Spanking and Adult Mental Health Impairment

Adverse Childhood Experiences like child abuse are clearly related to poor health outcomes and while spanking has been demonstrated to have similar effects it has not been considered an adverse childhood experience. A study by researchers Affi et al (2017) sought to determine if spanking should be considered this way by comparing the extent to which a childhood history of spanking and a childhood history of physical and emotional abuse are linked with mental health impairments in adulthood. The results showed that spanking and physical and emotional abuse are loaded on the same factor suggesting they are highly correlated and reflect a similar underlying process. Childhood spanking was associated with increased likelihood of suicide attempts, moderate to heavy drinking and street drug use as adults. This allows us to understanding that spanking is on a continuum of violence against children and there is a strong relationship between harsh physical punishment and physical and emotional abuse of children. As the authors note, the correlation of spanking with other forms of child abuse suggests that removing this form of ‘discipline’ may correspond with a reduction in child maltreatment. These findings point to the need for education in positive parenting strategies in order to create safer homes, families and communities.

Afifi, T, Ford, D, Gershoff, E., Merrick, M, Grogan-Kaylor, A. Ports, K., L. MacMillan, H, Holden, G., Taylor C, Lee, S. Bennett R. Spanking and adult mental health impairment: The case for the designation of spanking as an adverse childhood experience Child Abuse & Neglect 71 (2017) 24–31