As Kelly Clarkson talks spanking her kids, what are the long-term effects of physically disciplining children?

Stock picture of Kelly Clarkson who has previously discussed spanking her children. (Getty Images)
Kelly Clarkson has previously discussed spanking her children. (Getty Images)

Smacking is a contentious issue for parents and the subject is making headlines once again due to the re-emergence of an interview with Kelly Clarkson admitting to spanking her kids.

In recent weeks, the UK government rejected calls to ban physical punishment of children. And it appears it isn't alone in this view. Speaking on Atlanta Radio station 94.1 in 2018, the singer, 41, shared: "I'm not above a spanking, which people aren't necessarily into.

"I don't mean hitting her hard, I just mean a spanking.

“I’m like, ‘Hi, I’m gonna spank you on your bottom if you don’t stop right now. Like, this is ridiculous.'”

Talking about her own childhood, the American Idol star, who co-parents two children with her ex husband Brandon Blackstock, added: "My parents spanked me, and I did fine in life, and I feel fine about it, and I do that as well."

She went on to acknowledge that the discipline style isn't for all parents: "That's a tricky thing, when you're out in public, because then people are like, they think that's wrong or something, but I find nothing wrong with a spanking."

Smacking: a divisive issue?

The question of whether it is ever acceptable to smack a child remains highly divisive.

In England, the government rebutted calls to ban physical punishment of children in the country, saying they are already protected in law.

In Wales, Scotland and Jersey any type of corporal punishment, including smacking, hitting, slapping, and shaking is illegal.

In England and Northern Ireland, however, it is legal for a carer or parent to discipline their child physically if it is a "reasonable" punishment.

However, any punishment over what is considered "reasonable" is illegal. The Children Act 2004 says it is unlawful to assault a child causing actual or grievous bodily harm, or with child cruelty.

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Smacking children is a divisive issue. (Getty Images)
Smacking children is a divisive issue. (Getty Images)

According to Citizen's Advice Bureau if the violence used by parents is severe enough to leave a mark, for example a scratch or a bruise, they can be prosecuted for assault or the child can be taken into local authority care.

Despite calls by children's charities to follow Wales and Scotland and ban smacking in the remaining UK countries, the government maintains that parents in England should be trusted to discipline their children.

Commenting on the government's recent rejection of the potential ban on smacking, a Department for Education spokesperson said: "The government does not condone any violence towards children and has clear laws in place to prevent it."

But NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless argues: "It cannot be right that in this country it is illegal to hit an adult, but equal protection is not given to a child.

"We need put the wellbeing of children first and bring an end to this legal anomaly."

In the US, according to an NBC News report, corporal punishment is legal in all 50 US states. However, as in the UK state statutes generally indicate that the physical punishment must be “reasonable” or “not excessive.”

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What parents say about smacking

According to figures from Unicef, close to 300 million (three in four) children aged between two and four worldwide experience violent discipline and 250 million (around six in 10) are punished by physical means.

But more than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child. In a YouGov poll of nearly 3,000 adults commissioned by the NSPCC, 68% said they felt that physically disciplining a child, for example by smacking them, was unacceptable.

The research, released last year following Wales' abolishment of “reasonable chastisement” as a defence for hitting children, revealed that the public in England are largely in agreement with changing the law on the issue too.

Almost two third of those quizzed (64%) stated they believe the law should be changed so that children have the same legal protections against assault as adults.

The polling also highlighted a lack of clarity about the law on physical punishment, with 58% thinking it was illegal to smack your child, while 20% knew it was still legal and 22% did not know either way.

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Research on smacking

It seems the main argument against the banning of smacking is based on respecting parents’ rights.

Last year, Nadhim Zahawi, then the education secretary, claimed he did not believe the state should be "nannying" parents about how to bring up their children.

“My very strong view is that actually we have got to trust parents on this, and parents being able to discipline their children is something that they should be entitled to do,” the then minister told Times Radio.

“We have got to just make sure we don’t end up in a world where the state is nannying people about how they bring up their children.”

Two thirds of parents are in favour of a ban on smacking in England. (Getty Images)
Two thirds of parents are in favour of a ban on smacking in England. (Getty Images)

But child protection groups share the view that the decision on whether to ban smacking should be based on what is best for the child rather than the parent.

They point to psychological research as a source of information on whether smacking is good or bad for children.

University College London recently analysed 20 years of research on the topic alongside a team of international experts and concluded that any form of physical punishment was harmful to children and had no benefit.

The research showed that it did not improve children’s behaviour and, in fact, increased behavioural difficulties, such as aggression and anti-social behaviour.

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Children who are physically punished are also at increased risk of being subjected to more severe violence, the research found.

Dr Anja Heilmann, University College of London Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Having reviewed 20 years of research on physical punishment, we can unequivocally say that the evidence is clear: physical punishment is harmful to children’s development and wellbeing.”

“There is no evidence that it has any positive outcomes whatsoever. We also know that in countries where it is no longer legal, support for physical punishment has declined dramatically, and its use is much less common.”

Further research from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan using data on more than 150,000 children over a 50-year period also linked spanking to aggression, antisocial behaviour, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem and other negative outcomes.

Additional reporting PA.