To spank or not to spank has caused many a heated debate among parents, some who say that spanking is a form of abuse and should never be used as punishment and some who believe spanking is necessary to teach kids how to behave properly. Often, arguments in favor of spanking rely on the idea that so many of us were spanked as kids and turned out just fine.
But new research puts a hole in that theory, by finding a link between spanking and mental health problems later in life.
In a review of data from more than 8,300 people aged 19 to 97, researchers at the University of Michigan found that those who reported being spanked most frequently also were more likely to have mental illnesses like depression and were more at risk for heavy alcohol and drug use later in life.
The researchers were looking into spanking’s effect on mental health in order to understand if it should be lumped in with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting so hard that it leaves marks. ACEs are often studied in connection to a person’s health as an adult, according to the study, but spanking has never been part of this research.
Of course, it’s important to remember that what the researchers of this study found was a link between spanking and poor mental health in adulthood, based on self-reported data. It by no means proves that spanking a child will cause depression or substance abuse for them down the road. There could also be other factors at play in the households where spanking was a frequent form of punishment that weren’t part of the data.
As the researchers theorize in the study, “it is likely that parents who rely on spanking as an acceptable and necessary approach to controlling children’s behavior may be more likely to physically abuse their children.”
Still, this isn’t the first study to find connections between spanking and negative outcomes like bad behavior or aggressive personalities, and it seems most scientists agree that it’s better to be safe than sorry.