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Is spanking harmful? Study finds link with future mental illness, suicide, drug use

Kansas City Star - 11/5/2017

Nov. 05--A common method of disciplining children for some may increase children's likelihood of developing serious mental health problems in adulthood, a new study found.

Researchers at the University of Michigan found a link between spanking and mental health impairments, suicide, moderate to heavy drinking and drug use.

The researchers found "strong support" that spanking has a similar adverse effect on children as other forms of abuse.

Two professors of social work for the university, Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, led the study, which analyzed data from more than 8,000 people from ages 19 to 97.

"These findings are consistent with the previous work indicating that spanking and physical abuse are on a continuum of violence against children," they wrote.

Added Grogan-Kaylor in a University of Michigan news release issued Thursday: "Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems."

The report, published earlier this year, is one of many that have identified links between spanking and adverse effects for children. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found a correlation between spanking and "increased risk for detrimental child outcomes" after an analysis of more than 160,000 children.

Other studies have concluded that spanking is no more effective than placing children in time-out, and it does not decrease aggression.

Scotland is considering becoming the 52nd country to ban spanking, Vox reported late last month. The U.S. is not among the countries to ban it.

Even so, questions of spanking's legality have been raised in the Kansas City area.

In 2016, a Raymore mother faced a domestic assault charge and up to a year in the county jail after she spanked her daughter about five times with an open hand. The daughter was bruised.

A jury acquitted the woman after her defense attorney, Kim Benjamin, argued the charge was a form of government overreach.

Cass County Assistant Prosecutor Jordan Logan said that though Missouri law allows for physical force as a form of discipline, "there is a threshold you can cross."

"We're not trying to infringe on anyone's (rights)," she said then. "We want to make sure people of any age don't become victims of assault because people feel entitled to do whatever they want to them."

Parents should seek other forms of discipline that instill reasoning and problem-solving, according to Carrie Zellmer, an administrator at the Children's Place, a child advocacy center in KC.

The University of Michigan study echoed that sentiment. The authors called for public health initiatives and legislation to reduce the use of spanking, which they wrote maintains "continued support ... among some sectors in the U.S."

Educating parents could change that, they added, benefiting society.

"Assuring safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children is essential for healthy growth and development, effective parenting in the future, safer communities and stronger economies," they wrote.

Max Londberg: 816-234-4378, @MaxLondberg


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