Spanking Linked to Mental Health Problems in Adulthood

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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Photo by ThreeIfByBike


Roberto M
Roberto M11 months ago

thanks for this post

Christopher M.
Christopher M.5 years ago

Yes, Erin. My parents let a school vice principal spank me, in writing.

Leanne B.
Leanne B5 years ago


Stella Nobrega-Garcia

A very interesting article. Thank you.

Erin D.
Erin Hummer5 years ago

I was spanked as a child and I spank my children when needed. I have no mental problems and neither do my children. There is a HUGE difference between spanking and beating. To this day I have the most respect for my parents something a lot of kids do not have anymore.

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

And to add to my previous comment, disrespect for law and order and violent crime is on the rise. I can't help but wonder if that goes along with the "modern" ideas that spanking is never appropriate.

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Same here, Nicola. The first sentence is so far out of reality, it's pathetic. Spanking in the form of a swift "swat" on the fannie for misbehavior (as a last resort), in the form of discipline is not going to lead to mental issues unless the child is already pre-disposed to developing such issues. The entire situation lies in the reason for the "spanking" and how it's carried out. If the parent is angry and just lashes out, then that's far different than when the child knowingly and purposely disobeys known rules.

If human parents modeled themselves more after animal parents, they might be better at being parents. Animal parents often and quite NORMALLY use "corporal punishment" when teaching their young. Watch a mare nip or give a swift kick to her foal when the foal misbehaves, or a lion have ENOUGH rough-housing from their cub and let it know by a swift swipe with a massive paw that it's crossed the line! We aren't built physically to bite our young, so a smack on the bottom is appropriate in certain cases. I'm not condoning slapping or "hitting" and certainly nowhere else but the "bottom" of the offending child and with the palm of the hand, never, EVER with another object.

Nicola Pole
Erica S5 years ago

I was spanked as a kid and I'm perfectly fine. I haven't been in a single fight (except for in the ring for kick-boxing).

Phillipa W.
Phillipa W5 years ago

I don't spank and i don't believe in it. It's not how I'm bringing my children up, and it's not how I want to live. But I also don't simply substitute spanking with other forms of discipline and I don't use any type of reward system either. Just completely different. And somehow that seems to confuse people. Even a lot of psychologists and parenting class teachers can't get their heads around the idea that discipline/reward systems aren't the only way to parent, and that it doesn't mean my children don't respect me or see me as an authority figure.

Amanda M.
Amanda M5 years ago

Spanking is a smack on the butt. It is NOT any of the other behaviors listed in the question! It's meant to be a last resort, and it's definitely an attention-getter! I was spanked growing up, and if someone asked me that question, I would say NO, I was never pushed, shoved, grabbed, slapped, or hit by my parents or any other adults in the house.

My parents spanked me and my sister, and it definitely kept us in line-we NEVER made the same mistake twice! And yes, my husband and I spanked our kids until they got old enough that being sent to their rooms, losing privileges, or being grounded worked just as well.

Thanks to the namby-pambies who associate ANY form of punishment or discipline with abuse, today's kids' respect for any form of authority is a JOKE. Combine that with parents who don't even bother to set limits and act on that, and ohh, BROTHER!