Teenagers who were disciplined with smacking between the ages of two to six tend to do better at school than those who were never smacked, a study has found.
They were also more likely to feel good about the future and to undertake voluntary work.
The research undermines claims that smacking young children might damage their development.
The author of the research, Prof Marjorie Gunnoe of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said: “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data”.
The study revealed superior or equal scores across a range of social indicators for those disciplined by smacking between the ages of two and six, compared to those who had never been smacked.
However, young people who were still being smacked as teenagers scored worse on most indicators.
Prof Gunnoe speculates that parents who rule out smacking as a matter of principle may be less likely to help their children develop the self-discipline and social skills needed to succeed in life.
A spokeswoman for Parents Outloud, Margaret Morrissey, welcomed Prof Gunnoe’s research. She said: “It is very difficult to explain verbally to a young child why something they have done is wrong.
“A light tap is often the most effective way of teaching them not to do something that is dangerous or hurtful to other people”.
Under the current law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, parents may use “reasonable chastisement” as long as it does not leave more than a transitory mark on the child.
In Scotland, smacking is allowed but use of implements, shaking or blows to the head are outlawed.
In November 2009 a separate study concluded that children who receive ‘tough love’ – a combination of warmth and discipline – from their parents have the best chance of doing well in life.
The study by left-leaning think-tank Demos identified three character traits that do most to determine a child’s chances of becoming a well-rounded adult. These are self-control, empathy and determination.
‘Tough love’ parenting proved more beneficial in developing these traits than alternative parenting styles, which Demos described as ‘laissez-faire’, ‘authoritarian’ and ‘disengaged’.