American Academy of Pediatrics, which is already opposed to using physical punishments on children, has released a new study today, backing their stance and reinforcing the belief that spanking children belongs firmly in the past.

The study, named “Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative U.S. Sample,” is released in the August edition of Pediatrics, which is online July 2nd.

It states clearly that children who are spanked, hit or pushed have an increased risk of mental problems when they grow older . The research seems to show that the effect can range from mood and anxiety disorders to drug and alcohol abuse.

Afifi, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Canada, clarified to USA Today:

“There is a significant link between the two … Individuals who are physically punished have an increased likelihood of having mental health disorders….[the studies findings confirm that] physical punishment should not be used on any child, at any age,”

She goes on to state that between 2% and 7% of mental disorders found in the study were linked to physical punishment.

The study involved a large number of subjects with data collected from some 35,000 non-institutionalized adults in the USA. Around 1,300 of the subjects confirmed that they had, at sometime, or regularly been “pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house.”

The aim was not to look at more aggressive physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, but rather to identify the link between light deliberate punishment and Axis I and II mental disorders.

Axis I is defined as clinical disorders, including major mental disorders, learning disorders and substance use disorders, while Axis II relates to: personality disorders and intellectual disabilities (although developmental disorders, such as Autism, were coded on Axis II in the previous edition, these disorders are now included on Axis I).

The study has been criticized, however, with Robert Larzelere, of Oklahoma State University, Stillwater stating to USA Today that:

“Certainly, overly severe physical punishment is going to have adverse effects on children … But for younger kids, if spanking is used in the most appropriate way and the child perceives it as being motivated by concern for their behavior and welfare, then I don’t think it has a detrimental effect.”

His own 2005 research showed that when light spanking is used appropriately, rather than wantonly and where it only servers to back up non physical discipline, such as talking sternly to the child or enacting some kind of punishment or removal of privileges, it does, in fact, prove very effective at removing non-compliant behavior.

He goes on to state that the current study “does nothing to move beyond correlations to figure out what is actually causing the mental health problems … The motivation that the child perceives and when and how and why the parent uses (spanking) makes a big difference. All of that is more important than whether it was used or not.”

This would probably concur with the ideals of many mentally balanced and well educated parents, who would do anything to avoid having to get physical with their children, but ultimately, in the appropriate moment, with the correct words and mood, find that spanking can be useful and not cause long term detriment.

Afifi’s report concludes that the findings inform the ongoing debate around the use of physical punishment and provide evidence that harsh physical punishment, independent of child maltreatment, is related to mental disorders.

Written by Rupert Shepherd