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Spanking Could Lead Children to Mental Disorder and Abusive Behavior


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Corporal punishment including spanking is a widely used disciplinary technique in most families.But the method has been questioned about its effects on the child’s mental and social development.A new study suggested that spanking a child can lead to mental health issues.

Spanking Leads to Mental Disorder

A new study led by two associate professors of social work from the University of Michigan, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, indicated that the violence from spanking can lead children to feel depressed, drink alcohol at moderate to heavy levels, use illegal drugs or attempt suicide, later in life.

Spanking is a common form of corporal punishment that uses physical force to let a child experience pain, but not to cause injury, with an intent to correct their behavior.Researchers from U-M inquired if the force and pain inflicted by physical abuse and spanking, and associated mental outcomes should be considered an adverse childhood experience.

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

Data from the study was based on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences.More than 8,300 people with ages ranging from 19 to 97 have been examined by the researchers.The participants completed self-reports while pursuing routing health checks at an outpatient clinic.The questions include how often they were spanked in the first 18 years, details about their household background, any physical abuse inflicted to them, and any emotional abuse, such as curse and insult.

Almost 55 percent of the participants reported being spanked during the first 18 years, with men were more likely to experience such physical punishment.Minority respondents, except Asians, were also more likely to report being spanked than the white participants.Participants who reported about spanking had been found with increased risk of developing depression and other mental disorders.

“This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors.Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take,” said Lee.

Physical Punishment

Physical punishment remains a major problem in our society and most adults still approve of it, even with evidence that it only makes things worse in their households.Spanking is similar to hitting or other physical punishments, such as slapping, whipping, pinching, and paddling.In adults, hitting a spouse or a strange is considered assault and battery, which leads to the question, why people should be permitted to hit a smaller, vulnerable child?

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A large-scale meta-analysis of 88 studies conducted by psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University, revealed the positive and negative effects of corporal punishment in children.Gershoff looked into the 62 years of collected data for any connections between the parental use of corporal punishment and 11 child behaviors and experiences.Gershoff found 10 connections that were negative behaviors, such as increased aggression of the child and antisocial behavior.The two strongest contributors were the immediate compliance by the child and the physical abuse done to the child by the parent.

“That these two disparate constructs should show the strongest links to corporal punishment underlines the controversy over this practice.There is a general consensus that corporal punishment is effective in getting children to comply immediately while at the same time there is caution from child abuse researchers that corporal punishment by its nature can escalate into physical maltreatment,” Gershoff stated in the study.

Gershoff emphasized that the findings do not automatically imply that every child who experience corporal punished will become aggressive or delinquent.But she showed that the frequency and severity of the punishment matters to the child.The harsher the punishment, the higher the chance a child may develop aggression or mental health issues.Her findings may suggest that the child adapts and learns the punishment, and carry it later in life.The child may become an aggressive adult enough to hurt their spouse and kids or become depressed, feeling they deserved to be punished for the thought of being unworthy.

Gershoff stated that excessive use of corporal punishment is unlikely to be reported and parents should be cautioned about its negative effects on children.She also said that until clinicians, parents, and researchers can provide a definitive result of the positive outcomes of corporal punishment, it cannot be responsibly recommended by psychologists.

Additional Information

- In the US, a survey in 2013 revealed 81 percent of adults said that sometimes appropriate for parents to spank their children.

- In the UK, a poll in 2012 with 2,011 adult participants in Britain revealed that 30 percent would support banning a parent from smacking their children.But 63 percent opposed to the idea of banning corporal punishment.

- In China, a 2014 study that involved more than 2,500 mothers and fathers found that 53.7 percent of the mothers had physically punished their child in the past year, while 48.3% percent of the fathers had done the same thing in the past year.


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