The use of physical punishment to discipline children has been linked to a range of mental health problems and is strongly opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. However, in surveys a significant number of American parents report spanking or slapping their children.
The study, “Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative U.S. Sample,” in the August 2012 Pediatrics (published online July 2), examined whether harsh physical punishment, such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting, is linked to mental disorders even in the absence of more severe child maltreatment (i.e., physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence).
Researchers in Canada examined data from a U.S. epidemiologic survey from 2004 to 2005. Harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and several personality disorders. Researchers found 2 percent to 7 percent of mental disorders were attributable to physical punishment. Study authors conclude pediatricians and other health care providers who work with children and parents should be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders.
From a public health perspective, study authors conclude reducing physical punishment may help decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population.