Physical punishment/maltreatment during childhood and adjustment in young adulthood

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Jul;21(7):617-30. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00021-5.


Objective: To study the relationships between retrospective reports of physical punishment/maltreatment and rates of adjustment difficulties at age 18 in a birth cohort of New Zealand subjects.

Method: Data were gathered over the course of an 18 year longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1,265 New Zealand born children. At age 18 retrospective reports of exposure to physical punishment/maltreatment were obtained. At this time the cohort was also assessed on measures of psychosocial adjustment juvenile offending, substance abuse behaviors, and psychiatric disorder.

Results: Young people reporting exposure to harsh or abusive treatment during childhood had elevated rates of juvenile offending, substance abuse, and mental health problems. However, subsequent analysis using logistic regression methods showed that much of the elevated risk shown by this group was explained by social and contextual factors that were associated with patterns of childhood punishment/maltreatment. Nonetheless, even after control for confounding factors those reporting harsh or abusive childhood experiences were at increased risks of violent offending, suicide attempts, being a victim of violence, and alcohol abuse.

Conclusion: This study leads to three major conclusions: (1) Those exposed to harsh or abusive treatment during childhood are an at-risk population for juvenile offending, substance abuse, and mental health problems; (2) Much of this elevated risk arises from the social context within which harsh or abusive treatment occurs; (3) Nonetheless, exposure to abuse appears to increase risks of involvement in violent behavior and alcohol abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adjustment Disorders / etiology*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology*
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*