Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages spanking, at least half of parents admit to physically punishing their children. Some research suggests that as many as 70-90 percent of mothers have resorted to spanking at one time or another. A new study published in the journal Pediatricsmay cause parents to think more carefully before laying a hand on their little ones.
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. According to their results, corporal punishment is associated with mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, as well as personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse. They estimate that as much as 7 percent of adult mental illness may be attributable to childhood physical punishment, including slapping, shoving, grabbing, and hitting. The study reports that spanking ups the risk of major depression by 41 percent, alcohol and drug abuse by 59 percent, and mania by 93 percent, among other findings.
“We’re not talking about just a tap on the bum,” study author Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, explained in a statement. “We were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children.” However, the analysis excluded individuals who reported more severe maltreatment such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence.
“It definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age,” said Afifi. Researchers concluded, “It is important for pediatricians and other healthcare providers who work with children and parents to be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders.”
The physical punishment of children is legal in the United States, although it is banned in at least 24 other countries. It’s worth noting that 19 states also allow corporal punishment in schools. Earlier studies have linked spanking toddlers to increased aggression in older children. Spare the rod, spare the child?