Children who are spanked, slapped, shoved or otherwise physically punished may be more prone to antisocial behavior as adults, a U.S. study suggests.

Four in five children in the United States have been spanked at least once by the time they reach kindergarten, researchers said in JAMA Network Open. While spanking and other forms of harsh physical punishment have long been linked to mental health problems in children, less is known about how these childhood experiences influence adult behavior.

For the current study, researchers examined survey data from 36,309 adults who were age 47, on average. Participants were asked about childhood punishments such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting, as well as any maltreatment like sexual violence and emotional or physical abuse or neglect.

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Overall, 18 percent of participants had experienced some type of harsh physical punishment growing up, and 48 percent endured some form of maltreatment.

Spanking on its own, and abuse on its own, were both associated with a higher risk of antisocial behavior in adulthood, the analysis found. And kids who experienced both harsh physical punishment and some form of abuse or neglect were even more likely to develop antisocial behaviors as adults than children who encountered only one type of mistreatment.

The study focused on a broad range of antisocial behaviors including breaking the law, lying, impulsivity, aggression, recklessness, an inability to hold down a job or pay bills, and a lack of remorse for having mistreated, hurt or stolen from another person.

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Spanking may not always lead to lasting mental health problems or antisocial behavior in adulthood, but there’s no compelling reason for parents to use harsh physical punishment when there are less harmful and more effective ways to discipline kids, said Andrew Riley, a psychologist at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. He wasn’t involved in the study.

“Children learn by example, and parents are their most important models,” Riley added. “Learning it’s okay to hurt the ones you love — or that they will hurt you — is not a lesson we want taught to our children.”

— Reuters

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