A recent study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics claims that children who are spanked, hit or pushed have an increased risk of mental problems as they get older. The study shows that the mental problems can range from mood and anxiety disorders to alcohol and drug abuse.

Published in the August edition of Pediatrics, the study is entitled Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results from a Nationally Representative U.S. Sample. Performed by an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department of Community Health and Sciences, the research states that around 5 percent of all mental disorders found in the study are linked to physical punishment as a child.

Participants In The Study

The eligibility criteria for the 35,000 adults in the study included individuals who were non-institutionalized, over the age of 20 and from the US; they were surveyed between 2004 and 2005.

Of that number, 1,300 adults confirmed that as a child they were shoved, grabbed, slapped or hit on a regular basis by their parents or another adult who lived in the home. The goal of the study was to focus on the link between deliberate punishment and mental disorders on Axis I and II. Therefore, it does not include children who were maltreated (abused physically, emotionally or sexually.)

Clinical disorders are located on Axis I and include major mental disorders, substance use disorders and learning disorders. Axis II disorders include personality disorders, as well as intellectual disabilities. It is important to note that developmental disorders such as autism are no longer included on Axis II; they are now considered Axis I.

Should Parents Spank?

Spanking is a very common form of physical punishment; close to half of adults in the United States have stated that, as children, they were spanked, grabbed, pushed or shoved. In the study, 59 percent of adults who had been subjected to physical punishment were more likely to be alcohol dependent, 41 percent were more likely to be depressed and 24 percent were more likely to suffer from panic disorders. The question arises: “Should parents spank?"

The study encourages parents to seek other forms of discipline, such as positive reinforcement for good behaviors or natural consequences. For toddlers and preschoolers, distraction has also been found to be effective in redirecting children to more desirable behavior.

Although the research offers insight into potential long-term consequences of physical punishments, the authors do note that they have found an association between spanking and mental disorders, not a direct cause-and-effect link.

Others in the field have pointed out that the motivation behind how a child perceives the spanking and when and how the parents use it, also makes a substantial difference.


This study on physical punishment and the long-term impact it has on children transitioning into adulthood provides more evidence against regular and/or exclusive use of physical forms of punishment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics still opposes the use of physical punishment in any form, and encourages parents to consider alternative forms of punishment.