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Physical punishment linked to mental disorders

Written by , published on and related to πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦ Parenting


My wife and I were spanked as kids – me more than her πŸ™ – and we seem to have turned out as relatively healthy adults. Of course, neither of us liked being spanked, and I never took well to it. Even as I near 40-years-old, I have vivid memories of being spanked, not understanding it, and hating every moment of it.

We have two children, and we chose early on to not spank them. The main reason is because we have 18 years to prepare them to become independent adults, and there’s no place in our society where physically hurting another person to get your way is acceptable, let alone legal. If we’re to do our job as parents, we’re to find a way – as adults – to discipline and guide them towards more acceptable behavior without hitting them.

Now it appears there’s another good reason to not inflict physical pain onto your child. A new study has been released that suggests physical punishment is linked to mental disorders in adulthood. Researchers in the American Academy of Pediatrics reported:

Results: Harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and family history of dysfunction (adjusted odds ratio: 1.36–2.46). Approximately 2% to 5% of Axis I disorders and 4% to 7% of Axis II disorders were attributable to harsh physical punishment.

Conclusions: Harsh physical punishment in the absence of child maltreatment is associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders in a general population sample. These findings inform the ongoing debate around the use of physical punishment and provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders.

The study defined harsh physical punishment as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting. So an argument could be made that this doesn’t affect children who are spanked. Especially, if the spanking is done in a controlled, quasi-loving manner. However, I would personally add spanking to the list if it’s done out of anger, including quick pops or demeaning spanking.

Hitting another human being creates emotional distress (regardless of the severity) and inflicting pain on an adult in order to get your way is unacceptable in our society. So why in the world would it be okay to do (and thus teach) children it’s okay to hurt them to get our way? If you’re answer includes tradition, “I turned out okay” or religion, then you probably haven’t thought very deeply about this, and you probably should.