Spanking kids is as bad as abuse for future trauma risk

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Spanking is just as bad as adverse experiences like abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction for increasing risk for future trauma in children’s lives, a new study shows.

The study provides evidence that spanking and adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs—which include measures of physical and emotional abuse, neglect, intimate partner violence, parental mental health problems, parental substance use, parental incarceration, and parental death—have statistically indistinguishable effects on externalizing behavior problems in early childhood.

Researchers analyzed responses from 2,380 families in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Mothers reported outcomes of externalizing and internalizing child behavior problems at age 5; and the main predictors, adverse childhood experiences and spanking, at age 3.

ACEs and spanking at 3 years were unique risk factors for increased externalizing problems at 5 years, the study shows. Results support calls to consider physical punishment as a form of ACE.

“This suggests that the detrimental effects of spanking and ACEs on children are likely to be similar,” says Julie Ma, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper, published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

For decades, parents have debated disciplinary methods for children who misbehave. Those who support spanking believe their children won’t suffer lasting negative effects. Spanking opponents, including pediatric and psychology organizations, say nonviolent discipline is the better practice based on many studies that have shown that spanking is likely to worsen children’s behavior problems.

Source: University of Michigan