Family Matters

Hitting Your Kids Increases Their Risk of Mental Illness

Children who are pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit are more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness. Just one more reason to embrace alternative forms of discipline

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What if we, as a society, could cut down on the incidence of mental illness by backing away from hitting, grabbing or pushing our children?

That’s a prospect raised by a new study in Pediatrics, which finds that harsh physical punishment increases the risk of mental disorders — even when the punishment doesn’t stoop to the level of actual abuse.

What qualifies as appropriate punishment is a hot-button topic among parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes corporal punishment, but studies have shown that up to 80% of parents report that they rely on it to some extent. What constitutes physical punishment is also wide-ranging: everything from a light slap on the hand to an all-out whipping with a belt or a paddle.

“In the general population, there is a belief that physical punishment is O.K. as long as you’re not doing it in anger and you’re a warm and loving parent,” says Tracie Afifi, the study’s author and an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba in Canada. “But there’s no data supporting that.”

(MORE: Why Spanking Doesn’t Work)

Afifi and colleagues decided to examine five forms of physical punishment — pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting — that took place in the absence of even more severe acts of abuse or neglect such as punching, burning, physical neglect or sexual abuse. Other related research has not specifically included or excluded more severe types of abuse, meaning that the abuse — and not the grabbing or slapping — may be driving the relationship between physical punishment and mental disorders.

She did not examine spanking because it’s not easy to define: what’s considered spanking varies from parent to parent. But, she says, “a push is a push, and a grab is a grab.”

In the study, researchers analyzed more than 20,000 people in the U.S. who were age 20 or older: 1,258 who had experienced pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting sometimes or very often, and 19,349 who reported they had experienced it rarely or never. They adjusted results for gender, race, marital status, education and a history of family dysfunction; if the person’s parents had drug problems or were hospitalized for mental illness, that could have affected their use of physical punishment.

Across the board, people who’d experienced physical punishment were more likely to experience nearly every type of mental illness examined. Their risk of mood disorders, including depression and mania, was 1.5 times greater than people who hadn’t been slapped or grabbed. The risk of depression alone was 1.4 times greater, which was the same rate for anxiety. People who’d been physically punished were 1.6 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 1.5 times more likely to abuse drugs.

(MORE: How Child Maltreatment May Scar the Brain)

“There’s going to be lot of people that think that a parent absolutely needs to use physical force to raise a compliant child,” says Afifi. “It’s pretty well established that physical abuse has a negative impact on mental health, but this is showing the same effect even when you look at milder forms of physical force. This is saying that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age.”

George Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who published research last year on the first real-time study of parents physically disciplining their kids, says Afifi’s findings fit into a “large constellation” of studies that show children whose parents use physical force are at greater risk for depression and anxiety. “This is yet another study documenting that this practice can result in unintended negative consequences,” says Holden. “Other studies have shown corporal punishment in childhood carries over to adulthood in terms of aggression, so there’s no reason why it wouldn’t in the area of mental health.”

Afifi hopes that “reasonable” parents will read about her research and decide to swear off physical punishment. Pediatricians can be part of the solution, talking to parents about alternative methods. “It’s never too late to stop,” she says, though she acknowledges a “cultural shift” needs to happen in order to turn the tide.

MORE: The New Science Behind Children’s Temper Tantrums

 

67 comments
ShamsAci
ShamsAci

The practice of hitting or beating minor kids can cause them become revenge-nature lifelong that may stand as environmental pollution in the family and  society. 

JenniferYajjala
JenniferYajjala

I am sure that any kind of physical punishment is difficult on the mind. I feel it is too difficult to generalize that all people have the same effect. I agree with CL about the depressed participants were probably more likely to remember the times they were physically punished than the non-depressed participants. I know I cannot remember any physical punishment when I was very young, but I know from family stories that I used to get into trouble a lot. I don't feel I am mentally compromised in any way. Now, take a friend of mine who can recall most times of punishment and I look at her mental soundness and she is much weaker than I am in that respect.

