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Physical punishment is tied to aggression

20 January, 2014

NEW YORK: German researchers have found that a child lives in, corporal punishment may do lasting psychological harm regardless of culture.

In a new study conducted in Tanzania, where physical punishment is considered normal, primary school students who were beaten by teachers or family members in the name of discipline tended to show more behavior problems, not fewer, the researchers found.

"Parents aim to educate children through corporal punishment, but instead of learning good social behaviors, the beatings often have the opposite effect," said Tobias Hecker, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz, who led the study.

Past research, mainly in industrialized countries, has found that children and teens who experience corporal punishment may "externalize" their negative experiences in the form of bad behavior and emotional problems, Hecker and his colleagues write in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.

The majority of children, 82 percent, had been beaten with sticks, belts or other objects and 66 percent had been punched, slapped or pinched.

Nearly one-quarter of the kids had experienced punishment so severe that they were injured. Within the group, 21 percent of the boys and girls showed aggression problems through affirmative answers to questions like, "Have you ever taken things from others against their will?"

Nine percent of children had higher-than-normal levels of hyperactivity. About 11 percent of the kids showed less empathetic behavior than peers who had not experienced physical punishment. At a minimum, they note, even if that is the case, their results show that corporal punishment does not improve children's behavior. Hecker said he hopes this new study will help bring about awareness in places like Tanzania, where corporal punishment still is widespread.

"What people usually see after a spanking or beating is immediate compliance," Hecker said. "But in the long-term, they are really instilling fear in the child and children do act out of fear but not out of respect.

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