Study: Childhood spankings can lead to mental health problems in adulthood

A study of the University of Michigan (UM) shows that children who get spanked may feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink at moderate-to-heavy levels or use illegal drugs when they grow up.

The study used data from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, which sampled more than 8,300 people aged from 19 to 97. Study participants completed self-reports while seeking routine health checks at an outpatient clinic.

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They were asked about how often they were spanked in their first 18 years, their household background and if an adult inflicted physical abuse - pushing, grabbing, slapping or shoving - or emotional abuse, such as insults or swearing.

Nearly 55 percent of the respondents reported being spanked. Men were more likely to experience childhood spanking than women. Compared to white respondents, minority respondents other than Asians were more likely to report being spanked.

Those reporting exposure to spanking had increased odds of depression and other mental health problems, the study showed.

Researchers note that as both spanking and physical abuse involve the use of force and infliction of pain, as well as being linked with similar mental health outcomes, meaning it is important to prevent not just child abuse and mistreatment, but also harsh parenting before it occurs.

"This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors," said Shawna Lee, UM associate professor of social work. "Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take."

The study and its findings have been published in Child Abuse and Neglect, a monthly social science journal covering child protection.