CL
CL

2. The more worrisome thing about this article is that it's what's called a retrospective study. People are asked to think back about previous experiences, and the correlations between their reports of those previous experiences and their current symptoms are examined. The success of this method depends on the participants being able to accurately report their previous experiences. In other domains it's been shown that people who are more depressed are more likely to remember and report negative early experiences than people who are not. So the effect in this study could be driven by the fact that depressed participants were more likely to remember the times they'd been grabbed or pushed than the non-depressed participants. 

The studies I'm thinking of:

Roisman, G.I., Fortuna, K., & Holland, A. (2006). An experimental manipulation of retrospectively defined earned and continuous attachment security. Child Development77(1), 59-71.

Roisman, G.I., Padrón, E., Sroufe, L.A., & Egeland, B. (2002). Earned-secure attachment status in retrospect and prospect. Child Development73(4), 1204-1219. 

CL
CL

1. For all the "all this shows is correlation, not causation" people out there: Of course. The experimental manipulation that would let you get closer to "proving" the effect they're arguing for is unethical. You would have to randomly assign some children to get hit and others to not get hit. Not okay to begin with, and especially not okay if you suspect that the corporal punishment will lead to worse mental health outcomes later in life. 

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

If anyone believes this story....you have other problems 

michl81
michl81

This study makes no sense.  At all.  That doesn't prove CAUSATION or even CORRELATION.  Couldn't it be that children that already have a mental illness are more likely to be spanked?  The spanking/etc. didn't cause the mental illness, but the mental illness caused the spanking/etc.

a.navdesign12
a.navdesign12

spelled corporeal (of or obtaining to the body).

danday1986
danday1986

Here's a theory - or maybe just a question. 


Take a child, who did receive justifiable corporal punishment, we'll use "spanking" which in my definition is a pop on the buttocks, for wrong-doing while growing up. Compare that child to another who did not receive corporal punishment, but instead received the "ignore effect", which is basically if a child is doing something annoying or out of order, you consistently ignore them each time, until it passes then politely "discuss" the outburst and why it is not necessary with the child. 


Those two children, one who received a spanking and one who did not, grow up. Doesn't matter where, but now they are out of high-school. Are the odds of the child who received the "spankings" growing up becoming a criminal higher, or lower? And the child that received the "ignore effect"?


No one is questioning whether abuse causes mental illness or not. I am also not arguing that corporal punishment causes mental illness or not. I do however, believe that a defined structure for children are necessary. Many "experts" on child development will agree that hitting or smacking a child will cause the child to learn how to trust slower than those not hit or smacked. However, a child who is taught that when they do something bad, they will be ignored until the "act" is over with and then only receive basically a soft lecture should have a higher likelihood of ignoring the law, right? This leads into many other factors such as drug use and alcoholism and even aggressive criminal acts, because they've been taught, that the only consequence is being "talked" to. 


I really am just not so sure what this study is really revealing that already isn't apparent. Over punishment? Yes, definitely could see that causing maybe some anxiety issues. Abuse, definitely causes severe mental illnesses. But from what I gather so far is that, when and if I "spank" my child, because they didn't obey the rules, I am pretty much causing them to have depression, anxiety issues, etc. Right?


So what does other children bullying my child do? That is something that is uncontrollable (in a sense). Wouldn't that cause my child to develop a mental illness - because of them being picked on for being different, or proper, or even not so proper. 


I guess, the bottom-line that I am trying to get to is that in today's world (America in general), mental illnesses are on the rise. They've been on the rise for the past few years and have shown no sign of retreat. America simply isn't prepared well enough to cover what the mind is capable of doing and how it reacts due to certain situations or circumstances. So after all, everyone will have to deal with something at some point in their life that "may" cause a mental illness. Knowing when to get help is essentially the key. Prevention? I think there are preventative measures that could be taken to reduce the amount of mental health issues, but relying on the dissolve of corporal punishment, even at the lowest level, to end early development of mental illness? Well that's just a tiny minnow in the ocean on this issue.

