Your child’s beating can affect their brain’s development by altering neural responses to their surroundings, a new study warns.
Harvard University researchers studied the effects of beatings, known as physical punishment, on the brains of 147 children.
They found that it can affect a child’s brain development in much the same way as “more severe forms of violence” and abuse.
Children who had been beaten showed a stronger neural response in several regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), including in regions that are part of the so-called “Salience Network” (SN).
These regions respond to clues in the area that tend to have serious consequences, e.g. B. a threat, and can influence the decision-making and processing of situations.
Smacking is legal in the US, while in the UK, Scotland completely banned corporal punishment for children in 2020 and Wales is slated to follow suit in 2022.
In England, however, “reasonable punishment” allows parents to legally beat their child unless it results in bruises, abrasions, scratches, slight swellings or cuts.
This defense has been criticized because it effectively means that children can be beaten if they leave no evidence.
This could mean that parents are targeting areas that won’t leave a mark, such as B. the head, which can potentially lead to even more serious injuries that are not easy to spot.
Smacking can alter a child’s neural responses to their environment in a similar way to a child exposed to more severe violence (stock image from models).
What the law says
Beating a child as a form of punishment is banned in several countries around the world such as France, Scotland and Sweden.
In England it is illegal for a parent or guardian to hit their child unless it is “appropriate punishment”.
The defense of fair punishment does not apply where the punishment means “wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or cruelty of children”.
In the United States, beating a child is legal in all fifty states and the District of Columbia, but states vary greatly in what exactly is allowed.
Enforcement of the law often depends on the prosecution’s discretion.
An NSPCC spokesman said: “There is strong evidence that physical punishment affects children’s well-being and is related to poorer outcomes in childhood and adulthood.
“We encourage parents to use alternative methods of teaching their children the difference between right and wrong, with a positive approach to parenting such as setting clear and consistent boundaries.”
The new study by the Harvard team builds on existing studies showing increased activity in specific regions of the brains of children experiencing abuse in response to threat warnings.
“We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavioral and other mental health problems, but many people don’t think of spanking as a form of violence,” said study author Katie A. McLaughlin of the Harvard Department of Psychology.
“In this study, we wanted to investigate whether spanking has effects on brain development on a neurobiological level.”
McLaughlin and her colleagues analyzed data from a large study of children between the ages of three and eleven.
They focused on 147 children, ages 10 and 11, who had been beaten, with the exception of children who had also experienced more severe forms of violence.
The map shows the countries that have banned all forms of corporal punishment for children (highlighted in red). Wales is slated to follow suit in 2022
Smacking “makes your child less intelligent”
Hitting children slows their intelligence, as previous research suggests.
Defeated adolescents have an IQ several points lower than those whose parents merely protest against them, according to a study from 2009.
University of New Hampshire researcher Murray Straus, who devoted his career to studying the effects of corporal punishment, said talking to children promotes brain development.
In contrast, physical punishment can put adolescents in a state of fear and impair their ability to learn.
DrStraus said, “The less corporal punishment is used by a parent, the more verbal interaction is required to teach and correct the child.
‘Beingslapped or spanked is a scary and threatening event that childhood experiences find very stressful. Anxiety and stress can lead to uncognitive deficits. ‘
Dr. Straus, whose books include How to Knock the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Impact on Children, called for smacking laws to be introduced in the US before his death in 2016.
Each child was placed in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner, which uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to take detailed images of the inside of the body.
As they did so, they looked at a computer screen showing various images of actors making “fearful” and “neutral” faces.
A scanner recorded the child’s brain activity in response to each type of face, and the images were analyzed to see if the faces in children who were beaten had different patterns of brain activity than children who were not.
“On average for the entire sample, anxious faces triggered greater activation than neutral faces in many regions of the brain,” the researchers say in their article published in the journal Child Development.
“Children who were beaten showed greater activation towards fearful faces than children who were never beaten in several regions of PFC.”
The researchers believe the study is a first step towards further analyzing the potential effects of spanking on children’s brain development.
Physical punishment has been linked to the development of mental health problems, anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and substance use disorders.
However, the relationship between corporal punishment and brain activity has not yet been investigated.
“While we may not understand corporal punishment as a form of violence, it’s not much different than abuse in terms of a child’s brain response,” said McLaughlin.
“We are confident that this realization can encourage families not to use this strategy and that it can open people’s eyes to the possible negative consequences of corporal punishment in ways they might not have thought of before.”
Parents and policy makers should work to reduce corporal punishment, the researchers add.
The argument against criminalizing smacking seems to stem from concerns about increasing state interference in family life.
Activists have suggested that this will undermine parents’ ability to choose how to raise their children – and lead to unnecessary criminalization.
When Scotland banned the smacking of children last November, Minister for Children Maree Todd said the defense against “legitimate attacks” was “out of date” and “had no place in modern Scotland”.
“The lifting of this defense reaffirms that we want this country to be the best place in the world for children to grow up,” she said.
In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to expressly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment against children.
Since then, more than 60 countries or territories have followed, including Brazil, Spain, France, New Zealand, Portugal, South Korea – but not England or the USA.
In the United States, around half of parents said they had beaten their children between the ages of 0 and 9 the year before, according to a 2019 study.
If you beat up your children, they can become violent towards their partners in later life: 2017 study
According to a 2017 study, children who are punished with corporal punishment are more likely to be abusive towards their partners later in life.
In the study by the University of Texas Medical Department, 758 young adults between the ages of 19 and 20 were asked how often they were beaten, beaten, or beaten.
Children who had been punished with physical violence were much more likely to become aggressive towards a future romantic partner, the team found.
Data from the study found that almost one in five (19 percent) admitted violence against their lovers.
Sixty-eight percent said they experienced corporal punishment as a child.
The study’s lead author, Jeff Temple, a professor of psychiatry in the University of Texas Medical Department, said they need to determine what they consider punishment and what is abuse.
Speaking to CNN, he said: “We have defined [child abuse] than hit with a belt or board, left with bruises that stood out, or went to the doctor or hospital.
“Children who report corporal punishment are more likely to have recently committed dating violence.”
The study found that not only children who had been abused with physical violence turned out to be evil in later life.
Corporal punishment was enough to reinforce violent behavior in adults.
Participants had been part of an ongoing science trial in Texas since they were teenagers.
The trend towards becoming violent in adulthood was true regardless of gender, age, parental upbringing, ethnicity, and child abuse.
The researchers controlled these factors in their analysis and found that they made no difference.
The full results were published in the Journal of Pediatrics.