The headline reads “Spanking Linked to Mental Illness“, and I was immediately intrigued. Spanking, generally, is a very hard thing to study, as it is so often correlated with other things. Physical punishment of children is often linked to frustrated and under resourced parents, cultural norms that can be positive or negative, and even immigration status.
Curious how the study authors controlled for such things, but assured by the article that they had, I flipped over to the study itself. It didn’t take long for me to realize this was yet another example of bad journalism mucking about with a half decent study.
The article starts like this:
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly discourages spanking, at leasthalf of parents admit to physically punishing their children. Some research suggests that as many as 70-90 percent of mothers have resorted to spanking at one time or another. Anew study published in the journal Pediatrics may cause parents to think more carefully before laying a hand on their little ones.
However, the study states:
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 an answer of“sometimes” or greater to this event were considered as having experienced harsh physical punishment. The term harsh physicalpunishment 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).
So the study specifically excluded “customary” physical punishment when it assessed the effects on future mental illness….which pretty much completely contradicts the headline. I also doubt this is what 70-90% of mother’s are admitting to when they spank “at one time or another”.