Monday, April 12, 2010

New bogus spanking study

The pediatricians have a new study on spanking:
According to the study, kids who were spanked often were twice as likely as those who weren't spanked to develop aggressive behaviors such as getting into fights, destroying things or being mean to others. ...

"Causality is extremely difficult to prove," Taylor told Reuters Health. Still, she added, "the evidence is at a point where we want to encourage parents to use techniques other than spanking that can actually lower children's risk for being more aggressive." ...
The study only claims 1.49 times as likely, not twice as likely. I think that it is funny that "aggressive" is used to be synonymous with bad. Aggression is not necessarily bad.
"The evidence is clear that spanking does lead to aggression," psychologist Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, who was not involved in the new study, told Reuters Health in an e-mail. ...

Despite the opinion of professional societies, surveys show that as many as 90 percent of parents spank their children. Taylor encourages parents to talk to a pediatrician about how to better control their toddlers if they use this type of punishment.

"Children need guidance and discipline," said Taylor. "However, parents should focus on positive, non-physical forms of discipline and avoid the use of spanking."
So 90% of parents are doing something wrong? It is much more likely that their study is wrong. They should try to figure out how 90% of parents could be wrong before jumping to conclusions.

Here is the study:
Objective The goal was to examine the association between the use of corporal punishment (CP) against 3-year-old children and subsequent aggressive behavior among those children.

Methods Respondents (N = 2461) participated in the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (1998–2005), a population-based, birth cohort study of children born in 20 large US cities. Maternal reports of CP, children's aggressive behaviors at 3 and 5 years of age, and a host of key demographic features and potential confounding factors, including maternal child physical maltreatment, psychological maltreatment, and neglect, intimate partner aggression victimization, stress, depression, substance use, and consideration of abortion, were assessed.
Wow, that is a bizarre list of factors. So they tried to consider whether the parent was spanking the child because of an earlier consideration of abortion? Or whether the child was misbehaving because the dad was beating the mom?

All these factors make the study sound scientific, but ultimately they were just asking the mom whether the child was misbehaving, and asking whether she spanked the child. They found a correlation between misbehavior and spanking, as reported by the mom. This should not be surprising. Presumably the moms said that they spanked as punishment for the misbehavior.

But the study just found a correlation, and cannot determine whether the misbehavior caused the spanking, or the spanking caused the misbehavior. The researchers have chosen to interpret the results as the spanking causing the misbehavior. Such a conclusion might be valid if the misbehavior were predictable from all those other factors, but it is not, of course.

The study concludes:
Conclusions Despite American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations to the contrary, most parents in the United States approve of and have used CP as a form of child discipline. The current findings suggest that even minor forms of CP, such as spanking, increase risk for increased child aggressive behavior. Importantly, these findings cannot be attributed to possible confounding effects of a host of other maternal parenting risk factors.
Note the weasel words. The study definitely does not show that spanking increases aggressive behavior. So they say that the study suggests an increase in risk. By risk, they mean the chance that the study analysis is correct.

The AAP is an anti-spanking organization, and I am surprised that this the best anti-spanking evidence that they can find. As far as I know, there is no proof that any other form of child discipline works better than spanking.

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