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Study: Spanking Children Can Lead to Drug, Mental Problems Later in Life

By Meredith Carroll |


Does this increase the chance of depression in kids later in life?

There are plenty of parents who don’t equate spanking with child abuse. Some perfectly normal and functional families mete out punishment with a smack to a kid’s butt, and even use a belt as a weapon to drive home a point.

Of course, plenty of parents would never use corporal punishment to teach a lesson because of the belief that hitting a child in anger only teaches the child that violence is an appropriate way to problem-solve.

A new study out of Canada shows those who don’t spank are doing their children a bigger favor than just teaching them an alternative way to work through an issue. That’s because kids who are spanked (or slapped or hit or grabbed) regularly are linked to more instances of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other disorders later in life, according to the New York Daily News.

While previous studies have documented a link between physical abuse and mental illness, this one looked at less severe punishment and its affects on children. The likelihood of developing depression, mood disorders, phobias, drug problems or major disorders wasn’t dramatically greater in children who were spanked, but it was consistent, with “7 percent of mental illnesses attributed to the punishment,” according to the journal Pediatrics.

Furthermore, Dr. Victor Fornari, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the North Shore-LIJ Health System told the New York Daily News that “research shows physical punishment doesn’t improve behavior and may make kids more aggressive.”

Will a study like this one deter parents who believe in corporal punishment? Probably not, if Babble readers are indicative of others parents who choose to spank their children. A post I wrote about spanking last year got plenty of comments from those who firmly believe violence is the answer when it comes to disciplining children.

Wrote Jenna:

I was spanked as a child, my husband was spanked, and our children will indeed be spanked. My mother and I were actually talking about this the other day and I told her I was so glad she spanked me. As a result I was taught to respect authority and never ever disrespected or talked back to my parents. Often I’ll see a parent with a screaming small child trying to reason with them in public, and it makes me want to roll my eyes. Children that small are simply too young to reason with. However, a spank is something they do understand.

As a toddler, I had a severe biting problem. My parents tried everything, to no avail. Finally after once again drawing blood on my mother’s shoulder, she bit me back. She didn’t bite hard, and she didn’t break the skin or leave a bruise, but she did bite hard enough to make me scream. And you know what? I never bit anyone again.

Spanking is not child abuse, and it is not a relic of the past, but an effective form of discipline when used correctly. It is also not just for the uneducated, as the previous commenter applied above. I am from an upper middle class background, and am pursuing my Ph.D. I consider myself very bright and educated, and also extremely pro-spanking. I am not pro-spanking because I “lack tools and lose control”, but because it works.

And C wrote:

My parents spanked me, but only in situations where I could be physically harmed by my actions. For example, crossing the street without them or running away in a parking lot. Basically, if I could kill myself doing something, then they wanted me to associate pain (at least, at a minimum level) with that activity. It was never in anger and never hard enough to leave the kind of welts this article seems to discuss, but I think it was a really effective tool to teach a young child about physical dangers. When my son is older, I can see limited situations like these where spanking would be an appropriate punishment.

This is what RT had to say:

I can’t say that I believe in spanking, “per se,” but I really don’t see the problem with an open handed swat on the bottom for younger children, if necessary.

During the ages of 2 and 3 there were occasional times when my son may have done something that was very wrong or extremely unsafe. I don’t think reasoning with a child of that age is beneficial and so he would get one swat on his bottom. Nearly all the time, it was just enough to snap him back to reality and get him to stop what he was doing. At most, this happened once a month.

Now that he’s five, we do not spank at all and haven’t since he was 3.

And Angelam:

I have spanked my child, but it’s in the context of which you do it. You can NEVER do it out of anger and it’s only to get their attention that they are doing something harmful to themselves or others. Only in America does the “spanking taboo” exist. If any of you went to Samoa or Italy you would be on the phone with child protective services the entire time! I’m not saying it’s for everybody but it is defiantly a personal parenting choice. I was never spanked as a child so I do not believe in the myth that it’s abuse or it’s a “learned” behavior. My child’s teachers are fully aware of my decision and they have never questioned my ability to parent and have noted that I have one of the most well mannered, patient, and cooperative students in class and I live in California!!

But Daria also speaks for many others on the opposite side of the aisle:

count me in as another parent who doesn’t spank and thinks it sends a terrible message to a child. i’m not terribly religious, but if we’re quoting the bible, rather than teaching an “eye for an eye,” i’d prefer to teach “love thy neighbor as thyself.” i teach my son respect, but use patience and consequences, which is tons more work and requires far more dedication than a swift smack. i want him to have body integrity and defend his body from assault. not sure how i could do this if i’m the one violating him.

What do you think? Do you still think spanking is OK, or does this study tell you that another discipline method is in order?

