Real-time audio of spanking shows kids misbehave within 10 minutes

A new study based on real-time audio recordings of parents practicing corporal punishment discovered that spanking was far more common than parents admit, that children were hit for trivial misdeeds and that children then misbehaved within 10 minutes of being punished.

Advocates of corporal punishment have outlined best practices for responsible spanking. But real-time audio from this study revealed that parents fail to follow the guidelines, said psychologist George Holden, who is lead author on the study and a parenting and child development expert at Southern Methodist University, Dallas.

The real-time audio interactions revealed that parents were not always calm, as the guidelines recommend, but instead were often angry when they spanked or hit their child; they didn’t spank as a last resort; and they gave spankings for minor infractions, not just serious misbehavior. And while many spanking advocates recommend hitting children no more than twice, parents in the audio recordings were slapping and hitting their children more often.

“From the audio, we heard parents hitting their children for the most extraordinarily mundane offenses, typically violations of social conventions,” Holden said. “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.”

Parents who used corporal punishment in the audio commonly violated three of the six “use” guidelines the researchers examined: Spank infrequently, use it only for serious misbehavior, and only as a last resort.

“The recordings show that most parents responded either impulsively or emotionally, rather than being intentional with their discipline,” said Holden, who favors humane alternatives to corporal punishment.

The findings are reported in “Eavesdropping on the Family: A Pilot Investigation of Corporal Punishment in the Home,” which was published online April 15 at by the American Psychological Association before it appears in a final print and online issue of Journal of Family Psychology.

Parents agreed to wear tape recorders to capture home interactions
The unique recordings captured parent and child interactions in 33 families over the course of four to six evenings. Parents volunteered to wear the recorders; most were mothers who were home with their children after a day’s work. The recordings captured 41 instances of corporal punishment, mainly during everyday activities such as fixing supper and bathing children.

More than 80 percent of the moms were married and had completed more education than the general population. About 60 percent were white and worked outside the home, and their children averaged just shy of 4 years old.

In 90 percent of the incidents, noncompliance was the immediate cause, such as sucking fingers, eating improperly, getting out of a chair, and going outside without permission. In 49 percent of the incidents, the parent sounded angry prior to spanking or hitting. On average, less than 30 seconds elapsed from the time when parents initiated nonviolent discipline to when they used corporal punishment. In 30 of the 41 incidents, the children misbehaved again within 10 minutes of being hit or spanked. The youngest child hit was 7 months old. One mother hit her child 11 times in a row.

Most remarkably, the researchers noted an unusual finding: The rate of corporal punishment exceeded estimates in other studies, which relied on parents self-reporting. Those studies found that American parents of a 2-year-old typically report they spank or slap about 18 times a year.

“The average rate we observed using the real-time audio equates to an alarming 18 times a week,” said Holden, a professor in the SMU Department of Psychology who has carried out extensive research on spanking.

Holden co-authored the study with Paul A. Williamson and Grant W.O. Holland, also of SMU. Funding for the study was provided by the nonprofit Timberlawn Psychiatric Research Foundation, Dallas.

“Although spanking advocates may acknowledge these incidents as inappropriate use of corporal punishment, evidence indicates that mothers who report their child gets spanked are also more likely to report physical abuse of that child,” the authors noted.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.


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4 thoughts on “Real-time audio of spanking shows kids misbehave within 10 minutes”

  1. What shocks me to the core is that parents use spanking so frequently and often for the most trivial of matters. In addition, the fact that in 49% of the incidents the parent was angry prior to the spanking, leads me to believe that parents are using their children as “punch bags” to release the day’s frustration. This is absolute abuse and may have emotional implications for the child in later life.

    I believe that if you give your child your attention and teach them right from wrong at an early stage, then disciple should not be a very big issue. Of course, if a child’s behaviour becomes out of control and after reasoning, stern warnings and scolding fail, a spanking could be highly effective, this of course being the last resort as my fellow students have pointed out. In this manner, the child will see a spanking as the ultimate punishment, something they fear of getting close too. Frequent spanking on the other hand, leads to children not fearing the punishment, but rebelling against it.

    As for the more trivial things, children thrive upon attention, and these quirks are mostly in hope of achieving that attention. Parents should get by by acknowledging the child and calmly instructing them to stop. Instead of spanking, one should try maybe encouraging good behaviour by rewarding the child or stating that you are proud of them when they are good. This will indicate to them that it is in fact good and not bad behaviour that is the key to the parent’s attention.

    This of course, requires time and patients and since 49% of the mothers work, this becomes difficult. I have nothing against mothers working, but a balance is necessary.

    How does one expect one’s child to listen to them when they are never around to listen to the child?

  2. One of the major problems with spanking and corporal punishment, as seen in the article, is that parents often do not know when to draw the line – they spank their children for minor things, and they do not use corporal punishment as a last resort, as well as being angry or emotional while giving out the punishment.

    According to an article on, studies cannot prove that spanking is associated with behavioural problems later in life, increased aggression or or adolescent depression, so there is clearly no effect on the child. The question is, does it work?

    Many parents find that spanking, as a last resort, with an older child is actually effective – perhaps more effective than other methods of punishment.I personally have been spanked once or twice when I was younger, and I never repeated what I had done wrong. The reason why I never repeated what I had done wrong is because I knew that it was something serious – serious enough to receive physical punishment for it. Used in extreme moderation, corporal punishment does seem to work, but I do believe that several parents use it far to often, as seen in the article. There are many, many other ways to discipline a child – communication, for one – and I believe that these should be used above anything else for punishment.

  3. Typing “Corporal punishment at home” into Google, you will not find a single article on the benefits thereof. This article however, just points to the fact that parents will not reap the benefits of disciplining their children, due to violating those three of the six guidelines the researchers examined.

    Many argue that corporal punishment is a form of abuse. Looking at the statistics that 90 percent of spankings took place due to children doing nothing more than sucking their fingers, I have to agree. However, if parents simply follow the guidelines stated “Spank infrequently, use it only for serious misbehaviour, and only as a last resort.”, a hiding can be an excellent way to discipline your child and convey the message that their behaviour is not acceptable.

    I agree with M Mkhombo 14065356 in the sense that corporal punishment should be used as a last resort. I believe a child will sometimes respond to a stern talking to. In some cases however, especially if a child is being disrespectful, a smack on the bottom will work wonders.

  4. We are an advanced species, far more advanced and developed than our primate ancestors. Now corporal punishment, was not created recently in the human race, but originates from the beginning of the homo sapiens (human) race, before proper verbal language was developed. And if any member of society had ‘misbehaved’, there would be corporal punished, practiced, to correct the wrong done.

    Right now in our time language has developed excessively, due to evolution, whereby the realization process of wrong doing, as parents need to understand, has changed. Thus should the strategy of correction change. Modern humans have developed and rely heavily on more intimate and intense emotions, which is how our babies are born.

    The only way to effectively teach, correct and direct our children is basically through a more firm and composed manner rather than a smack or a hiding. Children, at this point in the evolution timeline, recall and relate more to emotion than physical pain, just as we have all developed to do. In accordance with the article I say parents should try refrain from corporal punishment at all times, unless it is the utmost last resort.

    Thank You.


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