Hitting Your Child Can Affect Brain Development, Study Warns

A new study has issued a grim warning to parents about the consequences of hitting their children as a form of punishment.

Here’s the full story…

Now, it’s the age-old debate that has divided parents for decades:

Is it or is it not okay to spank your children?

Traditionally, spanking is regarded as an effective means of punishment.

Those from a more old-fashioned, “stiff-upper-lip” background will recall being spanked as a child as the consequence of general misbehavior.

Admittedly, the controversial act has been found to provide some benefits for children later in life.

According to a 2009 study by researchers from London’s Institute of Education, children are more likely to grow into better-adjusted adults if their parents were disciplinarians, as per FQ Magazine.

The study elaborated that traditional “authoritative” parenting, such as being both firm and caring, leads to more “competent” children.

Therefore it was concluded that, as long as the spank is reasonable and is seen as more of a deterrent against behavior and combined with love and affection for the child, it can have a positive effect on the child.

However, in more recent years…

The controversy surrounding spanking has only grown.

Despite spanking seeming like an effective method to stop a child from misbehaving…

In many cases, it only works in the short-term, and can actually cause many issues later on in life.

It has already been linked to the development of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and even substance use disorders.

However, the relationship between spanking and brain activity had not previously been studied.

Thanks to these studies, many countries have made the act of smacking children illegal.

In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children. Since then, more than sixty countries or territories have followed suit, including Brazil, Spain, France, New Zealand, Portugal, and South Korea – but not the U.S.

Anyway, fast forward to 2021 and a new study has finally researched the link between spanking children and their psychological wellbeing…

And it produced some worrying findings.

The study, which was run by Katie A. McLaughlin from the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, analyzed data from a large study of children between the ages of 3 and eleven.

They focused on 147 children around the ages of ten and eleven who had been spanked, excluding children who had also experienced more severe forms of violence.

Of her research, McLaughlin said:

“In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing.”

At some point in the study, each child underwent an MRI scan…

All while watching a computer screen that displayed different images of actors making “fearful” and “neutral” facial expressions.

A scanner captured the child’s brain activity in response to each facial expression…

And the images were analyzed to determine whether the faces sparked different patterns of brain activity in children who were spanked compared to those who were not.

And as for the results?

Well, they speak for themselves.

The paper, which has been published in the journal, Child Development, states:

“Children who were spanked demonstrated greater activation in multiple regions of PFC to fearful relative to neutral faces than children who were never spanked.”

These regions respond to cues in the environment that tend to be consequential, such as a threat…

And may affect decision-making and processing of situations in the future.

To put it simply…

Spanking may affect a child’s brain development in similar ways to “more severe forms of violence” and maltreatment.

On the findings, McLaughlin said:

“While we might not conceptualise corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child’s brain responds, it’s not all that different than abuse.”

However, she’s hopeful that her study can help to discourage parents in the future from spanking their children.

“We’re hopeful that this finding may encourage families not to use this strategy, and that it may open people’s eyes to the potential negative consequences of corporal punishment in ways they haven’t thought of before.”

Both parents and policymakers should work toward trying to reduce corporal punishment, the researchers added.

As it stands, spanking children is still legal across the U.S.

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