News: Smacking linked to mental illness


I was smacked as a child. I suspect most people over the age of 30 were. It was simply the ‘done’ thing back then.

Nobody questioned it.

I was smacked for being cheeky, for breaking things, for getting dirty, for everything.

I also grew up feeling lonely and distant from my parents. I remember a constant sick feeling in my stomach. I was anxiety-ridden. Clearly, I wasn’t the kind of child who responded well to smacking.

New research released this week, suggests that there is a link between being smacked as a child and mental illness later in life.

According to the LA Times:

A child who is spanked, slapped, grabbed or shoved as a form of punishment runs a higher risk of becoming an adult who suffers from a wide range of mental and personality disorders, even when that harsh physical punishment was occasional and when the child experienced no more extreme form of violence or abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver, says a new study.

Among adults who reported harsh physical punishment short of physical or sexual abuse, psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, mania and drug or alcohol dependency were between 2% and 5% more common. And more complex psychiatric illnesses marked by paranoia, antisocial behavior, emotional dependency and narcissism were between 4% and 7% more likely, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

The increase in mental disorders among those who were hit or physically punished as children was seen even in families where no family dysfunction or clear evidence of parental mental illness was reported, suggesting that the higher risk of psychiatric woes was not necessarily genetically inherited. Even those who reported harsh physical punishment on a “sometimes” basis were at elevated risk of developing psychiatric disease in adulthood.

I smacked my first born once when he was three. I can’t even remember why but I remember being angry. I remember the sting on my hand when I smacked him and I remember the look of shock and devastation on his face. I felt sick. He started crying and I started crying. I knew then that smacking my children wasn’t for me. It brought up too many unhappy memories.

Dr Phil once said we can’t protect our kids from pain and distress, we can only teach them to cope with pain and distress. As a mother I want to focus on protecting them from pain and teaching them to cope with pain and distress. I don’t want to inflict it.

There are so many other disciplinary methods to use – time outs, restricting activities…and they all work quite well for me most of the time.

But this is my choice. This is how I feel comfortable parenting my children. Other parents feel comfortable delivering the odd smack.

I know quite a few exceptional parents with amazing children who do use smacking as a last-resort punishment, when other discipline methods fail. They do it sparingly and with thought. It isn’t done out of anger or frustration. But the same cannot be said for all parents. Some parents don’t smack for the ‘right’ reasons. Some parents cross the line.

Whenever I see parents repeatedly smacking their children in public, I cringe. You’d be surprised how often you observe this at shopping centres and it always makes me worry if the parent is prepared to do that in public, what must they do in private?

I saw a mother smack her son at the shops recently. She said, “Don’t hit your sister” and whacked him. Me? I would have gotten down to his level and said, “Because you hit your sister, when we get home, you will be in time out for ‘x’ minutes” or as I heard another parent say recently, “Do mummy and daddy hit you? Then you don’t hit either. We don’t hit people we love.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Jo Abi is the author of the book How to Date a Dad: a dating guide released by Hachette Livre Australia. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Were you smacked as a kid? What are your thoughts on smacking? Would you or do you, smack your own kids?

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