Adolescent spanking can lead to negative physical, psychological and behavioral outcomes.
Research has shown that spanking in childhood may alter the biological structure and lead to dysfunctional coping strategies. Afifi and her coworkers acknowledged that past spanking research was not without limitations. The problem with studying spanking’s effects is that physical punishment can co-occur with other forms abuse. It can be difficult to isolate one type of punishment. Afifi and her colleagues conducted their own research to further investigate this important topic.
Researchers gathered data from 1,883 adolescents and caregivers who lived in Ontario, Canada. The teens were aged between 14 and 17. Interviews were conducted with the teens to determine if they had any mental health conditions or defiant behavior (e.g. bullying, using a weapon against others, stealing school, skipping school). Interviews with caregivers provided information about the teens’ past experiences with physical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy and asthma.
The adolescents were asked by their caregivers how many times they had spanked or slapped them as children to assess their childhood spanking/slapping. The adolescents were also asked questions that would assess whether they had been subject to emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or violence in their childhood.
The researchers discovered that 18% of the sample had been spanked/slapped 3 times or more during their childhood. Analyzing the data showed that spanking or slapping these teens 3 or more times during their childhood was significantly more common than those who reported having been spanked or slapped only 2 or less times. These teens were also more likely than others to engage in deviant behavior, like shoplifting and physically hurting other people.
These associations were significant even after accounting for sociodemographic variables and childhood adversities, such as parental drug or alcohol abuse, separation, and maltreatment of children.
According to the authors, their study adds to the literature because it examines the effects of spanking/slapping. It also shows that this form physical punishment has detrimental consequences independent of maltreatment or childhood adversities.
“All forms and levels of physical punishment, even mild, are associated with poor outcomes for adolescents, including mental disorders and physical health problems. The current research and other research provide further evidence that spanking/slapping should never be used on children or adolescents,” Afifi said to PsyPost.
The authors noted that spanking is a popular corrective behavior that some adults believe can reduce delinquency. However, their study found that spanking history was associated with more aggressive behavior as an adolescent. Future longitudinal studies should focus on the interaction between spanking/slapping, and adolescent outcomes, according to the researchers.
Afifi stated that the study was cross-sectional, and therefore it is impossible to draw causal inferences. We need to learn more about how parents can replace spanking/slapping by non-physical discipline.