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To Spank or Not to Spank?

Is physical punishment effective? When and how should physical punishment be used?

A study by Canadian researchers suggests that physical punishment endured as a child may result in depression, anxiety and personality disorders later in life. 

According to an article posted on TheStar.com, Canada's largest online news site, researchers estimated between 2 and 7 percent of those mood disorders might be due to punishments inflicted in childhood — punishment that does not including more severe forms of abuse and maltreatment.

The study team used data collected by United States Census interviewers in 2004 and 2005 in surveys of almost 35,000 adults across the country and found about 6 per cent of interview subjects had been punished beyond spanking “sometimes,” “fairly often” or “very often.” Those with a history of harsh physical punishment were more likely to have a range of mood and personality disorders or to abuse drugs and alcohol, the study suggests. 

Up to half of all children may be spanked as punishment, according to researchers, but they wanted to look at what they deemed harsher punishments, such as shoving and hitting.

“People believe that as long as you don’t cross that line into child maltreatment, and the physical punishment is controlled and doesn’t cross the line into abuse, it won’t have any negative long-term consequences for the child,” said Tracie Afifi with the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, who lead the group of researchers. “The way we see it is along a continuum of having no violence to severe violence.”

According to the article, Afifi and her colleagues write in the journal "Pediatrics" that physical punishment may lead to chronic stress in children, which could then increase their chances of developing mental illnesses later in life. 

Michele Knox, a psychiatrist who studies family and youth violence at the University of Toledo College of Medicine, agreed it's likely. 

“Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment have a huge variety of negative outcomes, and almost no positive outcomes," she said, and those negative outcomes include aggressive behavior and delinquency in children. 

While this study has less broad implications, as it estimates just 2 to 7 percent of mental disorders MIGHT BE due to punishment during childhood, what do you think about physical punishment overall? Is it effective? When and how should physical punishment be used? How do you think children should be disciplined? Tell us what you think in comments.

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Lynn Hubbard July 16, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I remember my son was acting up in a department store. It took me about ten minutes to coax him out of a clothes rack. Once again settled in his stroller, a woman came up to me and thanked me for my patience and for being a good mom. There are always choices. One day same son was about three. We were going into the store for a quick trip. So I turned to him and said "Are you going to listen to me, or do I need to bring the stroller?" He thought for a second and replied. "Bring the stroller." Child abuse is RAMPANT, break the cycle!

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