While spanking is a punishment that seems to occur less and less often these days, it was certainly more common even recently in the past. Perhaps one of the reasons for the decline of spanking has been the hotbed of debate about it- whether or not it is useful in disciplining a child, as well as whether or not it is harming them. A lot of people will attest to a childhood that included spanking and say that they turned out just fine, and it may seem that way on the surface. However, science seems to disagree with that assertion.
Among those who disagree with spanking as punishment, there are some who would go so far as to say that spanking is a form of child abuse. They assert this despite the acknowledgment of a difference among pro-spanking camps of ‘spanking’, a form of discipline, and ‘beating’ a form of punishment or abuse done out of anger. As it stands, there is recent evidence to suggest that spanking can increase the risk of mental issues among the children on the wrong end of the belt. Most recently, such evidence has appeared in a study published in El Sevier.
The results of the study in question were the fruit of combined labor, performed by various teams of researchers from multiple organizations, including, but not limited to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Emory University Medical School, and Canada’s University of Manitoba. Ultimately, these groups of scientists took a much closer look at the data of a previous study, one that included almost 10000 participants between the ages of 19 and 97. The goal? Ultimately, they wanted to better understand the long-term negative impact on a victim’s health that comes as a result of physical and emotional abuse.
When it comes to discussions of physical and emotional abuse or neglect towards children, the term ‘ACE’ is used. It stands for “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Generally, the occurrence of ACEs in a person’s life during childhood are fairly solid indicators of trouble later on in that child’s life. For example, such children are more likely to end up depressed, or with other mental disorders, such as PTSD. They may attempt to cope in unhealthy ways, typically turning to substance abuse through alcohol or drugs. The relationship between ACEs and such behavior and mental issues was uncovered by the original study.
Given that it has long been recognized as a form of discipline, rather than abuse, spanking is generally not considered an ACE. What is interesting, however, is the finding the researchers came to during the analysis of this study; it turns out that spanking has generated a number of negative outcomes that are very similar to those brought on by actions or behaviors more clearly labeled as forms of abuse or neglect, and therefore considered to be ACEs. Because of this connection, it seems prudent that we should consider redefining spanking as an ACE, rather than a form of discipline.
The Details of the Study
In the context of the study, researchers defined ‘spanking’ as hitting on the bottom, or on the extremities. Then, in order to ascertain who had been spanked significantly, they asked the participants details about their spankings, namely how often they were spanked within their first 18 years of life. Among these respondents were two major categories. In the case of those who were only spanked a few times, they were ‘negative’, while those who had been spanked more often, or a larger number of times were ‘positive’. From here, the scientists needed to control for differences among demographics, particularly race.
While different races seem to spank their children at different rates (generally, black and Latino participants were more likely to report receiving more spankings as children, as were those who self-identified as ‘other race’; conversely, children of Asian descent were more likely to report receiving very little spanking) the results were the same. Children who were spanked were more likely to exhibit behavior and mental issues associated with ACEs. This includes substance abuse, depression, and in extreme cases, suicide attempts. Conversely, children spanked less often were less likely to feel this way, and therefore unlikely to exhibit such behavior.
As mentioned earlier, it seems that spanking should be considered an ACE, like the various forms of child abuse and neglect. The scientists certainly seem to think so. That being said, they would not go so far as to say that spanking should be equivalent to such things. However, spanking is perhaps a gateway to them and may set in place some of the harmful elements that lead to mental issues and unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as drinking and drug abuse. There is more to consider, like the possibility parents who spanked were more likely to engage in abusive behaviors.Related: 10 Warning Signs your Child might have a Mental Disorder
So, is spanking bad? Probably. It certainly correlates with mental harm later in life, whether or not it directly causes it. That doesn’t mean that children who were spanked always turn out with serious mental health problems or problematic behaviors—but the link is difficult to ignore. Even if the jury is out on that one, consider the fact that research has yet to reveal any positive effects that spanking has on a child. With that in mind, it seems that perhaps sparing the rod and spoiling the child are not as closely associated as we may tend to think.