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New Study: Spanked Kids = Messed-Up Grownups

PHOTO: Physical punishment of children increases the chances of mood, anxiety and personality disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse in adulthood, says a study in the latest Journal of Pediatrics.
PHOTO: Physical punishment of children increases the chances of mood, anxiety and personality disorders, and alcohol and drug abuse in adulthood, says a study in the latest Journal of Pediatrics.
July 23, 2012

NASHUA, N.H. - Physical punishment of children increases the chances of mood, anxiety, and personality disorders - and alcohol and drug abuse - in adulthood, says a study in the latest Journal of Pediatrics. Canadian researchers using data from nearly 35,000 American adults found that from 2 percent to 7 percent of mental disorders were attributable to physical punishment.

To many experts, including Cyndi Scott, executive director of the Coalition Against Child Abuse and Neglect, the findings reinforce what they already know about spanking.

"It's not going to be beneficial to the child, or to the parent, for them to use any kind of physical force. So, we would not recommend people hitting children."

The alternative, say some authorities on parenting, is talk - talking to children both before and after they engage in behavior that is not approved.

Marcy Safyer, who directs the Parenting Institute at Adelphi University, says parents have alternatives to physical punishment.

"They need to be - there's the term: 'bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.' They need to pick the child up from whatever it is and remove them. Sit with them until the child calms down, and then say to them, 'Let's talk about why I don't want you to do that.'"

Many parents, Scott says, still see spanking as an effective way of discouraging misbehavior.

"There are times where people feel like, 'Oh, that's ridiculous. I was raised - my parents spanked me. I should be able to spank my child.' But we also know - we see children who have been harmed by adults, and it can lead to trauma."

Parents should not be a cause of fear in a child, Safyer says, especially in ages zero to 3, when brain development is at its most rapid and crucial phase.

"During that time, a child develops the foundation and capabilities that all the rest of their development builds upon. Their parents' job at that time is to be a secure base that a child can come back to when they're anxious and frightened in the world."

Spanking is outlawed in more than 30 countries. It is legal for parents to use physical punishment on their children in the United States, although laws exist that define what crosses the line and must be reported as abuse.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NH