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Can Spanking Your Children Lead to Mental Illness?

Sandro Di Carlo Darsa, Getty Images
Sandro Di Carlo Darsa, Getty Images

While some parents prefer the use of non-violent disciplinary actions against their mischievous children, others take no shame in dishing out some good old-fashioned corporal punishment as a means of teaching little junior some of the lessons of life.

However, there is new research that suggests those parents who do engage in spanking, hitting or pushing their children, that by doing so they might actually be putting them at greater risk of having mental disorders when they get older.

Lead researcher and epidemiologist Tracie Afifi says that while it is common knowledge that physical and sexual abuse are attributed to certain types of mental illness, this study is the first to demonstrate common characteristics between traditional disciplinary actions and certain mental conditions.

“There is a significant link between the two,” says Afifi, “Individuals who are physically punished have an increased likelihood of having mental health disorders.” Approximately two-to-seven percent of mental disorders in the study were linked to physical punishment.”

The study, which is comprised of data from a 2004 government survey of 35,000 non-institutionalized American adults, reports that nearly 1,300 of the participants (all over the age of 20) reported that they had, sometimes or more often, been “pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house.”

Yet, some family psychologists contend that “conditional spanking” is an effective method for reducing noncompliance and anti-social behavior.

“Certainly, overly severe physical punishment is going to have adverse effects on children,” says psychologist Robert Larzelere, of Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. “But for younger kids, if spanking is used in the most appropriate way and the child perceives it as being motivated by concern for their behavior and welfare, then I don’t think it has a detrimental effect.”

Though critics suggest the study proves nothing beyond simple correlations, researchers remains confident in the reliability of their data, which according to Afifi strongly indicates that physical punishment should not be used on children.

[USA Today]

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