Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Spanking Batters Kids' Mental Health: Study

An article in U.S. News Health caught my attention this morning. It discusses the potential correlation between mental health issues in adults who received physical punishment in childhood. We know that abuse in childhood is often linked to Borderline Personality Disorder, and while this article doesn’t specifically mention BPD (though it does mention personality disorders) it got me thinking. What qualifies as physical abuse? If you show up to kindergarten with bruises and welts: clearly that’s abuse. Is spanking abuse? I’m honestly not sure. I was spanked as a child. Hard. They never brought out a belt or anything, but it was definitely the most feared of punishments in the house. It wasn’t often; just sometimes if something particularly problematic occurred. It was still terrifying as a child.

I’m copying the article below but this passage struck me in particular:

“Corporal punishment was associated with increased odds of anxiety and mood disorders, including major depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and social phobia. Several personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse were also linked to physical punishment, the researchers found.”

Anyone that follows along with me knows that I’ve struggled with all of these things (except agoraphobia/drug abuse). I’ve never really considered spanking as physical abuse, or contemplated the implications that it could have had on me, but now I’m starting to wonder. I’ve always been quite adamant about the fact that I was never abused by my parents**. In our culture, and at that time, this was/is a pretty typical punishment for children. It wasn’t an overly frequent event and never happened past the age of 6. Clearly I was very sensitive, more sensitive and prone to anxiety about being alone than is typical, even before I was old enough for this kind of punishment, but now I wonder if things might have turned out a little differently if punishments had been more constructive and less corporal.  

** The only time my father ever raised a hand to me was when I was in an almost psychotic rage during one of our extreme blow out screaming matches during my high school. I had pushed him far beyond the limits you could expect any human being to tolerate. He raised his hand, but he still never hit me. He even apologized for the mere threat. Not that I backed down in any way. If anything it made me more defiant in the moment. He apologized the next morning and hugged me hard. We needed to find a better way to communicate. Eventually we did. I remember looking back on that day and seeing how I could make him so angry, and yet, he still loved me. That memory has always stayed with me.

Here’s the article. What do you think?

Spanking Batters Kids' Mental Health: Study
Physical punishment linked to mental health disorders, substance abuse in adulthood

July 2, 2012
By Barbara Bronson Gray
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, July 2 (HealthDay News) --Spanking or slapping your children may increase the odds that they will develop mental health issues that plague them in adulthood, a new study suggests.

Researchers in Canada found that up to 7 percent of a range of mental health disorders were associated with physical punishment, including spanking, shoving, grabbing or hitting, during childhood.

"We're not talking about just a tap on the bum," said study author Tracie Afifi, an assistant professor in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg."We were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children."
Corporal punishment was associated with increased odds of anxiety and mood disorders, including major depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia and social phobia. Several personality disorders and alcohol and drug abuse were also linked to physical punishment, the researchers found.

"What's really important is to know that spanking and other forms of physical punishment come at a cost," said Afifi. "Physical punishment should not be used on children at any age under any circumstances."

While the study finds an association between physical punishment and mental illness, it does not prove that one causes the other.

Previous studies have linked physical punishment to aggression in children, delinquency and emotional, developmental and behavioral impairment. But this study examined its effects on mental health in the absence of more severe physical abuse, sexual abuse or other forms of neglect and mistreatment.

For the study, published online July 2 in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers used 2004-2005 data on about 34,000 individuals aged 20 or older gathered from the U.S. National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Participants were questioned face-to-face and asked, on a scale of "never" to "very often," how often they were ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by their parents or another adult living their home. Those who reported "sometimes" or greater were considered as having experienced harsh physical punishment.

About 6 percent of respondents were considered to have suffered harsh physical punishment. Boys, blacks and those from more educated, more affluent families were most likely to report such abuse, the researchers said.

The researchers adjusted the data to take into account socio-demographic factors and any family history of dysfunction.

Thirty-two countries prohibit physical punishment of children by parents or caregivers, but the practice is legal in the United States and Canada, according to background information in the study. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against the use of physical punishment as a form of child discipline.

Nevertheless, the researchers say a survey of U.S. adults showed that 48 percent of respondents reported a history of harsh physical punishment without more severe abuse. A 2010 University of North Carolina study revealed that nearly 80 percent of preschool children in the United States are spanked.

Some experts support the notion that harsh discipline can negatively affect kids but express concerns about the specific implications of this new study.

"While it's a well-done study, looking at a national data sample, there are limitations in the way the study was done," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. "There are limitations to relying on adults recalling childhood experiences, and it's hard to control for familial psychopathology."

