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Tuesday, July 3

Study: Spanking May Lead to Mental Illness

Shows a link between nonabusive physical punishment and several types of mental disorders later in life.

Parents hold the hands of their child in Hong Kong.
Photo by Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
Kids can cry all the way from the spank. All the way to depression, anxiety, and alcoholism.

Being spanked, slapped, pushed, or hit as a child, even when these punishments are not a part of full-scale maltreatment, are linked to an increased risk of mental illness in adulthood in a new study published in Pediatrics. Adults who reported undergoing such punishments, about 6 percent of respondents, had greater risks of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse and dependence, and several personality disorders. Up to 7 percent of instances of disorders covered in the study can be attributed to harsh physical punishment in childhood.

The study finds an association between the two, but, as HealthDay points out, it does not actually prove that one causes the other. Previous studies had shown a link between physical punishment and behavioral problems, but this one wanted to study the issue removing the more severe forms of physical and sexual abuse.
Males, blacks, and those from more educated and wealthier families were most likely to report harsh physical abuse. Data was adjusted to take into account socio-demographic factors and family histories of dysfunction.

Lead author Tracie Afifi recommends that physical punishment not be used on children of any age, and that positive parenting strategies be employed instead. Spanking, and other forms of physical punishment on children, is illegal in 32 countries, not including the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, officially discourages it.
Some experts, however, took issue with the study, insisting that spanking can be an appropriate way for parents to discipline their children when applied appropriately. One psychologist tells USA Today that the study "does nothing to move beyond correlations," noting that the child's perception of why the spanking took place as well as how and why parents resort to that form of punishment in the first place should be key concerns.
Close to 80 percent of American preschool children are spanked, according to a 2010 University of North Carolina study.
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