Generations of parents were taught by sparing the rod, they would be spoiling their child, but a study released this week in the medical journal Pediatrics links childhood spanking to adult mental health issues.
"When you hit a child you really, really rock them to the foundations of their being," Prince George pediatrician Dr. Marie Hay said.
The study written by University of Manitoba assistant professor Tracie Afifi looked at data collected by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions in the United States. Afifi determined adults who were on the receiving end of corporal punishment as children had higher rates of personality, mood and anxiety disorders as well as drug and alcohol dependance. She defined physical punishment as "pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping (and) hitting."
Darrell Roze, executive director of the Childhood Development Centre in Prince George, said the study is a good starting point for discussions about the future of spanking in Canada and what information parents are given about discipline techniques.
"I guess the one area we do need to look at is, do parents have all the resources out there to help them help their children. I don't think that's the case," he said. "Definitely one of the gaps is children who are experiencing abnormal behavioral management issues . . . for the parents of those children, they need to have access to programming to help their children more effectively."
There are 32 countries where corporal punishment for children is banned including South Sudan, Tunisia and many European countries -- although it's still a legal discipline technique in Canada and the United States. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld Section 43 of the Criminal Code in 2004 which gives parents, teachers and other caregivers the right to use a reasonable amount of force when disciplining a child. However the court did limit when and how physical force could be used.
Afifi said her study proves Canadian policy makers need to go further and eliminate corporal punishment entirely. The Senate passed a bill to do just that in 2008, but it never made it to the House of Commons before Parliament was dissolved.
Physical punishment should not be used on children of any age, Afifi said. Policies need to be focused on strategies to reduce physical punishment, which points to the importance of positive parenting approaches.
Roze has seen those positive approaches work first hand in Prince George.
"At the Childhood Development Centre we have a lot of day cares and pre-schools here and we deal with some children who are challenging to deal with at the start," he said. "And it's really amazing what can be done. . . . With the appropriate skills you can work with the vast majority of children."