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SALT LAKE CITY -- Could spanking really make your child stupid? A new study out of the University of New Hampshire didn't say spanking causes a low IQ, but it did find this correlation: the more a child is spanked, the lower his IQ.
Heidi Baker, director of the Child and Family Development Center at the University of Utah, wasn't surprised. She's familiar with Murray Straus's other research projects, including a study linking aggression in children to spanking.
"Contrary to what most people believe," she says, "spanking is really a traumatic experience for most children."
That statement may be significant because of past research showing adverse affects on the brain from traumatic stress.
TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK?
But what about genetics? Wouldn't parents with a low IQ be more likely to have children with a low IQ, whether they spank or not?
Baker says you have to take that into account. "There is a huge, you know, genetic component to IQ," she says.
Straus believes his methodology rules out other factors such as the socioeconomic status of the parents. He and research partner Mallie Paschall of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation studied more than 800 children between the ages of 2 and 4, and more than 700 children between the ages of 5 and 9. They tested the kids' IQs both at the beginning of the study and again four years later.
Both groups of kids improved their IQs after the four years, but the 2 to 4-year-old children who were spanked scored five points lower than those who weren't. And the 5 to 9-year-old children who were spanked averaged 2.8 points lower than their non-spanked peers.
Straus says the results held true even after taking the parents' education and income into account, as well as things that could affect the children's abilities.
SPANKING VS. TIME-OUTS AND OTHER METHODS
Baker says while we may never know for sure whether spanking leads to dumber children, she's intrigued by Straus's research and what it means.
She believes spanking is an ineffective means for changing behavior anyway, describing it as an answer for right now, but not later.
"Spanking is a quick fix," she says, "but if it's so effective, why do we have to keep doing it?"
She went on to say parents who take the time to talk with their kids about the choices they've made have more long-term success with molding their behavior. She said it may be that kind of parenting style that stimulates cognition and development in a way that spanking can't.
"Then we're depriving them of learning opportunities," she said of spanking, "and we're depriving them of kind of independent thinking."
By the same token, Baker says even the tried and tested "time out" can be ineffective if children don't know why they're in time out, or parents don't take the time to explain it to them.
She says there are plenty of other methods that just work better. "Redirecting children, giving children choices, stating things in a positive way -- noticing when they're doing something good."
Straus is presenting his study results Friday at the 14th International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, in San Diego. You'll find more information about his work at the University of New Hampshire here.