Doesn't Gershoff's study in 2002 show spanking leads to aggression?


I just read some of your Questions and Answers. We have a family in our church who is seriously set on frequent spanking using tools, e.g. a belt. Now I was wondering what God (and the Bible) says about it. You seem to name relevant passages of the Bible properly. But I think the interpretation of the Bible has to be done by a historic-analyzing approach. Well, that's my opinion.

But your statement, "... (and no real modern-day studies) to the idea that properly administered spankings lead to aggression" is simply WRONG! There is lot of such research, eg. Thompson 2002 (see below for details).

I don't say corporal punishment is right or wrong, but the statement above is definitive WRONG! Or did I get it wrong?

Hope you can clear this out for me.

(Thompson Gershoff, Elizabeth (2002): Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review, In: Psychological Bulletin 128, 4:539-544


I read through the study you cited. Actually it isn't a true study, Gershoff used meta-analyses, which is a far weaker case. Meta-analyses attempts to take the raw data from other studies and use the combined data to derive new conclusions, even though the studies used did not address the particular topic the author is interested in examining. The author even admits this weakness: "Despite the inability of meta-analyses to yield definitive causal conclusions (Cooper & Hedges, 1994), they do constitute an effective means of establishing whether the associations of interest are present and thus pave the way for further research into causal mechanisms." Notice the author admits that her study cannot prove cause. It can only indicate a possible association which would require a true study to actually prove.

Another flaw that the author admits in her meta-analyses is that the studies being used are single point measurements. "It is important to acknowledge at the outset that the majority of
studies examining links between parental corporal punishment and child behaviors and experiences measure both constructs at the same point in time, thus preventing any conclusions about causality." In other words, they looked at a child's current behavior and ask how the child was raised. This has a tendency to introduce bias in what was remembered in the raising of the child. An accurate study would look at what was being done, or ask that certain things be done, predict the results and then measure the actual results at a later point in time.

The final flaw mentioned by the author is that spanking, as a rule is rarely used by most parents, and usually most often when a child is less than five years old. But the studies dealt with teenagers, and thus was asking parents to remember how often and how severely they punished their child over a long period of time. Few people's memories are that accurate, which then creates a potential for bias. Parents of a good child would tend to recall that they rarely had any problems and rarely spanked. Parents of a bad child would remember that they spanked frequently and it didn't seem to help. Neither are likely to be totally accurate memories.

The author starts out stating, "Although the merits of parents using corporal punishment to discipline children have been argued for decades, ..." The statement is misleading. Corporal punishment has been argued against for centuries. I've read material against it dating all the way back to the 1800's and I'm sure it did originate then either.

What is lacking in most studies is a distinction between proper discipline using corporal punishment and abuse. The author, to her credit, admits the problem: "A frequent criticism of research on corporal punishment is that nonabusive corporal punishment is often confounded with harmful and abusive behaviors, thus preventing conclusions about the effects of everyday spanking (Larzelere, 2000; Baumrind, 1996a)." She also admits her bias: "For the purposes of this article, I consider physical abuse to be
a potential outcome of corporal punishment." She attempts to eliminate the most obvious abusive punishments, and narrowed her scope, "Behaviors that do not result in significant physical injury (e.g., spank, slap) are considered corporal punishment, whereas behaviors that risk injury (e.g., punching, kicking, burning) are considered physical abuse." And here we already depart ways. I don't condone the slapping of children. Controlled spanking is the only thing taught in the Scriptures.

What I find particularly troubling is that Gershoff included a number of Straus's studies, but these studies have been reported as being poorly done and heavily biased against any form of spanking by including abusive action as just another form of corporal punishment.

Since cause cannot be dectected by a meta-analyses, this means the researcher is not able to distinguish a very fundamental and important question: Does spanking cause problem teens or do problem children end up getting more spankings which didn't completely stop them from becoming problem teenagers. All that was shown is that the frequency of spankings and problems as a teenager were somehow connected. Whether directly, indirectly, or simply a side-effect is not known. For example, the researcher cannot tell that if a problem teen had not recieved any corporal punishment that they would have ended up worse than they already were.

Therefore, I stand by my original statement. I know of no good study which proves that spanking causes children to be more aggressive when they are teenagers. The most Gershoff's meta-analyses does is indicate that spanking and aggression would make a good study. By the way, your partial quote doesn't full shows what I said. I said, "In addition, there is no biblical support (and no real modern-day studies) to the idea that properly administered spankings lead to aggression. There are numerous studies that conclude the exact opposite of what you claim." But I do have Scriptures which says the opposite effect will result when discipline, including spanking, is properly done.

