SMACKING kids does not work and makes them behave even worse, a landmark study has found.
A review of 20 years worth of research urged against any amount of physical harm to children.
It can lead to behavioural difficulties such as aggression, violence, and antisocial behaviour.
“There is no evidence that physical punishment is good for children,” said Professor Elizabeth Gershoff, University of Texas at Austin and senior author of the paper.
“All the evidence indicates that physical punishment is harmful to children’s development and well-being.”
The review was led by University College London and involved 69 global studies that followed children over time, mostly in the US.
Studies involved physical punishment such as spanking and excluded any punishment that could constitute child physical abuse.
Across the world, two thirds (63 per cent) of children between the ages of two and four – approximately 250 million children – regularly get smacked by their parents.
Parents may use it as a tool to keep their kids in line, “teach them a lesson” or try and stop them being naughty.
Published in The Lancet, the research paper said there were no positives found from hitting kids.
But it increased the risk that children would experience severe violence or neglect as well as behavioural problems.
The more caregivers used harm to punish their child, the greater the problems the child would have – irrespective of race, ethnicity or gender.
Prof Gershoff said: “Parents hit their children because they think doing so will improve their behaviour.
“Unfortunately for parents who hit, our research found clear and compelling evidence that physical punishment does not improve children’s behavior and instead makes it worse.”
Lead author, Dr Anja Heilmann, UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families.
“This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.”
The findings support another UCL study from January this year of 8,000 children in the UK aged between three and 14.
Those who experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as smacking and harsh parenting, had poorer outcomes than those who did not.
They were more likely to play alone, be nervous in new situations, lack confidence, worry, be downhearted or tearful.
More calls for ban in England
The research supports a United Nations statement from the Committee on the Rights of the Child, that recommended countries end the use of all types of physical punishment on children.
So far 62 countries – including Scotland and Wales – have banned hitting kids.
Experts are calling for England and Northern Ireland to follow suit, as well as all 50 states in America.
Jillian van Turnhout, co-author of the paper and a former Senator in the Irish Parliament, added: “As a former parliamentarian who championed the change in the law in Ireland and directly supported the legislative change in Scotland and Wales, I know the importance of ensuring an evidence base for policy and legislation.
“This review has documented compelling evidence that hitting children doesn’t work, and in many cases, it is harmful.
“A home should be a safe place for children, yet in many countries, the law can make it one of the most unsafe places for them.
“Countries need to do all they can to ensure that all children have equal protection from all forms of harm, including physical punishment.”
Children’s charities, including the NSPCC and Barnado’s, are in favour of an outright ban on smacking in all nations of the UK.
The Association of Educational Psychologists has also said that smacking is harmful to children’s mental health.
In England, it is legal for a carer or parent to smack their own child to what amounts to “reasonable punishment”, according to section 58 of the Children Act 2004.
However, any punishment above what is considered “reasonable” is illegal.
The problem is, some people don’t know what “reasonable punishment” means.
The age of the child and the force of the smack also being taken into account.
Any physical discipline that leaves a mark such as bruising is considered “unreasonable”.
The law is currently the same in Wales but will change in 2022 after the Welsh Assembly passed a law on banning smacking in January 2020.