Spanking children may harm their long-term development, making them more aggressive towards their peers, siblings, parents, as well as spouses later in life, researchers from the University of Manitoba and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, report in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). Their study tracked children for two decades.

Physical punishment refers to any type, regardless of its motive, be it out of frustration, desperation or love, the researchers explained. Children who are spanked are significantly more likely to develop antisocial behavior during childhood and later on in life.

Study co-author, Dr. Joan Durrant, wrote:

“Virtually without exception, these studies found that physical punishment was associated with higher levels of aggression against parents, siblings, peers and spouses.”

The researchers quote a trial in which parents in over 500 families were trained resort less or not at all to physical punished. They found that when physical punishment diminished, so too did children’s difficult behaviors.

The authors said:

“Results consistently suggest that physical punishment has a direct causal effect on externalizing behaviour, whether through a reflexive response to pain, modeling or coercive family processes.”

Spanking was also found to be linked to a higher risk of having certain mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. The experience of being physically punished may alter brain areas linked to performance on IQ tests. These brain changes may also make the patient more vulnerable to alcoholism and drug addiction, according to neuroimaging studies.

Physical punishment used to be much more common in the past than today. The focus today is more towards a positive discipline of children. Many countries have introduced legislation making physical punishment illegal.

Map of domestic corporal punishment abolition
The colored countries have outlawed any type of physical punishment for children

The authors advise doctors to encourage parents to take constructive approaches to discipline, which have been shown to be good for the child’s healthy development.

They wrote:

“Physicians have a primary responsibility for translating research and evidence into guidance for parents and children, and they are credible and influential voices for advancing public education and policy concerning population health.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist