(CBS News, HEALTHDAY) – Parents who spank unruly children may not know it, but they are participating in a vicious cycle that will lead to both more spankings and more misbehavior in coming years, a new study suggests.
Researchers wanted to resolve the age-old “chicken-and-egg” question that surrounds the issue of physical discipline in childhood — do spankings promote aggression in children, or do naturally aggressive children simply receive more spankings as parents try to control their behavior?
The answer is yes to both, said study author Michael MacKenzie, an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work in New York City.
Across a child’s first decade of life, current spankings will lead to future misbehavior — but current misbehavior also will lead to future spankings, the investigators found.
“You can think of it as an escalating arms race, where the parent gets more coercive and the child gets more aggressive, and they get locked into this cycle,” MacKenzie said. “These processes can get started really early, and when they do there’s a lot of continuity over time.”
The findings are based on almost 1,900 families from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. That’s a decade-old research project conducted by researchers at Columbia and Princeton universities involving children born in 20 large American cities between 1998 and 2000.
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