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Physical Punishment in Childhood Tied to Mental Disorders

Physical Punishment in Childhood Tied to Mental DisordersIndividuals who are physically punished are at greater risk of developing a mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression or another personality disorder, according to researchers at the University of Manitoba in Canada.

Approximately two to seven percent of mental disorders in the study were tied to physical punishment.

Lead study author Tracie Afifi, Ph.D., evaluated data from a government survey of 35,000 non-institutionalized adults in the United States, taken between 2004 and 2005. Almost 1,300 of the participants (all over the age of 20) had experienced some form of physical punishment throughout their childhood.

Many of these reported they had been pushed, slapped, grabbed, shoved or hit by their parents or adult living in the house. Six percent of these respondents said their punishment may have been more than just spanking either “sometimes,” “fairly often” or “very often.”

Individuals who suffered a harsh physical punishment were more likely to have a range of mood and personality disorders or abuse to drug and alcohol.

Almost 20 percent of those who remembered being physically punished had suffered depression, and 43 percent had abused alcohol at some point in their life. This is compared to 16 percent of people who were not hit or slapped who complained of having suffered depressed and 30 percent who abused alcohol.

Afifi and her team were sure to not include those who have reported being physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Afifi also took into consideration those parents or legal guardians who had been treated for mental illness, race, income and level of education.

Although some experts are against physical punishment, others believe it is fine in certain circumstances. Dr. Robert Larzelere, a psychologist from Oklahoma State University thinks that severe punishment is not appropriate, but for younger children spanking may be suitable as long as the child views the spanking as a motivational tool for their behavior and overall good.

Although the results cannot prove a direct correlation, the physical punishment may lead to chronic stress, which in turn could increase a child’s chance of developing depression or anxiety.

Knox suggests that parents choose other ways of punishment such as “time out” or using positive reinforcements as a reward for good behavior.

The study was published in the journal of Pediatrics.

Source: Journal of Pediatrics

Man abusing child photo by shutterstock.

Physical Punishment in Childhood Tied to Mental Disorders

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Physical Punishment in Childhood Tied to Mental Disorders. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 5 Jul 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.