Adesman added that while the research reinforces that there are now more good reasons not to use physical punishment, "we can't infer that physical punishment leads to major psychological disorders."
Still, Adesman said the public needs more education about the dangers of physical punishment to children and the alternatives that parents can effectively use.

"There's a general presumption that parenting comes naturally, but there are things people need to learn. We have PSAs [public service announcements] about all kinds of health issues, but I've yet to hear any tips for providing non-physical punishment to children."


  1. I was spanked. I was whipped with a belt. I was spanked and then THROWN from his lap to hit the floor five feet away. I was screamed at so loudly that spit was coming out of his mouth and landing on my face. He dumped milk on my lap because I was "mouthing off" to my mom at the dinner table. He threw a snowball at my face hard because I was whining. He hit my hand hard for wanting to adjust the rearview mirror while learning to drive. He told me "Go fuck yourself!" He asked me "Who do you think you are? The Queen of Fucking Sheeba?"

    All of things, PLUS "just the spanking" referenced in the article happened to me. It's interesting that you were just spanked and none of the other things, and you still ended up with BPD. Conversely, I experienced all of the things I mentioned above, and I also ended up with BPD. My husband was sexually abused by his brother but neither of his parents ever, ever, ever physically punished him - they're just narcissistic a-holes - and he has it BPD too.

    It's interesting how there are so many etiologies to BPD.

    What the article reminds me is HOW IMPORTANT it is to take each research finding with a grain of salt. Yes, spanking can cause these mental illnesses. But there are probably a lot of circumstances where (if used with an otherwise warm and loving environment and a not-so sensitive child) that perhaps the outcome won't be as drastic? One could only hope.

    1. ::hugs:: What you experienced was beyond discipline into flat out abuse. I'm so sorry to hear that.

      I agree. These studies need to be taken with a grain of salt. I would never think the spanking was THE cause of my BPD. I was displaying a temperament sensitive to abandonment by the time I was 2 and a half so I believe I was at least predisposed to it. But I can see how this kind of punishment would certainly contribute and potentially exacerbate the problems that we end up experiencing.

      It definitely depends on the person and their basic temperament. Nature and Nurture contribute to personality disorders in my opinion. For me I like seeing this kind of study in case I were to have my own kids so I could know what not to do.

  2. I can only remember my mom spanking me and in all honesty, it did not hurt but it did cause me a good deal of shame. My dad never did but he threatened on occasion and that was enough. Belts, switches, etc. take it way past disciplining and venture into abuse/assault and should be treated as such but one firm hand (not ten or twenty) to the bum is acceptable, IMHO.

    1. Oh, ib. Spankings from my parents definitely hurt and weren't just one hit. I clearly remember being taken into the bedroom (away from public view) and getting my behind smacked many times as I cried and screamed.

      idk. I used to think it wasn't incredibly detrimental to me to have been spanked. Now I wonder. I definitely remember the shame to spoke of. I think anything that creates that kind of shame is incredibly detrimental to children.

  3. This is a very interesting post. I was regularly spanked or smacked when I was small, and have ended up about as far from BPD as it's possible to get - low attachment, low emotion. Even when my mother walked out (I was 9) I'm unable to remember feeling any concern.

    1. Meant to add - when I was smacked, even in public, I didn't feel shame. Anger, resentment and surprise instead.

  4. I was physically punished as a child, and didn't really realise it was abuse until therapy. My dad would choke me, hit me with his belt, spank me, punch me, slap me, throw me down stairs and once, he even started up his chainsaw and threatened to cut off my leg with it (held me down to threaten me of course!)

    I have NO DOUBT that this made me BPD!

  5. Yes, of course spanking is abusive and can contribute to BPD. Who decides what is and what isn't abuse? The perpetrators! I also resent the use of 'sensitive' to describe children who react to being spanked- it's victim blaming. This is another problem with BPD, judging how we react to things, that we are somehow 'wrong' for our feelings. And a truly loving parent would never smack their kids, I couldn't imagine raising my hand to a child. There are better ways to discipline.

    My parents spanked me regularly, it made me feel ashamed, guilty for making them do it, angry at them and at myself. I can link it to my self-harming as I had poor emotional regulation and perpetuated the spanking/ abuse onto myself. I wasn't taught how to express myself properly so I wasn't assertive, I'd either lash out or shut down.

    I did end up being kicked, punched, bitten and suffocated. But I found spanking more humiliating.

    When are people going to learn how to treat kids better?


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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