Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Spanking Linked To Mental Health Disorders And Successful Adult Achievements

Child Being Spanked by Parents
Photo Source: LA Times " Kids who are spanked or receive other types of physical punishment are more likely to suffer mental health issues as adults, according to a new study. (Bettmann / Corbis July 2, 2012)"

An article in the LA Times reports that a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics has found an increased likelihood of mental illness and addiction in adults who were spanked as children.  This same study also found that as an adult's education and income levels increased, the likelihood that they were spanked as a child increased.  We are left to conclude that spanking will either leave our child mentally ill or wildly successful (by typical American capitalist standards, anyway).  Great, thanks for clearing that up for us.  Please read my thoughts on this article, and let me know what you think.

Spanking Semantics


According to the LA Times, the study found:
A child who is spanked, slapped, grabbed or shoved as a form of punishment runs a higher risk of becoming an adult who suffers from a wide range of mental and personality disorders, even when that harsh physical punishment was occasional and when the child experienced no more extreme form of violence or abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver, says a new study.
I don't know about you, but I don't consider spanking to include slapping, grabbing or shoving.  Those sound more like abuse to me.  To me, appropriate spanking happens when the parent is level-headed (not a knee-jerk or angry reaction) and when it is explained.  "Son, I love you very much, and it's my job to make sure you understand what is acceptable in this household.  The way you spoke so disrespectfully to your mother is not acceptable, and that behavior is why you are receiving this spanking."  It sounds ridiculous, but that is the only way that spanking works - when the consequences have been presented before the behavior occurs and when the spanking is done with a level head from someone who genuinely loves their child.  I would argue that anything other than that borders on abuse.  For these doctors to include slapping, grabbing, or shoving in the same definition of spanking probably helped them conclude that there was an increased link to mental illness.

Exactly How Much More Likely?

The study listed several types of mental illness from addiction to schizophrenia.  The study showed that those children who were disciplined physically (I will no longer use "spanked" when referring to their data since their definition and my definition are worlds apart) were 2-8% more likely to have some sort of mental illness.  So, to be clear, we're not talking about a huge number.  This study only focused on 35,000 Americans. I'm not saying this to excuse any sort of behavior that includes slapping, grabbing, or shoving as a form of punishment, but I merely suggest that there could be other factors at play here, and the "increased likelihood" is sometimes within the margin of error.   

Everyone Should Spank Their Kids, Right?

The doctors reviewing the data from this study also made "a surprising finding" that as an adult's education levels and income levels increased, the more likely it was that they were spanked as a child.  So, using the same logic that they use to conclude that spanking causes mental illness, one could easily conclude that "spanking" (or "borderline abusing" according to their definition) your child is more likely to make them wildly successful (again, by typical American capitalist standards).  So, why isn't the American Academy of Pediatrics telling everyone to spank their children?  


For years now, there has been a push to get all pediatricians to recommend that parents should never spank their children, at any age.  Without a study of some academic merit, it was unlikely that all pediatricians would adopt the practice of essentially telling parents (read: source of income) how to discipline their kids.  With this study published, those who wish to tell their patients how to discipline their children have the evidence to prove their case, and those who don't want to piss off their source of income can still choose not to share.  Until a recommendation to not spank your child is paired with an educational program for alternative forms of discipline, NONE OF THIS MATTERS.  

What Does This Mean For You?


Responsible parents who love their children will still choose to spank or not to spank, and people who are irresponsible and don't love their kids will still abuse.  Those that choose spanking as a punishment and use it in a responsible way that includes love, logic, and consistency will probably raise successful children.  Those that abuse their kids will probably be more likely to cause mental illness in their children.  To me, this is a black and white issue where their study took the gray and made it grayer.  The study is being used to serve their own interests, and I haven't seen any evidence that not spanking your child decreases their risk of mental illness.  Obviously, more research needs to be done in this area before the blanket statement "you should never spank your children" can be made. 


If you are a parent that spanks your child, make sure you are pairing it with love, logic (clear boundaries and consequences before the behavior takes place), and consistency.  And NEVER, and I mean NEVER, spank while angry.  I wouldn't change your parenting method just because of this study, but it might not hurt to evaluate how you do your spanking.  Ask yourself the hard questions.  Do I ever react quickly and angrily?  Do I use too much force?  Are the consequences appropriate for the infringement?  Am I always disciplining out of love and not frustration or anger?  Am I consistent?  If you can't answer these questions honestly, then maybe spanking isn't the right choice of discipline for your family.      


What do you think about this article?  What is your opinion on spanking?  Is anyone curious whether I spank my child or not?  

