'The Big Bang Theory's' Mayim Bialik Uses Science To Explain Why Spanking Kids Is Ineffective

"We have laws protecting, defending, and justifying hitting a child. It makes no sense."

You might know Mayim Bialik from her roles on The Big Bang Theory and Blossom, but the talented actress is also a trained neuroscientist, passionate activist, observant Jew, founder of the online community Grok Nation, and a mother. Bialik has her own YouTube channel that she uses to vlog about a variety of topics such as divorce, DNA, and why the language we use when we talk about women matters.  


Recently, she used the platform to tackle the topic of hitting kids as a form of parental discipline. In the video, Bialik makes a strong argument against the practice.

One reason parents choose to use hitting their kids as a disciplinary measure is because they believe it works. But Bialik argues this is merely a short-term solution for stopping unwanted behavior that doesn't benefit children in the long run. 

"Animals generally seek out pleasure and avoid plain. That's called the pleasure principle," she explained. "When any animal experiences a strong, aversive, or negative stimulus, such as a smack, hit, or even a punch, the brain quickly learns to avoid the source of that pain in the future. This tends to be very efficient. Once you hurt a child, they will seek to avoid having that pain again. So essentially hitting teaches avoidance, rather than obedience."

While spanking may not have a lasting impact on some children, Bialik explains that hitting can have "a tremendous impact on their brain and on their psyche" because of their brain chemistry or personalities. 

"Hitting these children can be traumatizing for them even if you don't think it should be, and there's no way to know by looking at a child which reaction they're going to have," Bialik said. "A child may be impacted forever by being hit and you can think all you want that they shouldn't have that reaction, but you can't control it. It's science." 

And she's right. "Many studies have shown that physical punishment — including spanking, hitting and other means of causing pain — can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems for children," according to the American Psychological Association

Bialik goes on to make a great point about how being physically hurt by a loved one makes no more sense to a child than it does to an adult. "You can't hit your spouse. you can't hit your student, you can't hit a stranger, you can't even hit your dog," she said. "Yet, we have laws protecting, defending, and justifying hitting a child. It makes no sense and it's time to stop pretending it does."

There are many different reasons people look to physical punishment as a form of discipline for their children. For one, some parents lose their patience. For another, cultural roots may be the cause. 

Bialik points out that some people use The Bible as justification for this disciplinary measure. "I know that The Bible says, 'He who spares the rod hates the child.' That's actually a quote from Proverbs," she said. "But have you never heard of hyperbole? Or historical context? In Biblical times, it was also totally a thing to throw stones at a disobedient son, so let's not use the Bible as our parenting guide for the 21st Century."

Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has been studying corporal punishment for 15 years, told CNN that children who experience physical punishment are more likely to spank their own kids. In addition, she revealed that research shows spanking is more common among African Americans than among other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. 

"There are people who say it might be a legacy of slavery, which is a very sad thing to think about, but it's possible that having lived for centuries with a culture of violence being kind of (used) against them that they kind of keep it going unfortunately," she said. 

Factors such as a parent's age, education level, and income can also play a huge role in whether or not people decide to use this form of discipline. Younger parents, parents with lower levels of education, and those with lower income levels are more likely to turn to physical punishment for their children. 

But even though these tactics may be rooted in race, culture, and social status, parents can learn to make different decisions to prevent bad behavior. In her video, Bialik offers some alternative forms of discipline such as setting and enforcing boundaries by taking privileges or objects away, consistently saying the answer is "no" to whining, and using a very stern voice for children who are old enough to understand. 

For other resources on discipling children and fostering a compassionate relationship with them, Bialik encourages people to check out Bring Out the Best


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