National Post

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Tuesday, October 05, 1999

Spanking leads to anti-social behaviour, study finds
Linked to substance abuse
Brad Evenson
National Post

The largest survey on corporal punishment ever conducted in Canada has found children who were slapped or spanked are twice as likely to abuse alcohol, drugs or suffer personality disorders when they grow up.

The survey of nearly 5,000 Ontario residents is expected to spark widespread debate on a form of punishment faced by more than 80% of children.

"Increasingly, the evidence is pointing to association with behavioural and emotional problems," said Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a paediatrician and psychiatrist with the Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk.

"That doesn't mean that every child that gets slapped or spanked is going to develop problems, but there are alternative strategies."

Conducted in 1990 but only recently analyzed, the government-funded survey asked adults how often they were spanked or slapped during their childhood.

Among those surveyed, 20% reported "never" being spanked or slapped by an adult while growing up, 41% said "rarely," 33% said "sometimes" and 6% said "often." The researchers did not provide an exact definition of slapping or spanking.

Dr. MacMillan said it's likely the respondents were spanked more frequently than they recalled.

"Other surveys have shown that the peak age for experiencing slapping or spanking is in the preschool years," she said.

"Since we know that people have difficulty remembering what happened before age five, [it] means that the rates of slapping or spanking are likely to be underestimated."

Almost 24% of females said they were never spanked, compared with 16.4% of males. Likewise, 36.7% of males said they were sometimes spanked, compared with just 30.1% of females.

The respondents to the survey were then questioned using a common diagnostic technique to measure the prevalence of psychiatric disorders.

Compared with those who were never spanked, the sometimes-spanked were 40% more likely to suffer anxiety disorders, 50% more likely to face major depression, and 150% more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs and to "externalize" problems -- such as behaving in an aggressive or extremely anti-social manner.

Dr. MacMillan said the survey's results, published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, mesh with research in the U.S. and other countries that links spanking with lower IQ scores and violent behaviour in adulthood.

Dr. MacMillan says more research must be done to understand the effects of corporal punishment.

The results of the study are already being cited as a reason to ban corporal punishment, as Sweden and eight other countries have already done.

"Fears that children would be running wild [in those countries] have proven to be unfounded," says Dr. Murray Straus, director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

Dr. Straus said the "unquestioned obedience" taught by spanking is no longer a trait that is valued in the post-industrial economy.

However, other experts say spanking is still an effective backup. Diana Baumrind, a research psychologist at the University of California, argues "the use of reason accompanied by a display of power conveys to the child that, to satisfy the parent, adherence to a rule of appropriate conduct is required."

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