To smack or not to smack your children? New research has decided once and for all.

The merit of smacking children as a form of discipline has been debated for decades. Now research shows that it leads to long-term issues such as aggressive and anti-social behaviour.

It’s difficult to argue with this research, published in The Journal of Family Psychology, as researchers looked at more than 160,000 children over a 50-year period and found spanking (defined as an open-handed hit on the backside or extremities) was related to problematic behavioural habits later in life.

For example, children who were smacked were more likely to develop antisocial habits, suffer mental health problems and condone physical punishment of their own children.

“We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes,” the study’s co-author Elizabeth Gershoff from The University of Texas said in a statement.

“[Smacking] was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Gershoff worked with Andrew Grogan-Kaylor from the University of Michigan, who agreed that smacking is not only ineffective as a disciplinary measure but in fact detrimental to child behaviour.

“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children,” Grogan-Kaylor said. “Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do.”

Mia Freedman on why it is never okay to smack children… Post continues below.

According to Gershoff, this study is different to previous research in the way it looks at smacking in isolation of other potentially abusive behaviours.

However, the long-term behavioural outcomes from spanking were found to be in the same direction, and almost the same strength, as those seen in children from physically abusive households.

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” Gershoff said. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

“We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”