THURSDAY, April 22, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Spanking may be losing its popularity among American parents, but new research suggests it might still be used in certain settings.
Results of a national poll conducted for C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan, show that one in five parents believe they would spank their child in some scenarios, said poll director Dr. Matthew Davis. The survey queried more than 1,500 parents about what disciplinary methods they would employ in a variety of scenarios.
By far, the most common strategies were explaining or reasoning (88 percent), taking away a privilege (70 percent) and timeouts or grounding (59 percent). Davis noted that higher rates of possible spanking were shown in some regions, and higher rates were also found in those scenarios that involved younger children.
"It was a surprise to find how few parents listed spanking and paddling. In fact, we were quite impressed that the vast majority of parents reported they would use discussion and reasoning with their children as a form of discipline, regardless of the age of the child," Davis said.
According to the poll, more parents who live in the West (31 percent) and the South (20 percent) listed spanking as a disciplinary option than those in the Midwest (16 percent) and the Northeast (6 percent.) Davis said such dramatic regional differences are likely rooted in cultural and generational trends. The results also showed spanking is more of an option with children aged 2 to 5, (30 percent); than with children aged 6 to 12, (24 percent) or those aged 13 to 17, (13 percent).
However, parents in the Mott survey answered what they thought they would do, not what they had done, noted Shawna J. Lee, co-author of a widely publicized study linking spanking and aggression that is published in the May issue of Pediatrics.
Lee, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work at Wayne State University in Detroit, has done some of her own polling on parents' spanking histories for an as-yet-unpublished paper. Her team interviewed both moms and dads and asked if they had spanked their child within the past month.
Asking the question that way garnered considerably higher numbers than was seen in the Mott survey, Lee said.
Why the disparity? Lee believes that most parents' intention not to spank -- as cited in the Mott survey -- might not pan out in the real world.
It's like saying, "'I think I'm going to go to the gym tonight' -- but if you ask me how many times I actually went to the gym this week, there's a little inconsistency," Lee said. In her opinion, "it may be losing its luster, but [spanking] is still a very common parenting behavior."
And in their Pediatrics study, Lee and her colleagues showed that 3-year-old children who were spanked two or more times the previous month had a 50 percent increased chance of being aggressive by the time they turned 5. Previous work by other researchers has also shown a link between corporal punishment and aggression.
Still, not everyone advocates for a total ban on spanking. According to Alice Sterling Honig, professor emerita in child and family studies at Syracuse University's College of Human Ecology, said that in certain cases some parents may use spanking appropriately.
"You don't spank a small child for using very inappropriate, hurtful words," she said. Instead, you get down to the child's level, look the child in the eye and explain that words hurt peoples' feelings.
But for a toddler who runs into the street after a ball, Honig said proper discipline could consist of two swats to the child's bottom, along with an explanation at eye level of "I love you, and I don't want a car to hurt you."
One thing is certain, Honig noted.
"What will work is [for parents] to build emotional, deep, loving kindness," she said. "If you don't have that, then none of those techniques will work."
There's more on spanking at the American Academy of Pediatrics.