Physically disciplining a child increases the chances the child could develop a mental disorder or drug dependence, according to a new study published Monday on the subject.
Researchers from the University of Manitoba, and McMaster University, in Canada, examined data from the United States to look at the development of children exposed to corporal punishment. They found an association between the treatment and increased changes of developing mood or anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug dependence and other disorders
The increased odds were slight, from about 2 to 7 percent. But even controlling for socioeconomic variables and family histories, the researchers said, the associations were “significant.”
The study’s definition of “physical punishment” went beyond spanking, including also repeated acts of pushing, grabbing, shoving or slapping. It also excluded cases where the abuse went further, into extreme forms of physical and sexual abuse.
Researchers found that about 6 percent of American parents rely on this kind of treatment as a form of discipline.
Those parents may point to another surprising finding in the study: “that increases in education and income were associated with elevated odds of harsh physical punishment.”
The findings are sure to fuel the continuing debate among parents about how to discipline a child.
Just last week, a related controversy erupted on the pages of The Washington Post.
It involved the case of Creflo Dollar, the renowned African-American pastor who has been accused of abuse by his daughter.
Many of his supporters have said the father had a right to use physical punishment. The Georgia NAACP has publicly supported Dollar, too, and criticized an investigation into the accusations.
In the Post last week, writer and child advocate Stacy Patton condemned the group’s support in a opinion piece that also took on the use of physical punishment among other African-American parents.
“[The NAACP official fails] to realize that physically punishing black children in the name of protection and love could contribute to some of the problems that this tactic is believed to prevent — gang violence, bullying, school suspensions and incarceration,” she wrote.
The president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP wrote a response, also published in the Post, defending the group’s stance.
Dollar, for his part, has denied the allegations.
Researchers for the study published Monday online in Pediatrics did find that black subjects were more likely to cite physical punishment growing up. Males, also, were more likely than females, to report it.
The broader questions about discipline and repercussions transcend community boundaries, however.
When, if ever, is it okay to hit a child?
What is the line between discipline and abuse?
As we learn more about the possible long-term effects of corporal punishment, the answers to these questions are taking on ever greater significance.