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Don't Call Spanking Child Abuse

New research released last week, published in Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that an astounding 32 per cent of Canadians have suffered from child abuse. Furthermore, the study found all types of child abuse were linked to mental disorders later in life. That being spanked is on that list is causing many eyes to go wide.

Written by Leslie Kennedy for BabyPost.com

Abuse: language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily

physical maltreatment

-- Merriam Webster

New research released last week, published in Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that an astounding 32 per cent of Canadians have suffered from child abuse. Furthermore, the study found all types of child abuse were linked to mental disorders later in life.

The number and its association with mental illness is jaw dropping. The headlines about the study scream of an epidemic of abuse in this country.

"One-third of Canadians have suffered child abuse, highest rates in the western provinces, study says," the National Post reported.

"Child abuse affects 1 in 3 Canadian adults, mental health study indicates," said CBC.

All of the headlines were similar and simple; a huge proportion of Canadians are abused by their parents.

And Post columnist Barbara Kay is crying foul. The study, she said, is based on too broad a definition of abuse. That shoving a child once or slapping twice does not an abused child make.

Said Kay, "In this study, which lead author Tracie Afifi, professor of Community Health Sciences and Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba claims is 'one of the most comprehensive papers on child abuse and mental health from any country,' we find that child abuse includes spanking, grabbing, pushing or shoving, while witnessing one's parents hitting (and presumably shoving, grabbing or pushing) one another or even yelling at each other frequently makes one a victim of child abuse."

And she's right, that sounds entirely inflammatory and not representative of what the average Canadian would describe as abuse.

There is some question as to whether or not her claims are accurate, that the study didn't qualify these types of abuse. The graph that illustrates the findings shows the offenses on which the numbers were based.

Physical abuse is broken down and prioritized from least to most severe abuse; slapped on the face, head or ears, hit or spanked; pushed, grabbed, shoved, something thrown at; kicked, bit, punched, choked, burned or attacked.

That being spanked is on that list is causing many eyes to go wide. Not great parenting? Maybe. But abuse?

I am personally not an advocate of corporal punishment of any sort. I believe there are better ways to teach children discipline than with fear of painful reprisal from people who are supposed to protect them. It's just not my method of choice.

But neither are a bunch of other parenting techniques I don't necessarily agree with. I also don't force my kids to sit at the table until they've cleared their plate. But I don't think either spanking or forcing children to finish their meals is abusive and yes, I put them in the same category; discipline techniques I don't subscribe to.

And as evidenced by Kay, the line is more than a little bit fuzzy when it comes to where reasonable discipline ends and abuse begins, for some people.

"... I am certainly guilty of having spanked (sometimes with a wooden spoon), grabbed and shoved my children on several occasions. And I don't take kindly to being lumped in with 'child abusers,'" Kay said.

Call me new school but I'd say hitting with a wooden spoon crosses a serious line.

And I guess that's the problem; determining where the line is between reasonable (albeit not my style of) discipline and abuse. Where is that line and at what point is it linked to mental illness later in life?

Nico Trocmé, director of the Centre for Research on Children and Families at McGill University in Montreal and principal investigator of the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, told the Post more research on child abuse in Canada is needed. But, he said, the proven correlation between abuse and mental illness is strong.

"There's no doubt more severe acts are more likely to be associated with more mental health problems," he said. "But the very fact there is this continuum points to the risks of being complacent about things we might consider to be very minor abuse."

I don't think the issue is complacency with "very minor abuse." It's that clearly, there are very different definitions of what is considered abusive at all.

And lumping spanking anywhere near choking and burning will only further muddy the waters and blur the lines that are already difficult enough to define.

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