In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers examined data from more than 34,000 adults and found that being spanked significantly increased the risk of developing mental health issues as adults.
Specifically, corporal punishment was associated with mood disorders like depression and anxiety, as well as personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse. According to investigators, as much as 7 percent of adult mental illness may be attributable to childhood physical punishment, including slapping, shoving, grabbing, and hitting. Furthermore, the study concludes that spanking increases the risk of major depression by 41 percent, alcohol and drug abuse by 59 percent, and mania by 93 percent.
Study author Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, said in a statement:
“We’re not talking about just a tap on the bum, we were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children. [This study] definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age.”
For the results the researchers observed, it would seem they were talking about physical punishments far more severe than a parent getting a switch and hitting their child with it, but their analysis excluded individuals who reported more severe punishments such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence.
Psychologist Robert Larzelere, of Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, provided more of a voice of reason when asked to comment on the study. He said:
“Certainly, overly severe physical punishment is going to have adverse effects on children, but for younger kids, if spanking is used in the most appropriate way and the child perceives it as being motivated by concern for their behavior and welfare, then I don’t think it has a detrimental effect.
“[This study] does nothing to move beyond correlations to figure out what is actually causing the mental health problems,” he added criticizing the fact that the study relied on adults’ memories of events from years earlier, adding that it’s not clear when punishment occurred. “The motivation that the child perceives and when and how and why the parent uses [spanking] makes a big difference. All of that is more important than whether it was used or not.”
What do you think about this study? Do you think spanking and physical punishment should be avoided?