Childhood spankings can lead to adult mental health problems

November 2, 2017, University of Michigan

Getting spanked as a child can lead to a host of mental health problems in adulthood, say University of Michigan researchers.

A new study by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, both U-M associate professors of social work, and colleagues indicates the violence caused by spanking can lead adults to feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink at moderate-to-heavy levels or use illegal drugs.

"Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental problems," Grogan-Kaylor said.

Spanking is defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth's behavior.

Researchers note that given that both spanking and physical abuse involves the use of force and infliction of pain, as well as being linked with similar mental health outcomes, it raises the question of whether spanking should be considered an adverse childhood experience. This involves abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which includes divorce and an incarcerated relative.

The study used data from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, which sampled more than 8,300 people, ranging in age from 19 to 97 years. Study participants completed self-reports while seeking routine health checks at an outpatient clinic.

They were asked about how often they were spanked in their first 18 years, their household background and if an adult inflicted (push, grab, slap or shoved) or emotional abuse (insulted or cursed)

In the study sample, nearly 55 percent of respondents reported being spanked. Men were more likely to experience childhood spanking than women. Compared to white respondents, minority respondents—other than Asians—were more likely to report being spanked.

Those reporting exposure to had increased odds of depression and other , the study showed.

Lead author Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says that it's important to prevent not just child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting before it occurs.

"This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors," said Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take."

The findings appear in Child Abuse & Neglect.

Explore further: Why parents should never spank children

Related Stories

Why parents should never spank children

October 30, 2017
Spanking —usually defined as hitting a child on the buttocks with an open hand —is a common form of discipline still used on children worldwide. However, to date, spanking has been banned in 53 countries and states ...

Risks of harm from spanking confirmed by analysis of five decades of research

April 25, 2016
The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis ...

Spanking babies is surprisingly common

March 11, 2014
The same hands that parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and bathe their babies are also commonly used to spank their bundles of joy.

Physical punishment in childhood tied to health woes as adults

July 15, 2013
(HealthDay)—Children whose parents use "harsh" physical punishment such as slapping or shoving may end up in relatively poorer physical health as adults, a new study suggests.

Study shows spanking boosts odds of mental illness

July 2, 2012
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.

Recommended for you

Researcher unlocking relationship between early math ability, fingers

March 23, 2018
Ask toddlers how old they are, and they are likely to hold up the corresponding number of fingers and say, "this many."

Analyzing past failures may boost future performance by reducing stress

March 23, 2018
Insights from past failures can help boost performance on a new task—and a new study is the first to explain why. US researchers report that writing critically about past setbacks leads to lower levels of the "stress" hormone, ...

How reciprocity can magnify inequality

March 22, 2018
People tend to reciprocate others' actions in ways that increase disparities in wealth, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Building tolerance to anxiety is key to OCD symptom relief

March 22, 2018
Excessive hand washing, out of a fear of contamination or germs, is one of the most common and best-known examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD. Though OCD can't be "cured," symptoms can be significantly reduced ...

Stopping exercise can increase symptoms of depression

March 22, 2018
Stopping exercise can result in increased depressive symptoms, according to new mental health research from the University of Adelaide.

Antioxidants and amino acids could play role in the treatment of psychosis

March 22, 2018
A scientific paper has revealed that some nutrients found in food may help reduce the symptoms of psychotic illness, when used in the early stages of treatment.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 02, 2017
If this were true then all children born in the first half of the 20th century would have these problems as they were (almost) all spanked not only at home but at school where few males, for instance, made it all the way through without some form of corporal punishment.

The authors should not be so irresponsible as to tar all with the same brush ~ obviously excessive corporal punishment in youth can provoke a range of psychological problems but this excessive behaviour is confined to a minority of parents.

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.