do you hear that?” asked the recess monitor, a special education teacher wearing a yellow safety smock.
“That,” she said proudly, “is the voice of happiness.”
William Doyle is a 2015-2016 Fulbright scholar and a lecturer on media and education at the University of Eastern Finland. His latest book is “PT 109: An American Epic of War, Survival and the Destiny of John F. Kennedy.”
No question, doctors and patients are now joining the vitamin D revolution in large numbers. More and more doctors are ordering tests to determine vitamin D blood levels and more patients are reading about the positive benefits of vitamin D in news reports. There have been more than 3,000 published studies and reports involving vitamin D listed at the National Library of Medicine in just the past 14 months.
Now, pediatricians at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore say all children need to be screened for vitamin D deficiency. This means vitamin D is going big time.
What's the vitamin D revolution about and why should you join it? It's about the rediscovery of a sun-made vitamin-hormone that was first recognized in 1922 to avert bone softening in children, what is called rickets.
Overlooked at that time was the fact that most vitamin D-deficient children with rickets had impaired immune systems. Only recently have researchers begun to investigate the role of vitamin D in maintaining an optimal immune response. In particular, vitamin D activates an army of white blood cells called neutrophils, which represent 50-70 percent of the total white blood cell volume and are the first responders to any infection in the body.
Vitamin D for colds and flu
Dr. John Cannell, founder of The Vitamin D Council, has noted that seasonal bouts of the flu and winter colds are not spread from person to person as commonly believed. Colds and the flu do not progress from town to town, and an individual in a family may come down with a viral infection while others remain healthy. Nor are colds "caught" by being out in chilly weather. In fact, medical literature points to the wintertime cold and flu season as simply a downturn in human immunity as vitamin D levels drop due to the diminished intensity of the sun combined with more time spent indoors as the outdoor temperature becomes chilly.
A relatively recent study found just 800-2,000 international units (IU) of supplemental vitamin D, by weight just 20-400 micrograms, reduced wintertime cold symptoms from 30 in 104 subjects given an inactive placebo tablet to just nine in 104 subjects given vitamin D. That is quite a striking difference.
Modern medicine is agonizingly slow in providing conclusive evidence as to whether vitamin D is the big antidote to the common cold and wintertime viral infections. But your family doesn't have to wait; vitamin D is relatively inexpensive, and concerns about overdosing are poorly-founded.
The biggest concern among doctors is that mega-dose vitamin D will cause a condition called hyper-calcification. But it takes about a million units of vitamin Dfor this to occur in healthy adults. Intake of 40 1,000-unit vitamin D pills a day would be required to produce toxicity in an adult.
Our family isn't waiting for more science. My wife and I began taking 5,000-8,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily, and we have found at the first sign of a runny-nose cold we take 50,000 IU of vitamin D3 and our cold symptoms usually subside within minutes. That much vitamin D may seem to be problematic, but physicians inject 300,000 IU among postmenopausal females for wintertime bone protection without side effect.
Putting vitamin D into practice
Recently, our 7-year-old son began to develop symptoms of a cold and an earache. We started with 5,000 IU of chewable vitamin D and then gave another 5,000 IU a few minutes later. Our son was also given some elderberry syrup, reported to be helpful for the flu, along with some vitamin C. We soaked Q-tips in hydrogen peroxide and placed them in his ear canals to kill off germs and then instilled an herbal ear drop that provided garlic oil. Within a short time the earache and other symptoms were gone.
This regimen continued for about three days as symptoms began to reappear upon awakening in the morning -- that is, until our son was given his vitamin D. He didn't miss a day of school and no doctor's office visits for antibiotics were required. Special note: If earache symptoms persist, don't be so stubbornly committed to self-doctoring that you allow your child to suffer permanent hearing loss.
When our son was about 2.5 years of age he awoke in the middle of the night crying with a fever of 101.8 degrees Fahrenheit. We broke up vitamin D tablets, mixed them with water and instilled about 5,000 IU in a bulb syringe orally. Within minutes he began to shake with the chills, a sign his fever was breaking. Within 15 minutes he was sound asleep in his bed.
The vitamin D revolution is underway, and it has promise for addressing many maladies, including childhood food and peanut allergies, for pregnant women to reduce the risk of lower respiratory tract infections, wheezing and asthma in their offspring, and for tonsillitis, just to mention a few of its many applications. Learn to use vitamin D for your whole family and they will really call you Doctor Mom. To learn more, I've written a free family guide to vitamin D, available here.