Spanking is as old as the hills. People have been spanking their kids as a form of punishment or discipline for a very long time. Some parents believe how they discipline their child is their business, and spanking is no big deal. A new study suggests that spanking is a big deal, and may increase a child’s risk of mental disorders later in life

In the new study, Tracie Afifi, of the University of Manitoba in Canada, and colleagues analyzed information from more than 34,600 U.S. adults, ages 20 and older, who were surveyed between 2004 and 2005.

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?"

About 6 percent of participants said they experienced these forms of physical punishment sometimes, fairly often, or very often in childhood, without experiencing other forms of maltreatment.

Those who experienced physical punishment were 59 percent more likely to have alcohol dependence, 41 percent more like to have depression and 24 percent more likely to have panic disorder, compared with those who received no physical punishments, the researchers said.

Among adults, 2 to 7 percent of cases of mental disorders — including major depression, anxiety disorder and paranoia — are attributable to physical punishment that occurred during childhood, the researchers said.

The study did not include people who experienced maltreatment as children, such as such as physical or sexual abuse, or emotional neglect.

The study adds to a growing body of research showing that physical punishment in childhood can lead to poor mental health in adulthood, including increased risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse. 

The findings suggest that eliminating all physical punishment of children would reduce the prevalence of mental disorders, the researchers said.

The researchers noted the study found an association, and not a cause-effect link. In addition, the study was limited in that participants were asked to remember their childhood experiences, which may not be entirely accurate, although research suggests people can remember negative events in childhood well.

In this country, there continues to be a great deal of controversy regarding the use of physical punishment with children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) opposes physical punishment. However, close to 50 percent of U.S. adults say they experienced physical punishment as children, such as being pushed, grabbed, shoved or spanked.

Many experts that work with children suggest alternative methods of discipline work much better than spanking when you’re teaching your child what is expected of them.

The AAP has an excellent online article, “How to Respond With Effective Discipline”, that gives parents an outline to work with.

Whether you believe that spanking is necessary or that physical punishment of children is wrong, the study offers something to consider when contemplating the best way to discipline a child.