Spanking leads to mental health problems, study shows


Data gathered over a 50-year period shows the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to develop mental health problems.

According to a study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, even though most Americans don't recognize spanking as abusive behavior, it has been linked to aggression, anti-social behavior and cognitive difficulties.

Researchers at UT said the study, which involved more than 160,000 children, is the most complete analysis to date of the outcomes associated with spanking.

“We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children,” Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences said.

The study showed adults who were spanked as children exhibited anti-social behavior, mental health problems and were more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlighted the attitude that physical punishment is passed from generation to generation.

A 2014 UNICEF report showed that as many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children. Gershoff said that's in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of positive effects from spanking, and ample evidence that it poses a risk of harm to children's behavior and development.

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

The study outcome was consistent with a report recently released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that called for “public engagement and education campaigns and legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment,” including spanking, as a means of reducing physical child abuse. “We hope that our study can help educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”

Click here to read more about the study.

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