Study Finds Link between Spanking and Mental Health Problems in Adulthood

Posted July 10, 2012 by

Photo of rebeccawolfenden

A recent study published in the Journal Pediatrics examined the link between physical punishment and mental health outcomes in adult life.  The study defined physical punishment as “slapping, pushing, hitting, grabbing or shoving” by a parent or other adult living in the home, and looked at those respondents who stated that they experienced this with occasional or greater frequency before the age of 18.  The study excluded those who indicated that they also experienced more severe types of abuse, such as physical punishments that left marks or injuries, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and/or physical or emotional neglect.  The researchers showed that adults who experienced physical punishments were more likely to be diagnosed with a variety of mental health conditions in adulthood, such as depression, mania, mood disorders, alcohol use/dependence, substance use/dependence and anxiety disorders.  It also showed that experiencing physical punishments was associated with an increase in the diagnosis of certain personality disorders as well.

As a result of this study, the authors recommend looking at practices such as spanking as a public health issue, and encouraged associations such as the American Association of Pediatrics to strengthen their stance against all forms of physical punishments and promote other parenting practices such as positive reinforcement.

Here on the 1-on-1 Coaching team, we realize that many parents do use spanking and physical punishments with their children.  A quick, non-scientific poll on our Facebook page shows that many of our readers agree that spanking is acceptable, and a technique to show your child boundaries and consequences for their actions.  We discourage parents from using physical punishments for a few different reasons.  First, we find that when parents use methods such as spanking, situations tend to escalate rather than calm down.  When things are heated between you and your child, the focus should be on composing yourself and helping your child to do the same, rather than getting your child to comply at all costs.

James Lehman reminds us that children with behavior problems act out because they have not learned more effective ways of solving their problems.  Children who are spanked are not learning alternative ways of behaving.  While you might get immediate compliance in the moment, your child is not learning what he or she can do differently the next time a similar situation arises.

We also talk a lot about the importance of modeling the behavior you would like to see in your child.  Spanking is not an effective problem-solving technique to model for your child.  If you slap your child for their poor behavior, you are modeling that it is OK to hit someone when they are not behaving the way you want them to, which may lead to increased aggression in your child.

We are dedicated to helping parents achieve positive outcomes with their families using tried-and-true methods of behavior modification such as positive reinforcement, and teaching replacement behaviors.  We advocate problem solving and accountability techniques because they are effective life skills for your child to learn with few negative results.  We believe that this is truly the way to empower parents!


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments


Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families