The news report. NPR says that, against a baseline of 13%, depressed dads spank kids at a rate of 41%.
Incredible, right? Triple the baseline! If only we could just cure those depressed dads of their spanking ways, the rate of spanking would plummet from 15% to…
… er… 14%.
Yeah. The report conveniently neglects that only 7% of the dads in the sample were depressed. 41% of those nets you well over 2% of total spankings; 13% of them (the baseline rate) nets you just under 1%. Even if we wiped out spanking entirely in that population, perhaps through the use of potent hypnotics or aversion therapy, the overall rate of spanking wouldn’t change much.
It’s almost boring to say the obvious, that the report is clearly much more concerned with the children than the dads. Except I guess that’s not exactly true, because nothing about the children was measured in the study. The study is all about the dads. This isn’t awful, it’s the kind of thing that I’d forgive without thinking about it if a friend of mine had done the study, but think about it for a second: This isn’t except by distant proxy a study of the effects of dads’ depression on children. It’s a study of its effects on what dads do. Or, since the study was based on self-report, what they think they do. Whether these behaviors have any effect on kids relative to the broader emotional landscape of a parent’s depression — whether they might, in that context, even be psychologically protective for the kids, unlikely as that certainly is — is unknowable from these results.
Meanwhile, the same study reports that depressed dads are much less likely (or think they’re much less likely) to read to their kids regularly. I was not spanked as a child, so I can’t speak to the lasting harm of corporal punishment. But I do know that reading to your kids is critical for their intellectual development; and I know that I’m going to grow old in a country whose fate is steered by the kids of these depressed dads; and, much as I would like them all to grow up happy, I’m a hell of a lot more worried that they’ll grow up dumb.
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