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CBC readers debate spanking as punishment for children

Categories: Health

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Adults who were subjected to physical punishment such as spanking as children are more likely to experience mental disorders, say Canadian researchers who encourage other forms of discipline. (iStock)



CBC readers had a strong reaction to new research that suggests people who were physically punished as children are more likely to experience mental disorders.

The study, which was published in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics, suggests there is a statistical correlation between the physical punishment of children - which includes pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting in the absence of more severe maltreatment - and mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse.

"It definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age," said study author Tracie Afifi, who is in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba.

The authors highlighted spanking, smacking and slapping as punishment that should stop altogether.

Their recommendations received mixed reviews, as readers fiercely debated the merits of physical punishment, using everything from personal anecdotes to generational observations to defend their side of the argument.

The most active comment highlighted the divide.

"There's a difference between abuse and discipline," said DirtyMariner in a short comment that nonetheless elicited 16 replies, including:

  • "There's a difference between discipline and spanking. What happens when the child becomes a teenager and the only discipline the parent knows is spanking? It's a little late then to try reasoning with him. Especially if he starts defending himself by hitting back. Physical punishment teaches a child that it's OK to hit someone smaller than you. It's much more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding, to discipline with love and not with force." - lady goodiva
  • "NOT disciplining children leads them to become troublesome teenagers and violent adults who believe they can do anything they want whenever and wherever they want because they are entitled to do so. Proper discipline, including spanking, teaches children there are limits to what they can and cannot do and that there is a price for crossing the line ... even teens should be spanked if they break rules too often or too extremely." - NWRokk
  • "People in support of corporal punishment are just latent sadists who want to act out their sick urges on their kids. People hit kids not because their kids are out of control, but because they themselves are out of control and can't control their temper ... If you can't discipline a kid without using violence you should not be allowed to have a kid." - CoryBarnes
  • "Whoever says spanking a child is wrong because it teaches them the wrong things in life needs to give their heads a shake. At some point, yes, a child may hit back as they get older, but sitting alone in a corner doesn't establish boundaries. I'm not talking about abusing a child, that's something completely different, and should be acted on as soon as it's detected." - BigG3522

A vocal contingent said there is something different about this generation of children.

  • "Youth today in general are undisciplined, rude and only care about themselves. Ever since the early 60's when these people came out and said a child may suffer some embarrassment or get hurt, the kids are getting worse." - Flattop
  • "Kids today lack discipline period. They are absolute little monsters!" - beammeupscotty 
  • "I'm no youngster, but when I was a kid, spanking was the norm, I think it kept kids in line, they seemed better behaved than a lot of today's kids and I don't think any of them are suffering from mental complications because of it." - jim swivel

Many people pointed to one line in the article to dismiss the correlation: "Afifi acknowledged it's not a causal effect and the study design can't prove the link, but she said the statistical association is clear."

Others accepted the relationship between physical punishment and mental health, and pushed for alternatives.

  • "Violence brings out more violence. It's common sense. We never touched our kids. We removed their favourite toys or treats then later computer time to get their attention. They never used any "S" words and when they acted up they were instructed to give each other a hug. Worked well in front of their friends. Today they are respectable adults. Today's adults have very little patience to parent properly. It's easier to lash out in a rage." - Dayton
  • "Children learn what they see. To teach discipline, a parent must have discipline. A parent, who only knows how to hit does NOT teach their child anything but fear. Teaching children the consequence of their actions takes some energy and time on the part of the parent. Too often parents want a quick solution to children's bad behaviour. If parents take the time, energy and are consistent, they can find creative ways to effectively discipline and teach their children without the use of violence." - cowgirl junkie

Thank you, as always, for following our coverage. Please feel free to comment on or challenge any of these points and continue the conversation below.

Tags: Canada, Health

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