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About Meredith Carroll


Meredith Carroll

Meredith C. Carroll is an award-winning columnist and writer based in Aspen, Colorado. She can be found regularly on the Op-Ed page of The Denver Post. From 2005-2012 her other column, "Meredith Pro Tem" ran in several newspapers, as well as occasionally on The Huffington Post since 2009. Read more about her (or don’t, whatever) at her website. Read bio and latest posts → Read Meredith's latest posts →

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9 thoughts on “Study: Spanking Children Can Lead to Drug, Mental Problems Later in Life

  1. Rosanna says:

    Spanking is child abuse ONLY when you go overboard. A quick swat on the behind if needed is acceptable. Millions of people have been spanked growing up and have turned into responsible people. Nowadays, you can tell which children have or have not been spanked because some of those who have been “talked” to or “put in timeout” are rude, disrespectful, non-empathetic, not to mention, bullies, because they know they won’t receive any consequences.

  2. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    “Nowadays, you can tell which children have or have not been spanked because some of those who have been “talked” to or “put in timeout” are rude, disrespectful, non-empathetic, not to mention, bullies, because they know they won’t receive any consequences.”
    ::: tossing the BS flag::: It just goes to show that people will hold on to their ignorant, unenlightened, and misguided beliefs in spite of all evidence to the contrary. If you actually believe that swatting a child on the bottom is the one, key act that keeps your child from turning out poorly, I pity your lack of insight and common sense. There are children who will be fine being spanked and those who will be deeply damaged. The problem is that you don’t know which one your child will be until it’s too late. Since 95% of children in this country are spanked at one time or another, it’s downright imbecilic to pretend that the tiny minority of unspanked kids are responsible for all the untoward behavior or that you can “tell”. But hey, just keep on believing that hitting your children is fine and dandy if that’s what allows you to sleep at night. I know on a very basic moral and ethical level that it’s wrong to hit people and so do my kids.

  3. Marleen says:

    I agree with Daria, what are we teaching our children if we hit them? That that’s ok. It’s never ok to hit anyone, child or adult. Let’s actually be adults and try to explain to our children that there are other ways of solving conflict.

  4. 18andsafenow says:

    Children should have a right to their bodies, and the right to say “No!”

    Currently in the U.S.:

    When an adult does it to another adult, its sexual battery:

    When children do it to adults, its a “deviant sexual prank”:

    When an adult does it to a person under the age of 18, its “good discipline”.

    Research/recommended reading:

    Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later

    Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems

    Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence

    Spanking Children Can Lower IQ

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson

    “Spanking” can be intentional or unintentional sexual abuse

  5. 18andsafenow says:

    In light of the Judge Adams video,

    We often hear from those who fight to uphold this practice for those under the age of 18 (even to the blaming of the social maladies of the day on a supposed “lack” of it), but we rarely, if ever, find advocates for the return of corporal punishment to the general adult community, inmate population, military, or college campuses. Why is that?

    Ask ten unyielding proponents of child/adolescent/teenage-only “spanking” about the “right” way to do it, and what would be abusive, indecent, or obscene, and you will get ten different answers.

    These proponents should consider making their own video-recording of the “right way” to do it.

  6. 18andsafenow says:

    These people were “spanked” as children by adults, and they “turned out just fine”:

    Man Terrorized After Stopping A Dad From Spanking His Son

    Woman who prompted SEPTA bus shooting pleads guilty

    Terrifying footage shows bus gun attack ‘after man dared to complain about mother spanking her child’

    Parents acting out

  7. Rosana says:

    Maybe the depression is due to not being able to deal with situations later in life because the spankings they received did not really dealt with the problems at hand but indeed dealt with the frustration that the parents felt at that moment. I don’t spank and never will, even less now that my kids are 2 and 4 and know how to listen to me since I don’t use violence to get my point across.

  8. anon says:

    Do you really think that what researchers attempted to measure as “harsh treatment,” which involved memories of being hit, slapped (!!!), grabbed and shoved(!!!), ultimately boils down to to the nutty headline that spanking leads to drug and mental problems in later life? My parents spanked me when I was too young to remember it myself. Neither of them ever did anything that I would remember or define as hitting, slapping, grabbing or shoving. (Probably some grabbing when I was a toddler, because I’d like to see any toddler who makes it out of toddlerhood alive without being grabbed near the swings, the duck pond or the street.) I’m not mentally ill that I know of. What’s more likely at work here is a correlation, rather than a causation. Mental illness and anger/impulse issues often have a genetic component; it’s likely that people who are harsh parents because of their own mental issues are more likely to have children with mental illnesses who remember being harshly parented.

  9. Linda, T.O.O. says:

    @Rosana, I thought the first Rosanna was you and you’d fallen off your rocker!

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