Being a strict mother can be good for children as long as the discipline is tempered with a little love and affection, the researchers claim.
But parenting groups and charities have reacted angrily to the findings, maintaining that a child can suffer long term damage from physical discipline.
The study of teenagers, published in the journal Parenting: Science and Practice, found the painful effects of harsh discipline - such as verbal threats or spanking - are offset by the child's feeling of being loved.
The researchers said being punished is unlikely to result in antisocial behaviour further down the line, as long as the child believes their punishment is coming from “a good place”.
Smacking is controversial and has been found to carry a greater risk of manifesting aggression, delinquency and hyperactivity - but authors claims this can be moderated.
In Britain parents are not explicitly banned from smacking their children, but under the current law it is illegal to inflict injuries causing more than a temporary reddening of the skin.
The research will fuel the debate and the parental concern over the best way of bringing up children.
Jeremy Todd, chief executive of charity Family Lives said: “We would never endorse smacking as we feel that there are much better ways to communicate with a child.
“Parents who contact us say that smacking comes as a reaction, it is not a controlled moment. They often speak of their regrets; it is not something they feel good about. We would not support the research.”
The team from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York studied a group of Mexican-American adolescents and found having a loving mother - or the “perception of maternal warmth” - protected against antisocial behaviour.
The perception resulted in a positive relationship between harsh discipline and the way they way that the child dealt with problems in later life.
Dr Miguelina German, lead author, explained “attachment theory” holds that warm, responsive parenting is the critical factor in producing happy, secure children.
The underlying belief that their parents love them protects against feelings of rejection, even when being harshly disciplined, she said, and the discipline it does not automatically result in antisocial behaviour.
"The relationship between the two is conditional and subject to other factors,” she said, noting that restrictive disciples are the cultural norm in Latino culture.
“There are always other influences at play that can lessen their potential harm on the young child.”
However, a spokesperson for the NSPCC who have campaigned for the practice to be illegal, said: “Smacking is not an effective form of punishment and undermines the trusting relationship between a child and their carer.
“And it just teaches children to be violent. Young people tell us smacking leaves them feeling upset but often doesn’t deter them from doing what they were smacked for. We want to help parents use other more constructive methods to teach their children the difference between right and wrong.”
Previous research has found children are more likely to grow into well adjusted adults if their parents are firm disciplinarians.
Traditional “authoritative” parenting, combining high expectations of behaviour with warmth and sensitivity, leads to more “competent” children, according to the 2009 study by researchers from London's Institute of Education.
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet Founder, said: "Obviously smacking 'from a good place' is preferable to smacking 'from a bad place' but broadly Mumsnet users believe it's better not to use violence not least because it feels hypocritical to tell children one thing about hitting others, yet practice another."