First, don’t spank. Corporal punishment makes depressed kids who act out. But if you insist on whacking your children to teach them things like kindness, please avoid being an otherwise good parent. A study published Monday in the journal Child and Adolescent Mental Healthshows that among parents who spank, it’s the ones with positive communication that predict depressive symptoms in their kids. If the spanking parent is across-the-board harsh and uncommunicative — meh, the kid’s firewalled against it.
The study, performed at the University of Tennessee by Amber Wimsatt, Paula Fite, Stevie Grassett, and Jamie Rathert posits that it’s the lack of consistency of a parent who is both the source of stress and of comfort that especially throws kids for a loop.
The finding comes from 89 kids, aged 9-12, and three measures — one of corporal punishment, one of positive parent-child communication, and one of childhood depression (overall 14 percent of kids met criteria for being “at risk” for depression). The first findings are pretty much what you’d expect: parents who spank have a higher rate of depressed kids, and parents who have poor parent-child communication have depressed kids.
But then check this out: the kids of parents who spank AND have negative parent-child communication have no elevated risk of depression. Again, within the population of spanked kids, it’s only, specifically, the kids who have otherwise supportive parents that are at increased depression risk.
Think about why you might spank. Are you doing it because you think that despite the naysayers, it’s the right thing to do — that it’s actually good parenting? If that’s the case, maybe you explain the reason for your spanking and try to make your child realize that you’re spanking out of love and not out of spite? Well, that’s about the worst thing you can do. If you’re going to spank, the kindest thing you can do for your child’s psychological well-being is to be consistent — if you’re going to be mean, stay mean. Oscillating between being the source of fear and the source of love just freaks kids out.
Of course, can you guess in this study which parenting techniques resulted in the lowest rates of childhood depression? It was no corporal punishment and high parent-child communication.