crying girl
© Flickr/emrank
New research published in the Journal of Family Psychology indicates not only that parents punish their children more frequently than they admit, but that the form of the punishment — spanking — is an ineffective means of behavioral modification.

The study analyzed real-time audio recordings of parents interacting with their children. The parents had been given guidelines: spank infrequently, only for serious misbehavior, and only as a last resort.

Thirty-three families were recorded for between four and six evenings, and in 90 percent of the incidents involving corporal punishment, the immediate cause was "noncompliance," such as a refusal to stop sucking fingers, eating improperly, leaving the house without asking permission. In 49 percent of the spanking incidents, the parent sounded angry prior to initiating the spanking.

"The recordings show that most parents responded either impulsively or emotionally, rather than being intentional with their discipline," lead author George Holden, a psychology professor at Southern Methodist University, said. On average, it only required 30 seconds for nonviolent discipline to escalate to corporal punishment.

"From the audio, we heard parents hitting their children for the most extraordinarily mundane offenses, typically violations of social conventions," Holden added. "Also, corporal punishment wasn't being used as a last resort. On average, parents hit or spanked just half a minute after the conflict began."

The recordings also revealed that children resumed misbehaving within 10 minutes of being spanked in 30 of the 41 recorded incidents, or 73 percent of the time.

Most alarmingly, however, is the discrepancy between the number of times parents self-reported the use of corporal punishment in previous studies versus the number of times suggested by Holden's study. In studies which rely on parental self-reporting, the typical 2-year-old is allegedly only spanked 18 times per year.

In Holden's study, "the average rate we observed using the real-time audio equates to an alarming 18 times a week," which would put the average number of spankings per year at 936.