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Many Depressed Fathers Spank Their Young Toddlers

depression, fatherhood

Spanking a surprising side-effect of father depression.

Experts are starting to recognize what many families have known firsthand: that men and partners are susceptible to post-partum depression, too.

A new study on fathers found that men who experienced some type of baby blues were at some significant risk of spanking their 1-year-olds.

The journal Pediatrics published the results that found this surprising fact in the issue released today.

The study analyzed depression data collected from 1999-2000 of 1,746 fathers who lived in one of 16 large cities around the U.S. They found that while only 7 percent of new fathers experience symptoms of depression, some 40 percent of those who did had also reported spanking their 1-year-olds. In contrast, 13 percent of non-depressed new dads had ever spanked their young toddlers.

Though the data is more than a decade old, it’s especially relevant today. Depression in men is strongly tied to unemployment, which is at a record high for American men right now.

Child health experts caution against spanking children in general, but especially such young children. Not only is it an ineffective tool for modifying behavior — they just don’t get the connection between their actions and the punishment — but spanking has also been shown to increase the child’s risk of aggression.

The study also found that depressed dads were less likely to read to their kids and shortchange them in other ways.

The data used in this study doesn’t show whether the depressed father’s suffered post-partum depression or whether they had a history of depression. But the study’s authors conclude that its a red flag for pediatricians to screen fathers as well as mothers for baby blues.

So much of the literature families receive after giving birth focuses on the woman who gave birth and not the father whose life has also been altered in unpredictable ways. It’s time to put pictures of fathers on those “put the baby down and walk away”  brochures, too.

Photo: hhs.gov

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