How often have you witnessed a parent in a store (or even in their home) spanking a crying or disruptive child? How often have you seen a parent being harshly verbal with that child, enough to make your skin crawl? How often have you had the courage to intervene?
If you did, chances are you were told to mind your own business ~ "This is my kid, and I'll discipline as I see fit. Hell, I was spanked when I was a kid, and I turned out okay!" Unless the parent was drawing blood or leaving bruises, you felt you had no choice but to turn away.
Don't. A new study finds that simple spanking or slapping can so traumatize a child that he or she is far more likely to develop severe problems as an adult ~ problems ranging from alcohol and drug abuse to mood, anxiety and personality disorders. The researchers noted that "The link between child abuse ~ both physical and sexual ~ and mental disorders in adulthood has long been established. But studies of milder forms of punishment that had similar findings have been disputed.
"For this analysis, participants who also reported severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or exposure to intimate partner violence were excluded. The final analytic sample included 20,607 participants."
After adjustment for sociodemographic factors and family dysfunction, harsh physical punishment was associated with an increased risk of most lifetime Axis I mental disorders. Specifically ~
- the risk of major depression was 41 percent higher
- the risk of mania was 93 percent higher
- the risk of any mood disorder was 49 percent higher
- the risk of any anxiety disorder was 36 percent higher
- the risk of any alcohol abuse or dependence was 59 percent higher
- the risk of any drug abuse or dependence was 52 percent higher
Tragically, physical punishment (such as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, hitting) remains a commonly used method of discipline in North America, and is considered socially acceptable by many care givers. Click here to view an ABC News summary of the study, and check out the embedded videos ~ one a debate on spanking, one a recording of parents spanking children, and one discussing whether teachers should spank (my response ~ over my dead body). NOTE ~ an adult using a bare hand to spank is bad enough. Using an object like a leather belt, a wooden paddle, or other device is sadistic.
I was a childhood victim of both bullying at school, and physical/emotional abuse at home. The treatment I received was not as severe as some parents dish out, but it was harsh enough that I resolved that I would never, never strike my own child, nor allow anyone else to do so. My thought was ~ and remains ~ that the lesson children learn is that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that those who are mistreated as children, too often become abusers themselves as adults. (I can recall only one instance in which I lost my temper and slapped my son, and I was horrified at myself. The power of our upbringing runs strong and deep within us, even when we consciously resist it.)
I do not hesitate to speak up when I see physical or emotional abuse of any kind directed at an animal, a child, or a weaker adult. These days my son is six inches taller than me, and outweighs me by 100 lb. In that sense he hardly needs protection. But in another sense I'm better equipped than he is to stand up to someone, since I have training in military hand-to-hand combat, boxing, and karate. I'd much rather use reason and persuasion to talk someone down from a combative or abusive mood, but it's good to know that I can defend myself ~ and defend others.
So if you know of anyone who still believes that spanking or hitting is okay, please share this with that person ~ not to preach to them, but to persuade them that they are defending child abuse. If you are that person yourself, please think long and hard about the lifelong damage you are inflicting on someone you love.