Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Another meaningless spanking study

Fox News reports
People who were hit or spanked as children face higher odds of mental ailments as adults, including mood and anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug abuse, researchers said Monday.

The study, led by Canadian researchers, is the first to examine the link between psychological problems and spanking, while excluding more severe physical or sexual abuse in order to better gauge the effect of corporal punishment alone.

Those who were spanked or hit as kids were between two and seven percent more likely to encounter mental issues later, said the research in the US journal Pediatrics, based on a retrospective survey of more than 600 US adults.

That figure may seem low, particularly since about half of the US population recalls being spanked in childhood, but nevertheless shows that physical punishment can raise the risk of problems later on, experts said.
This is a very slight effect, and does not show that spanking is harmful at all.

By comparison, today's NY Times reports on what a significant association with mental illness looks like:
Researchers reviewed birth and hospital admissions records of more than 1.3 million Swedes born from 1973 to 1985. They found that compared with those born at term, young adults born very premature — at less than 32 weeks’ gestation — were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for schizophrenia or delusional disorders, almost three times as likely for major depression, and more than seven times as likely for bipolar illness.
Something that doubles the chance of mental illness is a cause for concern; something that only increases by 2% is more likely to be misinterpreted data.

Here is the full study in pdf.
Between two and five percent of disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar, anorexia or bulimia were attributable to physical punishment as a child, the study said.

From four to seven percent of more serious problems including personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities were associated with such punishments in childhood.

Researchers stressed that the study could not establish that spanking had actually caused these disorders in certain adults, only that there was a link between memories of such punishment and a higher incidence of mental problems.
So maybe spanking causes mental illness. Or maybe spanking is harmless but harsh physical punishment causes mental illness. Or maybe kids with a developing mental illness are more like to misbehave in a way that gets them spanked. Or maybe the genes for mental illness are linked to the genes for spanking. Or maybe it was bad study design.
Participants were asked: "As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?" Those who answered "sometimes" or greater were included in the analysis.

Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, said the parents' genes may influence both their response to raising an unruly child as well as their likelihood of passing down certain ailments.

"Parents who are resorting to mechanisms of corporal punishment might themselves be at risk for depression and mental disorders; therefore, there might be a hereditary factor going on in these families," she told AFP.
Yes, those are all possible.

This study was published by pediatricians, not scientists, and they have trying for years to find studies to justify their ideological opposition to spanking.
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes striking children for any cause and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that doctors strongly discourage the use of physical punishment.
The study said:
Physical punishment was assessed with the question, “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house? ”Respondents who reported ananswer of “sometimes” or greater to this event were considered as having experienced harsh physical punishment. The term harsh physical punishment was used for this study because the measure includes acts of physical force beyond slapping, which some may consider more severe than “customary” physical punishment (ie, spanking).
This question is weird. I used to practice boxing with my father. It is called sparring. We put on boxing gloves and punched each other. But it was sport, not punishment. If asked me if my dad ever hit or punched me, I would say yes. And I punched him.

The whole purpose of this study is to find a negative association to “harsh physical punishment”, and then conclude that “customary physical punishment” should be forbidden. But the study did not even ask about punishment at all.

The study also did not compare spanking to any other form of discipline. As far as I can determine, there is no study saying that any other form of discipline works better than spanking.

My position of course is that parents should be free to use any legal method of child-rearing they please, without any interference from bigoted psychologists and other supposed experts who cannot even handle their own personal problems. Some parents believe in spanking and some don't. They are usually able to figure out what works for their kids. The experts cannot. Surveys consistently show that about 80% of parents believe that occasional corporal punishment is necessary. There is no evidence that they are wrong.


Anonymous said...

Weak...The study is flawed because it leaves out all of those kids that practiced boxing with their parents ?

George said...

I actually surprised that the study authors did not find a way to claim a larger effect to spanking.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree with you about that. The study itself is weak. I'm just saying that I don't think there were many kids that were involved with practicing boxing with their parents, or mistook boxing practice for physical punishment.

George said...

These studies are done by people with a mindset that all violence is wrong. I would like to see a study that distinguished between reasonable and unreasonable spanking.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the legal definition of "reasonable", don't you think ? What's considered as "reasonable" to one may not seem reasonable to another.

George said...

That's right, parents disagree about what is reasonable discipline.

Suppose a study said that cell-phone owners had more traffic accidents. If it did not distinguish between those who use cellphones while driving, and those who did not, then it would be a lousy argument to ban cellphones.

Zorro said...

Spanking is for wives and daughters.

Dave M.-Seattle said...

I'm thinking that we could probably get a grant to build a robot spanking device, enlist a thousand or so children, design a questionnaire to query their reactions to the spanking on five year intervals for the next 40 years, eliminate all other behavioral variables and come up with a correlation between increased mental health problems and corporal punishment....Anybody???

A parent knows GD well when rationed disciplinary punishment crosses the line over to abusive treatment.

George, you have the potential to have a very persuasive voice in the community of dis-enfranchised fathers, (of which I am part of)....but....you injure your credibility when you use hyperbole in your arguments. Don't preach to the choir, use your most persuasive voice with passion. Save the judge bashing for the BBQ pit with the buddies.

I'm looking around for prudent, passionate voices to join up with to try to effect meaningful change in the family court system....legitimately for the BIOTCH.

George said...

Yes, I think that the average parent understands spanking better than what you can get from these studies.

I try not to just preach to the choir.