Adil
Adil

I think that domestic corporal punishment is acceptable, but again parents themselves have to understand that such punishment should be aimed at the improvements in their children; rather then releasing office or business pressures on their innocent kids.

Kristin Martin
Kristin Martin

Not that I'm disagreeing with the general argument against corporal punishment made in this article (because I agree that there is no reason a parent should ever hit their child!), but I'm wondering if genes may play a part in the results. Did this study consider whether parents who abuse their children are more likely to have mental disorders themselves? If so, then their children could have simply inherited their parents' mental problems. 

wonderwomen7
wonderwomen7

Do people who fiercely advocate spanking think there's some kind of conspiracy out there? What kind of benefit do you think other people are getting by making up these statistics? Hitting a child like their a dog works about the same on them as the dog. There is a fight or flight response. It works for that temporary moment then the dog becomes either aggressive and hardened or flighty and snappy. If you succeed enough over time in making them fearful enough of you, what do you think happens when they become teenagers and they can fight back? If they do something bad do you think grounding them is going to do anything by then? They're going to raise their middle finger and say TRY and stop me. 

cosmicgodess
cosmicgodess

those who think you need to use corporal punishment are selfish and mean. Sure its effective, but that doesnt mean it is right. People treat their children like possesions. My child is amazingly confident , she says yes ma'am , please and thank you and never lashes out. only when she is tired or fed too much sugar does she throw a temper tantrum and she is 4. Your children are your legacy, your future and a peice of you. Respect them.

cosmicgodess
cosmicgodess

those who think you need to use corporal punishment are selfish and mean. Sure its effective, but that doesnt mean it is right. People treat their children like possesions. My child is amazingly confident , she says yes ma'am , please and thank you and never lashes out. only when she is tired or fed too much sugar does she throw a temper tantrum and she is 4. Your children are your legacy, your future and a peice of you. Respect them.

Minami
Minami

Who would have thought that abusing your child might cause them psychological problems?

Nikki Pons
Nikki Pons

Here are some larger samples. The facts are clear, hitting children at best, is inneffective and at worst, leads to violent behavior.  Rates of violence drop significantly when corporal punishment is banned from public schools.  Because states have banned corporal punishment at different times, the result can be clearly shown to be causual.

"Studies show significantly more fatal school shootings took place in states that

allow corporal punishment in schools."

http://www.stophitting.com/ind...

Shams Aci
Shams Aci

HEALTH, LIFE AND LIVING AWARENESS;

 

"Hitting Your Kids Increases Their Risk of Mental Illness......"

  - A.R.Shams's Reflection  -  Press amp; Online Publications.

    http://arshamssreflection.blog...

Ricardo J Valdivia
Ricardo J Valdivia

wow this study is incredibly flawed how could any scientists or intelligent person take sutch horrible ratios as a good sample?

Heather Harrison
Heather Harrison

This study does not actually provide scientific evidence pro

or con about spanking. It looks at “harsh physical discipline” and not spanking

specifically. As a child psychologist and a mom, you might be surprised to find

out that I spank my child. I talk more about this controversy here:

http://www.themommypsychologis...

John Johnson
John Johnson

If I'm not mistaken, this study shows correlation but not causation.

It could just as easily be said that people predisposed to mental illness require physical punishment to discipline them.

As an aside, I don't consider the five types of punishment listed to be discipline, but signs of a parent that is out of control.

Hayley Brown
Hayley Brown

How do they know that people with a predisposition toward mental illness didn't, as children, also act in a way that made their parents more likely to resort to corporal punishment? I'm not convinced they've established a causal link here.

Janice Banks
Janice Banks

I grew up with corporal punishment and have turned out to be perfectly fine. In fact, my parents' unwillingness to accept anything but my best has shaped me to be a better person. I think when hitting is objective - when the crime is extremely clear and stated so - can be beneficial. I have now moved to a country where it is an offence to raise one's hand against children and find many of my peers to be extremely unmotivated.

crackedmum
crackedmum

Um... so, if it's too difficult for the researcher to clearly define 'spanking' then exactly how competent of a researcher are they? One of the most important components of good research study design is developing clear and specific definitions for all relevant terms to be used in that study.

