Long-Term Effects of Childhood Punishment

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Throughout today’s society, many people grew up with the occasional ‘spank’ as a way to show disapproval from their parents and for the child to ‘get the message’ and supposedly discontinue this behavior. This may be the way that children have been brought up for many generations but is now starting to show effects towards their adulthood. Although some may believe that children define who they are based on the people they grew up around, children are more likely to be defined as an adult based on the punishments they receive throughout childhood. Studies have now shown that children are more influenced by the punishments they receive during childhood rather than behaviors taught intentionally by their parents. This is now being shown through mental issues and the health of the child not just mentally but physically as well and changes in the way they express themselves and treat others when they get older. Seeing the way their parents handle bad behavior also shapes how they will see right from wrong when they approach adulthood.

Although the damage done to children by the punishment, they receive throughout childhood can severely affect them mentally as adults, physical damage can be done as well through the decline of their health. Levels of punishment that could cause these health woes include but are not limited to children being pushed, slapped, hit, or grabbed. According to lead researcher Tracie Afifi of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, “A number of studies have linked such punishment - even spanking - with problems such as aggressive behavior and poor emotional well-being”. During a government health research study, 34,000 United States adults who have claimed they were strictly disciplined as a child were shown to have higher risks of obesity, arthritis, and heart disease. According to further research done by Afifi and her team, they estimated the rate of obesity was 31 percent for those who did not experience strict punishment versus 26 percent for those who did. Also, the rates of arthritis and heart disease were 22.5 versus 20 percent and 9 versus 7 percent, respectively. Afifi also stated that even taking into account the factors of family income and the children that suffered more severe abuse, “harsh discipline was still linked to a 20 percent to 28 percent increased risk of the three adulthood health problems”. This goes to show that although higher rates of health concerns are more likely to be linked to slightly more severe cases, children being exposed to any form of physical contact may be at risk for damage to the child’s overall health and well-being.

The way children are punished in the household also can affect the way children handle their aggression towards others as well as impaired emotional development. According to Lynn Namka, EdD, “Physical punishment engenders more aggression in the child, even if it initially appears to stop the behavior”. This may cause confusion in children who are frequently punished for unacceptable behavior and may see the punishment they receive at home acceptable to do to others. Children may use their own anger from being punished themselves, specifically using violence such as hitting or shoving, and apply it to their daily lives upon other kids at school or siblings. This may also cause children to approach adulthood believing that this kind of behavior is acceptable in society and have some the same reactions to misbehavior whether or not it’s in the right context. Along with aggression in children, punishment can also show signs of psychological disturbances. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, physical punishment from parents can lead to low self-esteem, attention disorders, anxiety disorders, poor social skills, and even depression. This can lead to children fearing punishment, rather than understanding why the rules should be followed, and be more inclined to misbehave. When the child has a misunderstanding for why he or she is being punished, this could lead to low self-esteem and make the social aspect of school difficult to adjust to. According to Lynn Soh, Senior Principal Psychologist at Singapore Health, “Poor self-esteem and low self-confidence can increase the likelihood of poor academic performance. The child may have difficulty concentrating, and this can reduce his potential to excel academically”.

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Researchers have also found that children who have been punished throughout their childhood have also been more inclined to abuse alcohol in both large and small amounts as well as take drugs. Although the punishments people received throughout their childhood and the abuse of alcohol and drugs do not always show a direct relationship, there is a link of similarities between the two. Through the low self-confidence that is brought down by the constant disapproval by parents, children are more likely to be susceptible to something that will make them ‘feel better’ or try to make them forget any emotional pain they may have. This is also when children are more likely to start befriending those they wouldn’t usually come in contact with and are more easily convinced to try something that will ‘help them with their pain’, which may lead to an addiction that could follow them for the rest of their lives. When children are in this period of doubt with themselves, it also causes them to question their own thoughts, abilities, and potential that can affect children all the way to adulthood.

Not only does punishment towards children affect them physically, but affects them mentally as well by impairing cognitive development. A study done by researchers Murray A. Straus and Mallie J. Paschall, titled ‘Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Child's Cognitive Development’, revealed that children who were punished by spanking during their childhood were less capable of keeping up with the cognitive development level expected for their age. It has even shown to lower IQ levels and could cause shrinkage in the child’s grey matter in their brain which is a crucial situation and is the center for learning abilities. Children also affected by any of the common punishments given by parents or family members such as pinching, shoving, spanking, or grabbing, even if it is not shown as maltreatment, can affect a child psychologically when they reach adulthood. A study shown in the journal Pediatrics found that “2 to 7 percent of mental problems, including depression, bulimia, personality disorders and intellectual disabilities, were linked to such punishments in childhood”.

Through the use of physical punishment, a message of aggression is sent to children that may be interpreted as feeling worthless, useless, or unwanted even if that isn’t what their parents believe. Children may not be able to differentiate the types of acceptable and unacceptable punishment acted upon them and this message of aggression can cause more harm to them in the future than the actual physical part of the punishment and can have a major impact of the child’s psychological well-being later on in life. “It’s ironic to use physical punishment to teach a child not to be aggressive. It reduces his understanding of the rules and values being taught” (Soh).

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Long-Term Effects of Childhood Punishment. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/long-term-effects-of-childhood-punishment/
“Long-Term Effects of Childhood Punishment.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/long-term-effects-of-childhood-punishment/
Long-Term Effects of Childhood Punishment. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/long-term-effects-of-childhood-punishment/> [Accessed 14 Apr. 2024].
Long-Term Effects of Childhood Punishment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2024 Apr 14]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/long-term-effects-of-childhood-punishment/
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