Your approach to scripture is also a false one. In fancy words you are saying that you can discount parts of the Scriptures (selection is based on your whim) by declaring them to be inapplicable to the modern era. It is the same false argument used to justify homosexuality. ("People back then didn't understand things the way we do now.") The approach is false because it assumes that the Bible is a man-made book and thus becomes outdated like any other book written by man. However, the Bible claims to be from God. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17). God doesn't change and despite modern-man's arogance, the nature of man doesn't change either. "Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after" (Ecclesiastes 1:10-11). Men have a lousy memory and record of the past and thus think that everything they currently know must have originated with them.

God has never allowed alteration of His teachings. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-10). We are not capable of altering a book from God and come out with something better. Therefore, though it is your opinion, it is a very poor opinion.

Instead of fighting God, the proper approach is to teach the parents how to discipline children God's way. They aren't doing it, your opinion and mine are worthless, but they are likely to listen to God if you will but supress your ego and let God do the teaching. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (I Peter 4:11).

First off all I would like to thank you for your swift and comprehensive response! And youíre right, the study is a meta research. I chose it because of the numerous studies cited and evaluated in it.

As I read through my last mail, I realized that it might look like Iím expressing myself in a fancy way. Furthermore I can also understand why you interpreted my statement about a historic approach to be of a poor opinion. I see two explanations about it: First off all, itís always difficult to get someoneís statement the right way if you donít know him/her and have only some written lines. Another reason are my poor language skills. Still Iím experiencing difficulties to write proper English, since this is only my third foreign language (and I donít learn them easyÖ). I apologize for the troubles caused.

I donít think that Iím that far away from your point of view. I just have much less experience and trying to broaden my knowledge about the issue. Iím currently reading Social Work, planning further studies in Human Rights but trying the same time to also get a biblical background. For my further questions I will refer to the section you named. Anyway, I still think that itís not correct to write ďand no real modern-day studiesĒ. In my opinion, it would be better to state that you donít know about any and not there arenít any. Thatís a difference, not?

Regarding the historic and contextual approach, It might be better to choose another section:

Laws Concerning Children: Deuteronomy 21:18 If a person has a stubborn, rebellious son who pays no attention to his father or mother, and they discipline him to no avail,37 21:19 his father and mother must seize him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his city. 21:20 They must declare to the elders38 of his city, ďOur son is stubborn and rebellious and pays no attention to what we say Ė he is a glutton and drunkard.Ē 21:21 Then all the men of his city must stone him to death. In this way you will purge out39 wickedness from among you, and all Israel40 will hear about it and be afraid.

This is only one among others. Do you think it is still OK to stone a child nowadays? Or how do I have to interpret this article (but if I interpret it, I use a historic and/or contextual approach rather than just reading it as it is)?

Please see:

Why We Don't Follow the Old Testament
The Old Testament, and New Testament Christians

The law you cited was one given to the nation of Israel, not to Christians. It was both a civil law for a nation as well as a religious law for the individual. As Christians we use the Old Law as example and illustration (Romans 15:4; I Corinthians 10:1-12). So if there is a law in the New Testament, such as "And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4), we can go to the Old Testament to find illustrations and instruction on how that is done. But we don't reverse the process. Thus, we are able to go to Proverbs to learn among many things the wise way to raise responsible children.

Each of the ten commandments carried death penalties for their violation. The one you cited was the penalty for violating the commandment to honor your father and mother. In the New Law, that same command is given, but the enforcement is not by a death penalty here on earth. We do see the seriousness of the crime, however, and understand that come judgment day an unrepentant rebellious son will face a death penalty in Hell. The only penalty that can be invoked by the community (the church) here on earth is withdrawal from an unrepentant sinner. Decisions regarding death penalties for other crimes is now in the hands of the civil government (Romans 13:4). The one death penalty that is a part of a covenant still in force is the one made through Noah, which requires death for the murder of a person (Genesis 9:6).

I can state with confidence that no real study concludes that spanking causes violence for two reasons: 1) I have researched it and found none up to this moment in time, and 2) since I have the correct answer supplied by God, I already know that a good study won't reach a false conclusion. The second is something a non-believer would reject, but I've seen many times poor studies claim to find an answer contrary to what God teaches only to be overturned later as being incorrect.