I'm hesitant to take the results interpretation seriously when the researcher's excuse for a lack of definition is hey, "a push is a push!" That's just lazy work.

Toothy Grins
Toothy Grins

Anger is a problem indicator.  when punishing a child it really should not come from Anger.   I think most children will respond to reason and there are only a very few who would need the more serious punishment.   Talking about it and then spending time in 'time out'  should be able to help most children.

I think that most children deep down want to be loved by their parents.   And so they will seek out that love and that is why talking with reason should work. 

You guessed correctly, I am NOT a parent.  So you can take what I just said for what it is worth? 

18andsafenow
18andsafenow

 

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:

http://hamptonroads.com/2011/1...

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

http://www.theday.com/article/...

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

http://tulane.edu/news/release...

Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems

http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/...

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

http://pediatrics.aappublicati...

Spanking Children Can Lower IQ

http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/...

 

Plain Talk About Spanking

by Jordan Riak

http://www.nospank.net/pt2010....

The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children

by Tom Johnson

http://nospank.net/sdsc2.pdf

"Spanking" can be intentional or unintentional sexual abuse

http://www.nospank.net/101.htm

18andsafenow
18andsafenow

    

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.

18andsafenow
18andsafenow

 

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:

http://hamptonroads.com/2011/1...

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

http://www.theday.com/article/...

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

http://tulane.edu/news/release...

Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems

http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/...

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

http://pediatrics.aappublicati...

Spanking Children Can Lower IQ

http://www.unh.edu/news/cj_nr/...

 

Plain Talk About Spanking

by Jordan Riak

http://www.nospank.net/pt2010....

The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children

by Tom Johnson

http://nospank.net/sdsc2.pdf

"Spanking" can be intentional or unintentional sexual abuse

http://www.nospank.net/101.htm

18andsafenow
18andsafenow

 

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.

Hamid Ashouri
Hamid Ashouri

Guys whether you like it or not, I think parents even should punish their children to death if children are not disciplined properly by non-physical ways. Sometime, just for the sake of your dignity we must resort to any way to lead them to behave appropriately or let people around misbehaved children to live and not be bothered by them 

ethosspa
ethosspa

 It is very and important post. I like this so much.

ethosspa
ethosspa

It is very fine post. We should read this for our conscious. 

ethosspa
ethosspa

It is very important post about child health. I like this. It is very useful.

f_galton
f_galton

Whenever my dad wanted to hit me for misbehaving he would slap my mom instead. I guess I owe him a lot.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

What imbecile would do this kind of study and apply it to judicious use of corporal punishment? 

If you smack kids around all the time and jerk them all over the place, of COURSE it's going to screw them up.  Physical punishments were extremely effective aboard a ship (Lashings) simply because they were used only in extreme cases, done in front of everyone and made dreadful in the eyes of the men - but done RARELY.  Kids aren't stupid.  They can be introduced to the same level of dread of punishment in order to correct bad behaviors.

But it must be applied RARELY and the application must be extraordinary.

This study doesn't take judicious and careful applications of physical pain as a deterrence into account - especially if one has positive incentives for good behavior.  In light of this, it's only reasonable to say, "Don't smack your kids around all the time", to which I would add, "Only do it if absolutely everything else you've tried has failed."

DaveZiffer
DaveZiffer

We are being bombarded by a seemingly continuous series of articles like this one that fail to distinguish between spanking and abusive treatment. No doubt the people behind this are intent on removing your right to make decisions about how to raise your own children. My wife and I had two daughters who occasionally defied us just to demonstrate that we had no power to tell them what to do. We tried all the silly fad "methods" (1-2-3 and all the rest) and they were useless. In such situations our girls responded ONLY to spanking. For example once our elder daughter ran out into the street repeatedly just to demonstrate that we had no power to tell her not to. We had a choice: demonstrate that we DID have the power, or let her discover for herself what it's like to get hit by a car. We chose to demonstrate the power. And yes, she never ran out into the street again. If someone had had the legal authority to prevent us from using our best judgment, perhaps our daughter would be dead today.

