How physical punishments can harm your child’s mental health

A traditional form of physical punishment in which a beating is applied to the buttocks or any part of a child’s body is common in Africa. Many parents or guardians do not believe in other forms of punishment for their children than spanking.

Many parents, caregivers and guardians use the rod to harm children in an attempt to ‘discipline’ them. Such incidents bring up the moral and logical question on the role of the rod in parenting.

Science may have provided some insights and answers to the puzzle. After collecting and evaluating the results of a 50-year-old study, researchers announced the troubling and yet enlightening result of spanking in kids, either for correctional or punitive purposes.

The study, published by Journal of Family Psychology, reveals that the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents; experience anti-social behaviour; express aggression, suffer mental health problems and cognitive difficulties.

The scientists evaluated the research which involved over 160,000 children across the globe.

The lead researcher and associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, Elizabeth Gershoff, described the result as the most accurate and evidence-based analysis that has showed the effects of spanking alone in many years.

Gershoff says, “Our analysis found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”

Scholar and co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor links spanking with 13 of the17 negative outcomes in children and adults.

“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes in children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” Grogan-Kaylor says.

Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor also tested for the long-term effect on adults who were spanked as children.

The study reveals that the more they were spanked in childhood, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and experience mental health problems.

The analysis also shows that adults who were spanked in their teens are more likely to support physical punishment for their kids.

The scientists note that one should worry on the import of this attitude towards physical punishment being passed off as the norm through generations.

Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction.

“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviours,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”

Gershoff notes that the study results are consistent with the report by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls for a legislative approach to reduce corporal punishment by categorizing spanking as a form of physical abuse.

She says,” We hope that our study can help to educate parents about the potential harms of spanking and prompt them to try positive and non-punitive forms of discipline.”

Yes, physicians say that spanking is a physical abuse that has negative implications on the mental health on the individual.

It is a global topic whose relevance is widely debated. A 2014 United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund states that as many as 80 per cent of parents around the world spank their children.

Gershoff notes that this persistence of spanking is in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of its positive effects and ample evidence abound that it poses a risk of harm to children’s behavior and development.

For Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr. Jude Onyeama, adults who were spanked as children are more prone to settle disputes in their relationships with physical violence.

Onyeama says that some of the patients become depressed and experience schizophrenic episodes when they relieve physical punishments they experienced as kids.

He states, “We really need to examine the effect of spanking on adults. Yes, you exhibit the consequence of such physical abuse between your 20s and 50s.  Are you beating that child in anger? Some parents even get mental and physical relief from beating their child. It is not that they want to correct him/her. They want the child to do it again so they can even spank her more because they say it. I hear, ‘If you do it again I will beat you a lot’ from adults. I have had to recommend anger management for parents.

“They have the problems, not the kids. There are over 50 ways to counsel or punish your kid when he/she misbehaves. Get creative, not destructive. Let us mould and not ‘murder’ the self-esteem of the next generation.”

“Nobody has the holy grail on parenting. It is indeed one of the most difficult briefs that can be given to any individual. But we surmount many challenges in our daily lives. Why not look for other punitive measures to train your kids?

“We don’t want to be the precursor for a violent generation. The world already has its unfair share of dysfunctional adults. Let’s not add to the number.

Adegbenro Nurudeen