Opinion: Kelly Clarkson and spanking research

Kelly Clarkson is in the news for recently telling an Atlanta radio station that she’s “not above” spanking her 3-year-old daughter, River Rose.

Clarkson was frank about her approach to discipline, telling listeners “I’m from the South, y’all, so we get spankings” and mentioning that her parents spanked her as well.

“My parents spanked me, and I did fine in life and I feel fine about it,” Clarkson shared.

Many people are upset about Clarkson’s admission that she believes in spanking—myself included. Frankly, I found the interview to be a very hard listen. I realize that many people are still pro-spanking, but the reality is that decades of research on spanking show it to be ineffective at best, and damaging to a child’s mental health at worst.

The “Love So Soft” singer acknowledged her comments might be disturbing to some parents, but she doesn’t let other people’s opinions deter her, and the singer even went so far as to joke, “You might catch me spanking my child at the zoo.”

Clarkson also assured listeners that she doesn’t hit River hard, and says spanking has really helped her curb River’s bad behavior. (Clarkson didn’t mention whether she spanks her youngest, Remington, who turns 2 in April.)

To put it simply, spanking has been shown to have a number of disturbing side effects, including increased aggression, lower IQ, lower self-esteem , less gray matter in the brain and even an increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse.

Spanked children are even more likely to become perpetrators of domestic and dating violence later in life, according to research.

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In other words, violence begets violence, even when the person behind that violence believes that it is for the child’s own good. While Clarkson (and many other like-minded parents) certainly mean well, these studies show that their meaning is lost in translation. All the good intentions in the world can’t change the reality that when a parent hits a child, it “results in the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

Furthermore, the fact that Clarkson mentions spanking River in public is doubly concerning to me, as we know that “shaming” children with public punishments has the opposite intended effect.

Although River is still quite young, as the mother of a daughter who is almost the exact same age, I can attest to the fact that children this young can and do feel humiliation. I have seen my daughter feel embarrassed from something as simple as falling down in the grocery store, so I can only imagine the level of shame she would feel if I were to hit her in front of her friends or other bystanders.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether Clarkson opts to spank at the zoo or in the privacy of her own home. What matters is that it’s been proven time and time again that spanking doesn’t work.

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Yes, many adults who were spanked as kids turned out “fine,” but that’s not a good way to determine your parenting practices. After all, some people had parents who smoked or drank during pregnancy and lots of those children (luckily) turned out “fine.” Does that mean modern moms should smoke or drink when we know without question how damaging it is to a fetus?

Of course not. To paraphrase author Maya Angelou: “When you know better, you do better.” In other words, while many of us didn’t know before that spanking was a bad idea, we do now. We have the research. We have the testimony of so many children and adults who have bravely spoken out about this practice. We know better now. And we can do better.

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Many of us have heard the old line “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” but here’s the thing: Choosing not to spank your kids doesn’t mean you choose not to discipline your kids. It’s just the opposite. When you take physical punishment and shaming off the table, you force yourself to become a more mindful and conscious parent. It’s easy to swat your child on the bottom when she is being testy and combative. It’s much harder to keep from lashing out, to remind yourself that YOU are in control, and that you can remain unruffled by her behavior while responding to the situation with empathy and firmness.

One resource that has been invaluable to me on my parenting journey has been the work of parenting expert Janet Lansbury. Just listening to her Unruffled podcast instantly helps me to get centered and realize that I am in control, and that I am not a victim of my child’s behavior. Whether it’s temper tantrums, sharing, bedtime battles or dinnertime drama, she offers solutions which are simple, effective and best of all, require no violence.

Her books Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame are must-reads for anyone who is looking to practice gentle parenting and abolish spanking from their home.

You can also turn to online resources like Positive Parenting and Aha! Parenting.

I think mom, actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik put it best when she said, “Being hurt by someone who says they love you makes no more sense to a child than it does to an adult.”

After all, if your spouse hit you, but said they did it because they loved you and because it was for your own good, would you accept that justification? Hopefully not. Although smaller than us, children are the same as adults when it comes to their need for security, respect and bodily autonomy.

Hitting isn’t discipline. It’s just pain. It doesn’t teach, elevate or educate our children. Of all the studies conducted on spanking in the last two decades, not one shows a positive long-term outcome. Instead, most show how truly destructive this form of “discipline” is.

We know better. Let’s do better.

We want to hear from you: What do you think about spanking as a form of discipline?

This story originally appeared on Simplemost. Checkout Simplemost for other great tips and ideas to make the most out of life.