DaveZiffer
DaveZiffer

The failure of this article to distinguish between abusive punishment and controlled spanking renders it a piece of dangerous propaganda. We had two daughters who occasionally made a point of defying us just to demonstrate that we had no control over them. We tried all the silly "methods" (1-2-3 and all the rest) and they were useless. When our girls were in this mode they responded ONLY to spankings. One example was when our elder daughter ran out into the street just to demonstrate to us that we had no power not to tell her not to. We had a choice - demonstrate to her that we DID have the power to tell her not to, or let her discover for herself what it's like to get hit by a car. We chose the demonstration. And yes, she never ran out into the street again.

cosmicgodess
cosmicgodess

@danday1986 I don't agree that "ignoring" is taking place, you think the only way to punish is threw spanking? You take away privileges and toys at a young age. This is what will happen to you as a adult why not use the same methods on a child? If they are misbehaving first think about what you have done if they under 5 years old , have they gotten enough sleep, are they hungry, did they have too much sugar , juice , soda etc, - because if so you are hitting a kid for your poor parenting and inability to relate to their needs. Then if you know all that is good and they are just not listening to you and ignoring what rules you have TOLD them about , not punishing harshly on a first offense.. then you move to take away something, like a treat , or play date or event... this works even at 3yrs old. Trust me loosing a play date or a toy is far worse then a "pop" on the butt. When you touch a child like that you are telling them that hitting is okay, and that it is how you assert yourself as the leader. Kids are not dogs and they will remember and they will tell people. I got frustrated and lightly "popped" my 4yr old on the butt and to my embarrassment she told people everywhere we went about it. 

danday1986
danday1986

@wonderwomen7 , you're kind of crossing your words. 


danday1986
danday1986

@cosmicgodess , My son is three. He holds the door open for women. He says yes sir and ma'am. He brushes his own teeth and knows how to use a tablet computer and play bedazzled, use a tv remote, and can fly a remote control helicopter (better than I can). He also knows that if he doesn't obey daddy's rules, he may get a spanking. So is there something that I'm doing wrong? 

danday1986
danday1986

@Nikki Pons, I wonder if the kid who just shot up sandy hook was spanked... Probably not, since it was banned from public schools there.

Hesus Atname
Hesus Atname

That may be the most skewed set of statistics I've ever seen.

TrishIreland
TrishIreland

Regardless how your mother must have felt experiencing the abuse on your behalf,I'm sure it must have been an emotional abuse and fairly traumatic for you to experience this.  I think if I were the child in your family I would have preferred to receive the punishment rather than have to watch it inflicted on my mother.  Either way it is abusive, and perhaps even more so feeling protective and fearful for your mother.  

Reythia
Reythia

And in addition, it doesn't help to spank your child if they don't understand why you're doing it, if they didn't know ahead of time that what they did was very wrong or dangerous, and if they didn't know such a punishment would result.

I'm with Fatesrider: a mild physical punishment can work if it's used rarely and for well-understood and expected reasons.  Otherwise, it's not effective discipline and can have horrible long-term side effects on the confused/angry/hurt child.

YeahRt
YeahRt

 @danday1986 Ok, say we agree that we use the "deny them their toy" methodology as a form of punishment. 1. How many parents can actually pull this off? 2. How many kids can force their parents into annulling this punishment by more tantrums 3. How come you conveniently use "ADULT" methods on children by denying them some thing. Some adults go to prison & their by loose their freedom. 

If your methods work for you, great. But please don't advocate as hitting as a disciplining tool is not okay just because you don't believe in it. For any excess in any form, there is law to protect all humans. & no its not okay to hit dogs either!


kertha
kertha

@danday1986 Oh! Lets play one-up the other parent!! Sounds like fun! And way to go with your maturity... You just want your child to sound better because you spank him.  Way to go.  Just wait a few years to when he starts to resent you.