Posted by: jedwardswright | February 9, 2012

Does Spanking Contribute to Depression?

My mother spanked me when I was a child. I spanked my own children at times when they misbehaved.

I never considered that admission to be particularly controversial. Certainly later as a teacher I learned many non-physical methods of discipline that I wished that I had known about when my own kids were small, especially preventative measures. Definitely if I had to do it over again I would spank less, and perhaps not at all.

However, I didn’t think that being spanked had a significant bearing on my becoming depressed, nor did I believe that a little corporal punishment along the way was detrimental to my children’s healthy development.

Now along comes a research study that has me questioning all that.

In a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reports that research over the past 20 years overwhelmingly indicates that physical punishment of children not only makes them behave more aggressively and show more antisocial behaviors, but also lead to mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.[i]

According to the article’s authors, Dr. Joan Durrant of the Department of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba, and Ron Ensom of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, when parents in 500 families were taught to use non-physical methods of discipline, their children’s negative behaviors decreased.

My first thought is that physical punishment can encompass many things, from being slapped across the face to a gentle paddling on the bottom. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the parental behavior being targeted was in fact spanking a child with the hand. This would indicate that not only have generations of parents gotten it wrong, but that generations of children may have suffered from mental illness as a result.

I do remember being spanked as a traumatic experience that sometimes left me sobbing hysterically well after the paddling was over. Quite honestly, I had associated my distress with the humiliation of my mom’s insistence on spanking me on my bare bottom. Maybe there was more to it than that.

While I remain convinced that genetics plays a major role in determining whether or not we have depression, I do think that our childhood experiences and trauma as adults can be a large contributing factor to mental illness.

What do you think? Are you of the “It never did me no harm” school of thought, or do you genuinely feel that being spanked (or not) contributed to whether you became depressed?


[i] Canadian Medical Association Journal. “A Child’s Long-Term Development May Be Harmed By Physical Punishment.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 7 Feb. 2012. Web.

9 Feb. 2012. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/241245.php&gt;

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