Research by the Dunedin multidisciplinary health and development study shows children who are spanked lightly with an open hand on the bottom, hand or leg do much the same in later life as those who are not spanked, The New Zealand Herald reported today.
The study has followed 1000 children born in Dunedin in 1972-73. Later this year the findings, based on interviews when the subjects were 32-year-olds, will be published.
The project appeared to be the world’s first long-term study to separate people who had merely been spanked with an open hand, lead author of the physical punishment part of the Dunedin study psychologist Jane Millichamp said.
"Study members in the ‘spanking only’ category of punishment appeared to be particularly high-functioning and achieving members of society," she said.
In terms of aggression, substance abuse, adult convictions and school achievement, this group had "similar or even slightly better outcomes" than those who were not spanked.
Dr Millichamp said the problem with a lot of studies was that they lumped a range of physical punishments together. She said she had not found any evidence that an occasional mild smack with an open hand on the clothed behind or the leg or hand was harmful or instilled violence in children.
Dr Millichamp acknowledged this was not a popular thing to say.
The findings undermine Green MP Sue Bradford’s bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act, which allows parents to use "reasonable force" to discipline children.
Dr Millichamp said she has made a written submission to Parliament suggesting that section 59 should be retained but amended to allow smacking with an open hand.
Earlier this week, National’s Wairarapa MP John Hayes made comments endorsing the use of physical discipline on unruly teenagers.
He told a newspaper teenagers running wild "need a thick ear".
"Corporal punishment is the ideal remedy for youths running amok in public."
Mr Hayes said he received this type of punishment as a boy, and it did not do him any harm.
He said he had surveyed his electorate about two months ago and about 68 per cent of respondents were not supportive of a proposed change to the Crimes Act, repealing the defence of reasonable force when smacking children.
But he denied being unsupportive of the anti-violence movement.
The section 59 repeal proposed by Green MP Sue Bradford was not supported by the majority in his community, Mr Hayes said.
Ms Bradford said she was shocked by Mr Hayes’ earlier comments.
"I don’t think it’s appropriate at all that an MP should be advocating the use of violence against young people as a means of controlling them," she said.