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Spanking: Should you or shouldn't you? Recent study says no

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John Nordell/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Spanking, according to a new study, is linked to mental illness later in life. Critics say it's not the spanking, but how it is done. In this 2004 file photo, Deborah Lindeman plays with her children Noah (left) and Evan in the playground outside their school. She attended a town meeting to discuss a proposal that encouraged parents to refrain from spanking their children.

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There’s a new study out this week in which researchers claim physically punishing kids – hitting, shoving, grabbing or pushing them – leads to an increased likelihood of mental illness later in life.

It’s the latest shot in the “should you or shouldn’t you” debate over spanking, a parental controversy that has gotten increasingly emotional in the United States.

In this new research, published in the journal Pediatrics, a group of Canadian academics analyzed data collected from nearly 35,000 adult Americans who reported whether they were physically disciplined as children. Among those adults who reported harsh physical discipline – but not abuse – conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders and alcohol dependency were between 2 and 5 percent more common than among those who did not experience harsh corporal punishment; more complex psychiatric illnesses were 4 to 7 percent more common.

The researchers said that pediatrician groups should adopt a position that “physical punishment (ie, spanking, smacking, slapping) should not be used with children of any age.”

But that conclusion is already under fire.

First of all, some other experts have pointed out, those adults who remember “harsh physical punishment” made up only 6 percent of the study – in part because the authors defined this as physical discipline that rose beyond simple spanking. Moreover, the researchers based their conclusions on what adults remembered happening as children, which can be a bit tricky. (Someone who is depressed, for instance, perhaps remembers harsher physical punishment.)

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