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Study finds spanking can lead to abuse

A study released Monday by doctors at UNC Chapel Hill finds that parents who spank their children with an object – such as a belt, switch or paddle – are nine times more likely to abuse their child through more severe means.

Also, parents are much more likely to beat, burn or shake their children if they spank frequently, according to the study, which is being published by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

“Parents get angry when they're spanking and it's not working,” said Adam Zolotor, lead author of the study and a pediatrician at the university's Department of Family Health. “If a child gets spanked so often, they just don't care any more and will misbehave anyway.”

It's the latest finding in a growing body of research suggesting parents should use their voices, not their hands or household tools, to keep children in line. This study rests on anonymous admissions of 1,435 mothers of children from the Carolinas randomly selected to share details of the discipline they and other caregivers use in the privacy of their own homes.

Rates of abuse, the researchers found, are alarmingly high, even in a survey dependent on parents' owning up to behavior that could cost them the right to raise their children. Twelve percent of mothers who reported spanking a child's bottom with an object also admitted engaging in behavior researchers classified as physical abuse. Also, 12percent of those who spanked 50 or more times in the past year admitted abuse such as beating, burning, shaking or hitting the child with an object about their body.

Spanking has been a mainstay in American parents' discipline regimen for generations. Most national studies show that more than half of parents have spanked or slapped their child in the past year. In the UNC study, Zolotor and his colleagues found that nearly half of those Carolina parents with a child between the ages of 7 and 9 whipped their child's behind with an object in the past year.