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Smacking Your Child Can Affect Their Brain Development, Study Says

Smacking Your Child Can Affect Their Brain Development, Study Says

Harvard University researchers have warned the form of child punishment can cause mental health issues down the line.

Stewart Perrie

Stewart Perrie

A new study has shed light on the effects of smacking your child.

Plenty of parents will claim a light slap on the toosh is warranted to teach your youngen when they've done something wrong.

However, those subscribers should be aware that it could affect your child's brain development.

Researchers at Harvard University looked at the brains of 147 children aged 10 and 11 to see how the corporal punishment would impact them.

Each child was shown images of different actors making 'fearful' or 'neutral' faces while a scanner mapped their brain activity. This test was designed to see whether the child's brain reacted to the faces in different ways, in the hope it would be able to weed out who was smacked and who wasn't.

The scientists found smacked children had greater neural activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is an area of the brain that usually responds to threat cues.

The study authors wrote: "On average, across the entire sample, fearful faces elicited greater activation than neutral faces in many regions throughout the brain...and children who were spanked demonstrated greater activation in multiple regions of PFC to fearful relative to neutral faces than children who were never spanked.


"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked."

This greater neural activity was similar in size compared to children who had suffered abuse.

The Harvard researchers have published their findings in the Society for Research in Child Development Journal, and highlighted how smacking has been linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as behavioural problems and substance abuse disorders.

Senior researcher on the study, Professor Katie A McLaughlin, said in a statement: "We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behaviour problems and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence."

The researchers admitted that smacking doesn't impact every child in the same way.

However, UK children's charity NSPCC said it would be best if parents avoided the act altogether.

"There is clear evidence that physical punishment damages children's wellbeing and is linked to poorer outcomes in childhood and adulthood," it said.

"We would encourage parents to use alternative methods to teach their children the differences between right and wrong, with a positive parenting approach such as setting clear and consistent boundaries."

Smacking is still legal in 130 countries, including Wales, England and Northern Ireland, however Scotland outlawed it.

Parts of the UK where smacking is allowed only permits it when the act amounts to 'reasonable punishment'.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Topics: News, Interesting