Don't Spank Your Child: Physical Punishment Linked To Mental Disorders [Study]

Physical punishment including pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting, and spanking in the absence of more severe child abuse is associated with an increased risk of mental disorders including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, substance dependence, and personality disorders, says a new study published in the August 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Spanking and the use of other physical punishment to discipline a child is a controversial subject. Previous research in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine has discovered that, when parents use physical punishment to deter antisocial behavior, the long-term effect tends to be the opposite. Children who are disciplined with physical punishment like spanking end up exhibiting more antisocial behavior.

In recent news, a Georgetown, Ohio man, Charles Sweeney, 23, was indicted for violently spanking a 5-month-old baby. As Fox 19 reports, Sweeney shook and spanked the infant, causing a fractured rib and bruising. Other parents and caregivers have also been arrested after using physical punishment including spanking on children.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Departments of Community Health Sciences, Psychiatry, Family Social Sciences, and Psychology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada has concluded that harsh physical punishment in the absence of more severe child abuse is associated with an increased risk for mental disorders.

For the study, the researchers collected data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions between the years 2004 and 2005. The survey was conducted with a representative US adult population sample.

Harsh physical punishment included spanking as well acts of physical force beyond slapping. Physical punishment was distinguished from child maltreatment, which included severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to intimate partner violence.

According to the study, harsh physical punishment during childhood was linked to an increased likelihood of most lifetime mental disorders including major depression, dysthymia, mania, any mood disorder, specific phobias, any anxiety disorder, and any alcohol and drug abuse or dependence during adulthood. In other words, children who are disciplined with physical punishment including spanking are more likely to suffer from mental disorders as adults.

The results of this study are important for a number of reasons. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Canadian Pediatrics Society oppose or discourage the use of physical punishment against children. However, the researchers believe that their findings could be used to formulate a "more explicit position statement" that states that "physical punishment (ie, spanking,smacking, slapping) should not be used with children of any age."

Furthermore, as the researchers conclude:

"From a public health perspective, reducing physical punishment may help to decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population. Policies need to be focused on strategies to reduce physical punishment, which again points to the importance of positive parenting approaches."
Do you agree that physical punishment including spanking should not be used to discipline children?