Most depressed dads spank their young children, and depression is the reason they do it. At least, that's what this week's headlines would have you believe.
A recent study found that 41% of depressed dads spanked their one-year-old during the prior month. That's not good. I can't see a reason why anyone would ever need to spank a 1-year-old, I suppose with the singular exception of keeping them from mortal danger. (Note: Only 7% of the dads participating in the study were found to be depressed, so the spankers were 41% of the 7%.)
Buried at the bottom of the many stories on the study this week, though, is the fact that it couldn't identify whether depression was the reason for the spankings. At the very end of a 3-page online ABC News story on this, it was noted that
...the investigators cautioned that their cross-sectional, observational study could not determine causality or rule out residual confounding...
The headline on the same story? "Spanking 1-Year-Olds Is Common In Depressed Dads."
The headline at Parenting.com was "Depressed Dads More Likely to Spank Kids." The Reuters headline was "Depressed Dads Quick to Spank Babies." Yet the researchers don't know that depression is causing the spanking, and didn't say that the dads are really "quick" to do it. Is it "common" if a minority of the depressed dads are doing it, and some of those may have only done it once for reasons of which we are not aware?
What is common is for the media to infer is that depressed parents abuse their children. This kind of thing always happens when stories come out about the negative effects of postpartum depression. It's not that there aren't any negative effects. There are. We can't ignore them. In fact, we really need to talk about them, not to make women who suffer feel guilty, but to make them aware that avoiding treatment is not an option. Get help, and the odds of you or your child having long-term negative effects from postpartum depression or anxiety go down. Yet when studies come out the only thing anyone ever focuses on is what people with PPD do wrong. Except many of them never do the "wrong" cited. Only some, and in many cases, even few.
I think it is important that these studies are done. We need to understand why these fathers are choosing to spank young children rather than find other ways to discipline or manage their own anger. Yet, I have to ask: Why is the media always so eager to make a direct correlation between mental illness and violence or abuse?
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