Beating children
All forms of physical punishment is a form of child abuseGetty Images

Spanking, or physically beating a child as a way to punish or discipline a child, is not just ineffective but has harmful long-term side effects that stretch from behavioural to mental health issues.

A new study has looked into what punishment entails and what effects it has on children. In the research, a link between physical punishment and physical abuse was drawn wherein it was found that "detrimental outcomes" for young children are actually consistent regardless the cultural, family, and neighbourhood contexts.

Physical punishment takes several forms of which spanking, or outright beating of a child is one, notes a report by psychology today. It is a common form of punishment for children around the world. While there is no set definition as to what exactly spanking entails, the end result is that a child is left in pain inflicted by an adult. The report mentions a 2012 study wherein 80 percent of a study that involved 11,000 families said that spanking is a common form of punishment in their household.

As to why children are spanked, the most common reason, they believed, was that spanking was an effective way to enforce discipline and they—the parents—were also put through similar treatment. This paper, in its study also found that 30 percent of people involved, out of about 800 respondents, believed that spanking children was not actually harmful. About 17 percent did not think that it was a problematic way to punish kids, and 14 percent were found to actually recommend spanking as a way to discipline children.

Child abuse
Do not beat children, say researchersGetty Images

Researchers found that, using available evidence—conducting and actual study on spanking by beating children is not possible—a casual link was found between spanking and negative outcomes. Importantly, there was no link found between improving behaviour and physical punishment.

Researchers even looked into the argument that spanking, to a certain extent or "up to some threshold" should be useful. Even in this case, the only link that this research was able to draw was between spanking as punishment and physical abuse. All forms of spanking are abuse in "varying degrees", notes the report.

As a result, the researchers concluded their study by pointing out the strength and consistency of links between physical punishment and negative outcomes for children. They have recommended that parents avoid physical punishment at all costs, while they go on to elaborate how psychologists should advise and advocate against it. On to policymakers, they have suggested that they should develop a means of educating the public about the harms of spanking or beating children to punish them.

The study was first published in the journal American Psychologist.