Spanking children: the controversies, findings, and new directions

Clin Psychol Rev. 2003 Mar;23(2):197-224. doi: 10.1016/s0272-7358(02)00206-4.


The use of spanking as a discipline technique is quite prevalent, even though whether or not to spank children is controversial among lay and professional audiences alike. Considerable research on the topic has been analyzed in several reviews of the literature that often reach different and sometimes opposite conclusions. Opposing conclusions are not inherently problematic as research develops in an area. However, we propose that both methodological limitations of the research to date as well as the limited focus of the research questions have prevented a better understanding of the impact of parental spanking on child development. The purpose of this article is to convey the basis for limited progress to date and, more importantly, to reformulate the research agenda. The goal is to move toward a resolution of the most relevant questions to parents, professionals, and policymakers. We propose an expanded research agenda that addresses the goals of parental discipline, the direct and concomitant effects of spanking, the influences that foster and maintain the use of spanking, and the processes through which spanking operates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse
  • Child Development*
  • Child Welfare*
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Policy Making
  • Public Policy
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Research Design