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Could Spanking Children Cause Harm in Adulthood?

Ablestock.com/Thinkstock(MANITOBA, Canada) -- Physical punishment such as spanking, pushing, grabbing or slapping in childhood could do more harm than good, according to researchers.

A study, authored by Dr. Tracie Afifi of the University of Manitoba and colleagues, suggests that childhood spanking could be linked to adult personality disorders.  The researchers found an increased risk of substance abuse and anxiety, mood and personality disorders in adults who reported physical punishment in their childhood. Between two and seven percent of mental disorders are attributable to physical punishment, researchers reported in the study published in the journal Pediatrics.

If not a firm connection, but the researchers say there's at least an association between physical punishment of children and mental problems when they grow older.  Child psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Kate Eshleman, who was not involved in the study, agrees.

"There is no direct link.  The study just shows that kids that have been physically disciplined are at an increased risk for these things," Eshleman said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics already opposes spanking and Eshleman says spanking is not an effective way to change behavior. She suggests other methods such as removing privileges when children are doing things they are not supposed to do.

"You know, taking a break from the things that they want to do. Or, for older kids, you know, taking away cell phones," she said.

Eshleman cautions that physical punishment affects every child differently and should be avoided despite individual cases where this kind of discipline produced seemingly positive results.

"Certainly there are kids who have been, you know, spanked who have turned out just fine. But, if there are things that we know place people at an increased risk, and we can avoid these things, we certainly want to do so," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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