A just-published study in Pediatrics says that children who were spanked or hit are more likely to have psychological problems — mood and anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug abuse — as adults.
A previous study has shown that spanking children can lead to them being more aggressive. What is notable about the new study is that researchers looked specifically at what was termed “harsh physical punishment” (such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting) that occurred “in the absence of more severe child maltreatment (such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, exposure to intimate partner violence).
Those who were subjected to such “harsh physical punishment” were two to seven percent more likely to develop mental health problems as adults.
The survey data was from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, collected between 2004 and 2005 and from 653 Americans over the age of 20. Participants were asked “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?”; those who answered “sometimes” or greater were included in the study.
Between two and five percent of those who had disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, anorexia or bulimia had suffered physical punishment as a child. From four to seven percent who had more severe problems — personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities — had been physically punished as children. Researchers did emphasize that it was not possible to link having such issues directly to spanking and such punishments.
But — keeping in mind that spanking is not banned in either the US or Canada while it is in 32 other countries — researchers emphasized that the study shows that spanking, hitting and other forms of physical punishment in childhood can lead to psychological issues, including alcohol and drug abuse, in later life. Says in Victor Fornari, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York, in Agence France-Presse (via Raw Story), the study “opens the conversation about parenting.” Though the rate is “not dramatically higher… it is higher, just to suggest that physical punishment is a risk factor for developing more mental disturbances as an adult.”
About half of the US population does recall being spanked in childhood. Keeping this in mind, Fornari notes that most children must be “resilient” but that there are “there are better ways for parents to discipline kids than spanking.” Spanking and such punishments could be especially dangerous for the long-term health outcomes of vulnerable children, who are especially at risk for developing mental illness. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents not to strike children for any reason and the Canadian Pediatric Society strongly discourages any sort of physical punishment.
Isn’t it about time that the US and Canada, economic powerhouses with a global political presence, just said no to spanking and other kinds of severe physical punishment on children?
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