Spanking Kids Leads to Adult Mental Illnesses

Dear Readers:

I occasionally insert articles of personal interest on my blog. Below is the results of a research study on spanking. This one speaks to my heart as I was spanked and slapped as a child. And as I look back over my life, I realize I have been attacked in one physical way or another about a dozen times. When I became the mother of a boy child who was very busy, I was told by my family that I needed to spank him. So I spanked him one time when he was about two years old.

I cried, he didn’t. I never hit him again.

I recall the old saying, pick on someone your own size if you have to pick on anyone at all. It’s a more fair match. However, I was  attacked as an adult and I was no physical match. I never expect to be attacked. I tend to think I began to emit ‘attack me’ energy after early spankings.

I was bullied when we moved to a new grammar school in a new state. Later in life, in two separate situations, I was assaulted by homeless men who grabbed and kissed me; I was sexually assaulted; I married a sex addict. Oh, and Daddy was an alcoholic.

My father would say ‘Life is tough,’ when I asked him why he was so mean.

Please, don’t spank/hit your children. Can you see how it spirals out of control?

Maureen Nolan

Spanking Kids Leads to Adult Mental Illnesses

By Michael Smith, North American Correspondent, MedPage Today

Published: July 02, 2012

Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Action Points

Don't Hit Your Children
  • Note that physical punishment (such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting) remains a commonly used method of discipline in North America and is considered socially acceptable by many caregivers.
  • Point out that in this study, harsh physical punishment in the absence of child maltreatment was associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorders in a general population sample of adults.

Childhood punishments such as spanking, slapping, and hitting even in the absence of full-scale maltreatment are associated with an increased risk of mental disorders in adulthood, researchers reported.

Adults who reported such punishments in their childhood had a greater risk of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse dependence, and several personality disorders, according to Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and colleagues.

Up to 7% of some adult disorders can be attributed to “harsh physical punishment” in childhood, Afifi and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics.

The link between child abuse both physical and sexual and mental disorders in adulthood has long been established, the researchers noted.

But studies of milder forms of punishment that had similar findings have been disputed as having “weaknesses in design, measurement, and analysis,” they added, including the lack of adjustment for confounding factors such as full-scale abuse.

To try to overcome those limitations, Afifi and colleagues turned to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which included a representative sample of civilian, non-institutionalized adults in the U.S.

The second wave of the survey, conducted between 2004 and 2005, included 34,653 adults, 20 or older, and asked about current mental conditions, as well as the past incidence of physical punishments.

In interviews, participants were asked: “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?”

Answers, on a five-point Likert scale, could be never, almost never, sometimes, fairly often, and very often. Participants who answered sometimes or higher were defined to have experienced harsh physical punishment.

For this analysis, participants who also reported severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence were excluded. The final analytic sample included 20,607 participants.

Overall, Afifi and colleagues reported, 1,258 participants reported physical punishment, or 5.9% of the total. They were more likely to be male, black, and to have a family history of dysfunction.

After adjustment for sociodemographic factors and family dysfunction, harsh physical punishment was associated with an increased risk of most lifetime Axis I mental disorders. Specifically the adjusted odds ratio for:

  • Major depression was 1.41 with a 99.9% confidence interval from 1.03 to 1.92.
  • Mania was 1.93 with a 99.9% confidence interval from 1.07 to 3.48.
  • Any mood disorder was 1.49 with a 99.9% confidence interval from 1.11 to 2.00.
  • Any anxiety disorder was 1.36 with a 99.9% confidence interval from 1.05 to 1.77.
  • Any alcohol abuse or dependence was 1.59 with a 99.9% confidence interval from 1.21 to 2.08.
  • Any drug abuse or dependence was 1.53 with a 99.9% confidence interval from 1.06 to 2.20.

Population attributable fractions ranged from 2.1% for any anxiety disorder to 5.2% for mania.

The researchers found a similar pattern for Axis II disorders, with adjusted odds ratios ranging from 1.63 for obsessive compulsive personality disorder to 2.46 for schizotypal personality disorder.

Population attributable fractions ranged from 4.2% for any cluster A disorder (paranoid, schizoid, or schizotypal) to 7.2% for schizotypal personality disorder.

The findings “provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders,” Afifi and colleagues concluded.

They cautioned that the study was cross-sectional, which precludes drawing any causal inferences. Moreover, they noted, the data was retrospective, which could introduce recall and reporting biases.

  • The study had support from the Manitoba Medical Services Foundation award, the Winnipeg Foundation, the Manitoba Health Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The journal said the authors declared they had no conflicts.

Primary source: Pediatrics

Source reference:

Afifi TO, et al “Physical punishment and mental disorders: Results from a nationally representative US sample” Pediatrics 2012; 130: 19.

Michael Smith
North American Correspondent


North American Correspondent for MedPage Today, is a three-time winner of the Science and Society Journalism Award of the Canadian Science Writers Association. After working for newspapers in several parts of Canada, he was the science writer for the Toronto Star before becoming a freelancer in 1994. His byline has appeared in New Scientist, Science, the Globe and Mail, United Press International, Toronto Life, Canadian Business, the Toronto Star, Marketing Computers, and many others. He is based in Toronto, and when not transforming dense science into compelling prose he can usually be found sailing.