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Childhood Spanking Linked to Mental Disorders in Adulthood

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Children who receive consistent physical punishment for bad behavior are at a greater risk of developing a mental illness in adulthood, say researchers at the University of Manitoba in Canada. In fact, the researchers found that up to 7% of a range of mental illnesses were associated with corporal punishment including mood disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

To conduct the study, the researchers looked at data from 2004-2005 on 34,000 individuals aged 20 or older. Participants were asked face-to-face questions about how often they were physically punished as children, including whether they were pushed, shoved, slapped or hit by their parents or another adult in the home. Responses ranged from "never" to "very often", and those respondents who answered "sometimes" or greater were considered to have experienced routine physical punishment.

The researchers stress that the study findings are not related to a little tap on the bottom for bad behavior. Rather, the researchers only looked at respondents who reported that their parents used physical punishment as a regular method of discipline including spanking, shoving, grabbing and hitting. Although the study did not find a direct relationship between spanking and mental illness in adulthood (one does not "cause" the other), the researchers nevertheless stress that the results should alert parents that physical punishment should not be used because they come with a cost. However, others are not as convinced that physical punishment is associated with mental illness. For example, Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., says that the reliance on adults to remember their childhood experiences clearly weakens the study's findings.