Spanking during childhood linked to mental health problems in adulthood

Spanking during childhood linked to mental health problems in adulthood

An old idiom that has been used to justify corporal punishment for generations is “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Usually, corporal punishment exists in the form of spanking with a range of objects, such as a paddle, stick, cane, hairbrush, etc.

Some of the common forms of punishment include hitting the buttocks using a paddle or stick (also known as swaddling), slapping with an open palm on the face, pinching anywhere on the body, caning or striking with an implement (e.g., belt, slipper, cane, hairbrush, etc.), and many more. When the punishment takes place in the home, normally parents or legal guardians reprimand their children for some undesirable behaviors.

Physical punishment can also take on other extreme dimensions, such as shaking, forced ingestion of substances, or forcing children to stay in uncomfortable postures or surroundings. Generally, parents apply such punishments when angry or under extreme stress. Many a time, these punishments can become as adverse as kicking, biting, scalding and burning. Such severe forms of corporal punishment can constitute unlawful child abuse. Although corporal punishment is on the decline in most parts of America, it is still practiced in some rural and suburban schools of the South.

Many cultures have historically regarded parents as having the right to physically punish their children for their misbehavior to discipline them. Since such disciplinary measures ensure only short-term discipline and obedience, researchers have held them to be the culprit behind the marked rise in aggressive behavior in children. A 2012 study found that such punishments increase the odds of a child developing mood or personality disorders, depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, and alcohol or drug addiction in adult life.

Minority respondents and their spanking experiences

Recently, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, researchers working as associate professors at the University of Michigan (UM), analyzed a study jointly by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). The CDC-Kaiser ACE study is by itself one of the largest assessments of the association of childhood abuse and poor health and well-being during adulthood.

The UM researchers analyzed data from reports of over 8,300 people between the ages of 19 and 97. During their routine health checkups at an outpatient clinic, participants of the study were asked to fill in questionnaires about the frequency of spankings witnessed by them  until 18 years of age. They were also queried whether they have been subjected to physical abuse (e.g., pushing, grabbing, slapping or shoving) or emotional abuse (e.g., insult or curse) by an adult.

In the light of other risk factors like physical and emotional abuse, the study tried understanding how such experiences increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders. The study results showed that nearly 55 percent reported being spanked in their initial 18 years. Compared to women, men were more likely to have witnessed childhood spanking. Moreover, those belonging to the minority community, other than Asians, were more likely to be spanked than the white respondents.

The study established that the early exposure to the violent act of spanking could lead children to suffer in their adulthood from depression and can make them more susceptible to suicide and substance abuse. Thus, researchers highlighted that spanking needs to be classified under the same category as physical and emotional abuse. In the case of children, the above-mentioned forms of disciplining measures can be regarded as ACEs due to severe repercussions like pain and substantial mental trauma.

Harsh parenting causes emotional trauma

It is essential to not only prevent child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting techniques. These forms of parenting can prove quite dangerous by affecting a child’s emotional health. Since a child’s future depends on the kind of parenting received by him or her, it is essential to avoid harsh measures as a way to discipline children. Parenting needs to be taken up as a public health initiative to promote the evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent such adversities.

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