SMACKING YOUNG CHILDREN HAS LONG-LASTING EFFECTS – STUDY
If I had a penny for every time I heard ‘But Sue, I was smacked as a child and it didn’t do me any harm!’ I’d be a rich woman, or at least I’d have a very expensive pair of Jimmy Choo shoes!
There is overwhelming evidence that smacking does damage a child’s confidence, wellbeing and mental health.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve appeared on prime time UK television and BBC Radio talking rationally, I hope, about the studies that show that it is detrimental to children. The research from the University of Texas and University of Michigan did a meta-analysis of five decades of research involving more than 160,000 children – that’s over 50 years and found children who are spanked or smacked are more likely to exhibit aggression and mental health problems as they grow up.
Children who are smacked at a young age are more likely to suffer from poor mental health and have behavioural problems through to their teenage years, according to a new recent study from University College London also.
Those who experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as smacking and harsh parenting, had poorer outcomes than those who did not, the study led by UCL researchers found.
Authors believe the research adds to calls for children in England to be provided with legal protection from smacking and physical punishment, such as was introduced in Scotland last year.
The study, published in the journal Child, Abuse and Neglect, investigates the long-term effects of adverse experiences on children aged between three and 14.
It analysed responses from a sample of over 8,000 members of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a research project following the lives of 19,000 children born in the UK between 2000 and 2001.
Data was provided at six points throughout the participants’ childhoods, at the age of nine months, three, five, seven, 11 and 14 years of age.
Parents were asked about how often they smacked their children or what they did when they were naughty, as well as questions about parental conflict, alcohol misuse and psychiatric disorders.
This was then matched with information about the behaviour and wellbeing of their children.
Researchers found that two thirds of the children had experienced one ACE or more by the age of three, while nearly one in five had experienced two and one in six had experienced three or more.
There were better outcomes for those who had experienced no ACEs, with the poorest outcomes for those experiencing three or more, according to the study.
It found the most common ACEs were parental depression, harsh parenting, smacking, use of force between parents and parental alcohol misuse.
Researchers also report that parental depression and conflict were associated with internalising problems – such as playing alone, being nervous in new situations or lacking confidence, worrying, being downhearted or tearful.
These behaviours were also shown to increase as the children got older, and the more bad things they experienced, the more problems they exhibited.
Physical punishment and harsh parenting, such as shouting, sending children to their rooms and ignoring them, were strongly associated with worse mental health outcomes from childhood through to adolescence.
Dr Leonardo Bevilacqua, of the UCL Institute of Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, said: “Our findings around the stark links between harsh parenting and physical punishment and poor mental health through childhood and into adolescence provide a clear message to policymakers on the need to protect children and educate parents.”
Scotland became the first part of the UK to ban the smacking of children when new legislation came into effect in November last year, giving children the same protection from assault as adults.
Elsewhere, Wales is set to follow suit with the introduction of a ban which is expected to come into force by 2022.
Dr Rebecca Lacey, of the UCL Epidemiology and Health Care, said it was “time for England to follow suit” and “accept the evidence” on the potential long-term effects of harsh parenting.
“The current pandemic has placed additional pressures on couples and families and there are fears over increases in violence particularly towards women and children,” she said.
“Never a more important time then to ensure that those women and children are protected in law.”
Anna Edmundson, NSPCC head of policy, said: “The findings from this research, reinforcing existing evidence that physical punishment can also have long-lasting effects, highlights why England must join Scotland and Wales in ensuring physical assault of children is never ‘reasonable’ nor ‘justifiable’.
“Westminster is behind the curve on this issue and the Government urgently needs to change the law so children in England have the same protection as those in other parts of the UK.”
There’s loads of resources on my site to help you during this time of enormous stress to not smack your kids but feel more confident in handling them.