The hot button debate about whether or not spanking is a viable, productive way to discipline children has gotten more fuel for its ongoing fire because, you know, proponents for each side just didn’t have quite enough material to quibble over up until now. The latest in the long lineup of postulations is new research from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, which claims disciplining kids with physical punishment such as spanking—and, of course, its handmaidens, shoving and slapping—may raise their risk for developing mental health problems when they get older.
From the gate, there’s a problem with the assertion. The research is clearly skewed as a bully pulpit against corporal punishment because shoving and slapping are so not in the same category of discipline as a swat across a kid’s behind in a moment of correction or a spanking out of love as part of a parent’s plan to set an unruly child straight.
As a matter of fact, the study’s author, Dr. Tracie O. Afifi, lumps spanking in with not only shoving and slapping, but hitting, grabbing, and pushing, in essence making those actions out to be one in the same. WebMD takes it one step further by adding in denying bathroom privileges, forcing a child to eat disgusting substances, or withholding water and food.
More from The Stir: My Parents Spanked Me & It Still Hurts Me Now
Seriously? I know opponents are eager to prove their point that all physical discipline is the handiwork of a less loving parent, but there is a line between punishment and just flat out abuse. Let’s review: if you wail on your kid without any kind of emotional or psychological bolstering, if you pull out the belt or snap off a switch at the least little misstep, if your kneejerk reaction is to raise a hand or foot to mollywhop a child into better behavior, then you might just be an abuser. But that’s not the case for moms and dads who correct with an occasional spanking and follow that up with loving conversation that reinforces the values and expectations behind the punishment in the first place.
American parents are pretty much split down the middle between the spankers and the non-spankers. Forty-eight percent of U.S. moms and dads use corporal strategy when time-outs and talking-tos just won’t get the point across. But according to Afifi’s research, physical punishment increases a person's odds for having a mood or anxiety issues, alcohol or drug abuse, and personality disorders. According to the study, between 2 and 7 percent of mental health problems among the 35,000 subjects involved can be attributed to physical punishment.
At the end of the day, you can find research to support just about any theory, thought, idea, or belief if you dig long and hard enough. I think this is just another attempt to pare parenting down to one blanketed method instead of letting folks find out what works for their families with free conscience. And since kids don’t come with an instruction manual, I think our time would be better served stepping out of the gray area of corporal punishment and trying to figure out how to help in some of the 1,001 other areas that are less objective, more cut and dry, and much more in-our-faces.
So, do you think kids who get spanked are more susceptible to having mental issues as adults?
Image via goodnight_photography/Flickr