Want to slap your teenager for smoking pot? That would make his drug use one and a half times more likely.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
The same writer's Why Spanking Doesn't Work is worth quoting from:
Want your kid to stop whatever dangerous/annoying/forbidden behavior he’s doing right now? Spanking will probably work — for now.
But be prepared for that same child to be more aggressive toward you and his siblings, his friends and his eventual spouse. Oh, and get ready for some other antisocial behaviors too.
... Yet ... some research has found that up to 90% of parents say they use corporal punishment:
... “The most common long-term consequence is that children learn to use aggression.”
Case in point: one mother in the study hit her toddler after the toddler either hit or kicked the mother, admonishing, “This is to help you remember not to hit your mother.”
“The irony is just amazing,” says Holden.
... In 1979, Sweden was the first country to pass such legislation [prohibiting physical discipline of children]; now 32 countries ... have a similar law.
Neither the U.S. nor Canada has gotten on board. “Whenever I mention the law, there is an assumption that this is government telling me how to raise my child,” says Durrant. “[But in Sweden] they see it as a way to make sure children get the best start possible in life.” ... new parents are hooked up with support groups and given information about developmental stages.
As a result, parents understand their children aren’t being intentional obstructionists; it’s just par for the course.... Durrant likes to use her son as an example. When he was 3, he dropped his dad’s toothbrush into the toilet. Another parent might have yelled, but Durrant’s academic background helped her realize that he was just experimenting: he dropped objects into water floating in sinks and bathtubs with nary a scolding; why not toilets too? “I explained what goes into toilets and then said, Do you think Daddy is going to want to put that toothbrush in his mouth now?” Message transmitted with no yelling.
P.S. Durrant’s son never dropped anything verboten into the toilet again.