Study shows spanking boosts odds of mental illness

July 2, 2012 by Kerry Sheridan

People who were hit or spanked as children face higher odds of mental ailments as adults, including mood and anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug abuse, researchers said Monday.

The study, led by Canadian researchers, is the first to examine the link between and spanking, while excluding more severe physical or in order to better gauge the effect of alone.

Those who were spanked or hit as kids were between two and seven percent more likely to encounter mental issues later, said the research in the US journal Pediatrics, based on a retrospective survey of more than 600 US adults.

That figure may seem low, particularly since about half of the US population recalls being spanked in childhood, but nevertheless shows that can raise the risk of problems later on, experts said.

"The study is valuable because it opens the conversation about parenting," said Victor Fornari, director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.

The rate "is not dramatically higher, but it is higher, just to suggest that physical punishment is a risk factor for developing more mental disturbances as an adult," said Fornari, who was not involved in the study.

Previous research has repeatedly shown that children who were physically abused as youngsters suffer from more mental disturbances as adults, and are more likely to engage in than kids who were not hit.

But these studies have typically included more serious abuse.

The current study excludes both sexual abuse and that left , marks or caused injury.

Instead it focuses on "harsh physical punishment," defined as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting as a form of punishment from elders.

While 32 nations around the world have banned corporal punishment of kids, the United States and Canada are not among them.

Using a nationally representative survey sample of 653 Americans, they found that those who recalled experiencing harsh punishment as children faced higher odds of a range of mental problems.

Between two and five percent of disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar, anorexia or bulimia were attributable to physical punishment as a child, the study said.

From four to seven percent of more serious problems including personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities were associated with such punishments in childhood.

Researchers stressed that the study could not establish that spanking had actually caused these disorders in certain adults, only that there was a link between memories of such punishment and a higher incidence of mental problems.

The survey data came from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions collected between 2004 and 2005, and included adults over age 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 analysis.

Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, said the parents' genes may influence both their response to raising an unruly child as well as their likelihood of passing down certain ailments.

"Parents who are resorting to mechanisms of corporal punishment might themselves be at risk for depression and mental disorders; therefore, there might be a hereditary factor going on in these families," she told AFP.

Future research could shed more light on the issue. In the meantime, the study offers a reminder that other disciplinary options such as positive reinforcement and removing rewards are viewed more favorably by doctors.

"The reality is, if 50 percent of the population has experienced being spanked in the past year, most kids are resilient. It is just that there are better ways for parents to discipline kids than spanking," Fornari said.

"And for some vulnerable kids, the spanking may increase their risk for the development of mental disturbances. So for those reasons it is important to really minimize or extinguish physical punishment."

The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes striking children for any cause and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that doctors strongly discourage the use of physical punishment.

Explore further: Physical punishment of children potentially harmful to their long-term development

Related Stories

Physical punishment of children potentially harmful to their long-term development

February 6, 2012
An analysis of research on physical punishment of children over the past 20 years indicates that such punishment is potentially harmful to their long-term development, states an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association ...

Recommended for you

Cultural values can be a strong predictor of alcohol consumption

November 20, 2017
Countries with populations that value autonomy and harmony tend to have higher average levels of alcohol consumption than countries with more traditional values, such as hierarchy and being part of a collective. This new ...

A walk at the mall or the park? New study shows, for moms and daughters, a walk in the park is best

November 17, 2017
Spending time together with family may help strengthen the family bond, but new research from the University of Illinois shows that specifically spending time outside in nature—even just a 20-minute walk—together can ...

Risk of distracted driving predicted by age, gender, personality and driving frequency

November 17, 2017
New research identifies age, gender, personality and how often people drive as potential risk factors for becoming distracted while driving. Young men, extroverted or neurotic people, and people who drive more often were ...

When male voles drink alcohol, but their partner doesn't, their relationship suffers

November 17, 2017
A study of the effect of alcohol on long-term relationships finds that when a male prairie vole has access to alcohol, but his female partner doesn't, the relationship suffers - similar to what has been observed in human ...

Spanking linked to increase in children's behavior problems

November 16, 2017
Children who have been spanked by their parents by age 5 show an increase in behavior problems at age 6 and age 8 relative to children who have never been spanked, according to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal ...

Multiplayer video games: Researchers discover link between skill and intelligence

November 15, 2017
Researchers at the University of York have discovered a link between young people's ability to perform well at two popular video games and high levels of intelligence.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.