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Shoved, Slapped or Hit': Study Links Spanking Children to Mental Disorders in Adulthood


A new study from Canadian researchers is linking physical punishment of children, like that in the form of spanking, to mental disorders later in life. Other scientists though are saying the research is appears biased and not taking into account other factors that could account for their findings.

(Related: Does spanking make children predisposed to aggression)

Published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the University of Manitoba in Canada examined data from a U.S. epidemiologic survey from 2004 to 2005 and found 2 to 7 percent of mental disorders could be associated with physical punishment in childhood. Such disorders included those affecting mood, anxiety, personality and alcohol and drug abuse.

Harsh physical punishment in the study survey included being "pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit" by parents or other adults.

The study states:

The current findings advance our knowledge of the relationship between harsh physical punishment and mental disorders in several novel ways.


The prevalence of harsh physical punishment in this study (∼6%) was lower compared with other general population samples (48%–80%), 5,19 likely due to inclusion of physical acts harsher than spanking alone, stricter inclusion criteria for physical punishment including occurrence of at least sometimes or greater (ie, not including rare frequency), and only including physical punishment cases in the absence of several types of more severe child maltreatment. A surprising finding was that increases in education and income were associated with elevated odds of harsh physical punishment

Watch Dr. Drew on HNL discussing the results on the study with some listeners calling in support of spanking:

(Related: Is it OK to stop someone from spanking their kids in public? One Minn. man was nearly run over for trying)

The data was from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which sampled 34,753 adults 20 years of age or older.  According to the research, respondents who cited being physically punished were 9 percent more likely to exhibit a dependence on alcohol, 41 percent more likely to have depression and 24 percent more likely to suffer from panic attacks.

With these results, the researchers believe health care workers should relate to parents the link between physical punishment and the potential for increasing likelihood of these disorders. They also write that physical punishment could also have public health implications. For example, they suggest that by instituting policies that would reduce physical punishment, it could "decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population."

Some on the other hand not only consider the research biased but they call out this suggestion for law reform to ban physical punishment of children. Occupy Corporatism, an "alternative news site" that touts reporting actual news "not as it is spun by the corporate funded mass media," reported several scientists weighing in on the research as it is being reported:

Dr. Joshua Williams, Faculty in the Department of Psychology and Director of the Perceptual-motor Learning and Action in Infants (PLAI) Lab at Armstrong Atlantic State University says: “Some of the first writings on education and physical punishment in education state the fact that physical punishment is typically ineffective as far as changing behavior. The implications COULD be severe. When you read the title it’s very catchy and tells you that spanking leads to this.”

Williams believes the decision to spank your child or not is subjective, however he strictly suggests that time-out and taking a child’s favorite toy away is much more effective in curbing unwanted behavior.


Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New York, adds that “unruly behavior” has a strong genetic link that the researchers did not take into account. Samuels said: “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.”

Occupy Corporatism also calls attention to the United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the study authors mention as one of the methods that have "altered the physical landscape of punishment." Occupy Corporatism points to the UNCRC as a "'special convention' of international leaders that outlines special needs of 'people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not.'" It claims the convention "[enforces] their 'new vision of the child', the UN sees children as an 'individual' over the structure of the family and contributor to the 'community' by declaring their 'rights and responsibilities appropriate for [their] age and stage of development.'"

Although 196 countries have ratified the U.N.'s CRC, the U.S. has only signed it -- not ratified it. But, it will come before the U.S. Senate on November 20, 2012, for ratification. There are groups advocating its ratification, such as the Child's Rights Campaign, and others who are opposed, such as Parental Rights, which is advocating an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to include language saying "the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right."

Find the full text of the study here.

This story has been updated to include more information. 

(H/T: Blaze reader Karol)

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