14 comments:

  1. Well put.
    I totally agree with you that grouping slapping, grabbing, and shoving with spanking is a gross misrepresentation. It's either a mistake or a purposeful alteration on the part of the researchers. One can't help but wonder were those study subjects who underwent those three non-spanking types of physical "punishment", slapping, grabbing, and shoving, removed from the study how the results would have changed. It's purely conjecture on my part but I think the percentage of increase in mental illness likelihood would be completely erased, and it's likely the percentage of higher adult achievement would have risen. I think this study kept slapping, grabbing, and shoving (which I think are generally abusive) in the study in an effort to produce the results that community wanted to produce.
    It seems as though those who choose to shove, grab, and slap their children as a punishment would be more likely than those in the general population to be suffering from a possible mental illness, however minor. As such it seems likely that their children have an increased risk simply from biology, but additionally from environmental factors due to being cared for by a person suffering from such a mental illness.
    I hope they will redo the study and consider only those who truly received non-abusive spankings. I think the findings would be different. But, I think those findings would go against the popular anti-parent trend that is currently so prevalent in much of the educational and medical community, which teaches that parents do not know what is best for their children and should be forced to do what "experts" say is best. So, it seems unlikely that they will re-do the study.
    There is no substitute for a loving parent. And, loving parents lovingly discipline their children in a way that is appropriate for their child. Children who are lovingly disciplined learn self-control.and consequences. It makes sense that these children would be more likely to achieve more highly as adults.

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  2. Well stated Matt and way to clear up that 'grabbing' and 'shoving' are not forms of punishment, they are abuse. Write on my friend. :-)

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  3. The study was done on none abusive physical punishment. Parents often grab a child to then slap them on the behind. This is considering spanking in America. As you "justify" hitting a child I wonder if your hit adults who do not do as you think they should?

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  4. TheRealMattDaddyJuly 4, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    I would actually LOVE that. All kidding aside, any parent that "grabs" a child and then "slaps" them is abusing their child. They are most likely reacting out of anger or frustration. There are better alternatives than spanking, but I believe it can be done in a way that is not abuse. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. I have a degree in Social work and was a child abuse investigator before becoming a stay-at-home dad. Every state has different for what defines abuse. An example would be Missouri where corporal punishment is acceptable and the definition doe actual abuse is as follows: 'Abuse' means any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional
    abuse inflicted on a child other than by accidental means by those
    responsible for the child's care, custody, and control.

    Basically, in a nutshell, since spanking "can" be exempt it becomes much hard to define abuse. I had run into cases where the schools and the Child's Services would be at odds. The main reason is because corporal punishment can be exempt. Schools often do not care that there is an exemption and just want it to stop. My job was to see if I could make sense of it and see who might be at fault.

    For myself, i am not a strong supporter of spanking. I believe it has more to do with seeing more types of abuse than most people can even imagine. Many parents don't think before they react. I have seen on numerous occasion a parent have a bad day and react automatically to the smallest thing a child can do. I would remind people all the time to stop and walk away if necessary for a few minutes.

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  6. TheRealMattDaddyJuly 5, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    Thanks for the comment Gina!

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  7. TheRealMattDaddyJuly 5, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    Thanks, Jeff!

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  8. TheRealMattDaddyJuly 5, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    I couldn't agree more. My wife is a child welfare worker, and I think she has the toughest job in the world. Thanks for the reminder. Again, I don't think you should ever spank while angry or frustrated. And if you are spanking every day, then that probably isn't the right choice of discipline for your child! Thanks for the wise words.

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  9. I so agree...it is one of the toughest jobs a person can ever have. You never know what you are walking into. Most of the time the parents are already agitated and it would be our fault no MATTER what. We shouldn't be there, we caused it...etc. I have a lot of respect for your wife still being in child welfare. Most people never see us as heroes but truthfully I think we/they are unsung heroes not the enemy.

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  10. When my children were small, they were spanked on occasion. Now that they're older, my preferred method of discipline is to take away all the things they hold dear- which used to be called "grounding"... but if the definition of "spanking" has changed so dramatically in the few short years since I swatted my child's (clothed) behind with slight force but no malice, I can only imagine that taking away their electronics and ability to communicate with or visit their friends is now called something else.
    According to my children, it's torture.

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  11. TheRealMattDaddyJuly 5, 2012 at 2:52 PM

    I agree that punishments can (and should) change over time depending on what really motivates the individual child. The punishment should always be relevant to the infraction (you didn't do your chores because you watched TV = no TV for a week), timely (at the time of infraction or shortly after if you need to calm down, and equivalent (you didn't do your chores because you watched TV does not equal no TV for a year). I personally believe that spanking should always be a last resort reserved for the most serious offenses.

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  12. TheRealMattDaddyJuly 6, 2012 at 8:45 PM

    I agree. It is definitely a job that gets very few "thank yous". I believe that my wife was specially gifted to do her job. She really loves it.

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  13. That's some study! Thanks for sharing it and your perspective on spanking. Personally we've spanked our 4 yr old maybe 3 times since she was 2 and we've decided that even in the loving way you describe it's not for us. We do better talking & asking her to think about what she's done. Recently we've started taking away things she's fond of after having discussed that as the consequence. It's worked very well so far.

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