ADHD News & Research

APA: Spanking Can Impair Kids’ Mental Health

The American Psychological Association (APA) joins an ever-expanding roster of public health organizations that condemn corporal punishment, citing extensive research that demonstrates its harm to children’s mental health and aggression.

February 19, 2019

Physical discipline is still legal – and utilized – in 19 states across America. This is true despite a statement issued last year by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advising against spanking and harsh verbal punishment. Corporal punishment is not only ineffective, the AAP said, but there is evidence that it can increase aggression in children over time and damage a growing brain.

This week, the American Psychological Association (APA) – an organization representing nearly 115,700 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students – echoed the AAP’s call to end physical discipline of children by parents and other caregivers. At its meeting, the APA adopted a new “Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children by Parents,1” based on a broad review of scientific literature. The resolution advocates strongly against spanking and corporal punishment, saying it is associated with:

  • Increased risk for harm to children’s mental health
  • Increased risk to cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development
  • Adverse outcomes across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups across community contexts

The APA further concludes that the harm outweighs any potential short-term improvement in behavior, and children who are physically punished are more likely to be aggressive in the future. Disciplining with spanking, smacking, or hitting only teaches children that hitting is an appropriate way to resolve conflict – not the message that most parents want to impart. And, physical discipline can easily escalate to physical child abuse.

What form of discipline does work?

The APA resolution says “positive parenting” techniques like praise, positive reinforcement, and structured consequences that model “orderly, predictable behavior, respectful communication, and collaborative conflict resolution” are more effective for encouraging good behavior and nurturing a supportive family environment.

With this statement, the APA commits to raising public awareness and educating caregivers on the dangers of physical discipline alongside the effectiveness of alternative behavioral techniques. “The use of physical punishment on children has been declining in the United States over the past 50 years,” said APA President Rosie Phillips Davis, Ph.D. in a press release. “We hope that this resolution will make more parents and caregivers aware that other forms of discipline are effective and even more likely to result in the behaviors they want to see in their children.”


1 APA Committee on Children, Youth and Families. “Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children By Parents.” From the American Psychological Association Policy Statement, 5 February 2018.