Spanking Leads to Mental Health Problems
Posted by The Baby News
Pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting - these were the words that University of Manitoba researchers used as they studied the effects of physical punishment during childhood. They surveyed 20,000 Americans and 15,000 Canadians, asking whether parents, or any other adult in the household, had ever punished them as kids in any of these ways. The study’s conclusion might shock many Americans.
“Individuals who are physically punished have an increased likelihood of having mental health disorders,” lead author, epidemiologist Dr. Tracie Afifi reports in the July issue of Pediatrics. “Physical punishment should not be used on any child, at any age.”
Adults who experienced physical punishment were about 1.5 times more likely to experience depression, mania and alcoholism.
More than 30 nations outlaw physical punishment of children. The USA and Canada allow it. A University of North Carolina survey two years ago found that 80% of U.S. preschoolers have been spanked.
The survey asked adults to rank the frequency of punishment from never to “very often.” About 6% of participants suffered severe physical punishment. Males, blacks and those from educated affluent families were the most likely to report such abuse, the study found. Female children - whether middle class, rich or poor - apparently suffered mostly in silence.
Critics fault the new study because it relies on the distant, flawed memories of adults recalling childhood events. They note that the study links only 2% to 7% of mental disorders suffered by the adult participants to childhood punishment. A University of Oklahoma professor says occasional spanking by a parent whose rapport with his kids is solid can be appropriate for older kids engaged in anti-social, potentially dangerous behavior.
But Afifi’s study complements a growing body of research that red flags any and all physical punishment.
In the journal Current Biology, researchers did MRI brain scans of 43 London children aged 11 to 13. All had suffered a documented history of family violence. They reacted to photos of angry faces in the same way soldiers suffering post-traumatic stress react to noises such as gunfire and unexpected screams. Stress hormones in the children shot up when confronted with images of angry faces.
The good news is, the unhealthy reaction was brief. None of these children were suffering from anxiety, depression or PTSD. The bad news is, quietly enduring stress in childhood might increase the risk that these kids will develop adult heart problems, obesity and diabetes. Lead researcher Eamon McCrory at University College London said in a statement that while resilience in the face of stressful physical punshment during childhood can be a good thing short-term, it may increase longer term risk.
A recent Yale Child Study examined 42 adolescents aged 12 to 17. Their social workers identified them as being at high risk for parental abuse. None of these kids were mentally ill. But their parts of the brain that senses and names our internal emotions—called the insula---were smaller than in normal teenagers’. The insula also allows us to imagine whether other people are hostile or friendly.
Lead author Hilary Blumberg speculates that emotional numbness is a child’s protective reaction to physical abuse - and the price the child might pay as an adult who never feels safe in his own skin.
To read Dr. Afifi’s article, click here.
Were you pushed, shoved, grabbed, slapped or hit ? Do/will you physically punish your child? Tell usin the comments below or take our poll.
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