Spanking Linked to an Increased Risk for Mental Disorders

Slapped CheekParents who spank their children be warned: A recent study published in Pediatrics found a increased risk for mental disorders during adulthood and physical punishment during childhood.

According to research published as “Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample” by researchers at the Departments of Community Health Sciences, Psychiatry, Family Social Sciences, and Psychology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, harsh physical punishment in the absence of child maltreatment is associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders.

To determine a link, if any, between physical punishment during childhood and mental disorders during adulthood, the researchers collected data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions between 2004 and 2005. Childhood physical punishment was assessed and then compared to the occurrence of adult mental disorders.

Physical punishment included spanking as well acts of physical force beyond slapping but excluded child maltreatment such as severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, and exposure to intimate partner violence.

Adults who experienced physical punishment as children had an increased risk for most lifetime mental disorders including major depression, dysthymia, mania, any mood disorder, speciļ¬c phobia, any anxiety disorder, and any alcohol and drug abuse or dependence.

The authors of the study hope that their findings will help inform the policies on physical punishment of both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Canadian Pediatrics Society. As the authors conclude:

“These findings are important in considering policy and programmatic approaches to protect children from inappropriate and potentially harmful discipline.”

Do you support physical punishment of children?


Afifi, Tracie O., Natalie P. Mota, Patricia Dasiewicz, Harriet L. MacMillan, & Jitender Sareen. 2012. Physical punishment and mental disorders: Results from a nationally representative US sample. Pediatrics 130(2).

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