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Hard knock life: New study says spanking leads to problems

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The spanking debate just got ratcheted up another notch.

New Canadian research suggests that spanking may end up causing, rather than preventing, antisocial behaviours. The report, published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, contradicts British politicians' recent arguments that anti-smacking laws contribute to lax parenting – and social chaos such as last summer's London riots.

Canadian researchers analyzed two decades of studies on the long-term effects of physical punishment in children. They found no upside to spanking. Instead, they concluded that physical punishment puts children at risk for depression, anxiety, substance abuse and aggressive behaviour later in life.

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"We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time," lead author Joan Durrant, a clinical psychologist at the University of Manitoba, told

Nevertheless, spanking is sanctioned in Section 43 of Canada's Criminal Code, as long as it's physical punishment "of a trifling nature" done by a parent to a child aged 2 to 12.

As The Globe and Mail reported earlier, many Canadians are convinced that kids may benefit from a good smack on the rear.

The top-rated comment to The Globe article was written by a father by the name of ShakeTheTree, who explained that his 3-year-old "with a very stubborn streak" responds to spanking when all else fails. "I never spank in anger," he wrote. "I always explain ahead of time that he needs to listen to me for his safety and if he doesn't, he'll be spanked."

Others are appalled that Canadian law allows parents to strike children. "The legality of hitting your children empowers those who might take it too far," commented thelionroars.

Meanwhile, a committee to remove Section 43 is underway at Committee member Corinne Robertshaw noted in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that "trifling hits" between adults are rarely charged "and we don't need a special defence to prevent [charges]when the victim is a child." She defined discipline as "teaching through example and respect," whereas "spanking is assault. Let's stop equating the two."

But until every last parent is on side, there will always be adults who remember being spanked as kids, and say they turned out fine.

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Does research about the negative effects of physical punishment change how you feel about spanking?

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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