New Research on Corporal Punishment

crying toddlerA large study on corporal punishment, that was published nine months ago, just crossed my desk. I thought I’d let readers of this blog know about it. There are twenty authors listed on this paper, the lead one of whom is Dr. Jennifer E. Lansford from Duke University. The entire paper can be found here.

The study investigated 1,196 children, and their mothers, from nine countries, across three points in time spanning three years (sorry dads, they didn’t look at fathers). The researchers were interested in considering how varying degrees of maternal warmth and corporal punishment might affect symptoms of anxiety and aggression in kids. Here are some key points from their review of the existing scientific literature:

• A large study in 24 developing countries found that 29% of parents believe that corporal punishment is necessary in order to parent well.

• “…77% of American men and 65% of American women” agreed with a statement that sometimes kids need “a good hard spanking.”

• In 1989 the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child determined that corporal punishment is “a human rights violation.”

• The only good outcome consistently found for corporal punishment is immediate compliance with parental commands. “All other negative outcomes during childhood and adulthood (low child moral internalization, child aggression, child delinquent and antisocial behavior, adult aggression and adult criminal and antisocial behavior)…(are) associated with corporal punishment.”

• The negative effects of corporal punishment seem to be smaller in countries physical abusewhere the authority of parents is stressed and corporal punishment is more common.

These are some key quotes regarding what they found in their study:

• “Consistent with much previous research on the negative effects of corporal punishment on children…out first hypothesis that corporal punishment would predict more subsequent child adjustment problems was generally supported…even after taking into account prior child adjustment.”

• “Our hypothesis that maternal warmth would predict a decrease in child anxiety and aggression over time was also generally supported…”

• The overall pattern was that children’s anxiety decreased over time most rapidly for children whose mothers were high in warmth and low in corporal punishment…”

• “Children whose mothers were high in both warmth and corporal punishment had increasing rather than decreasing anxiety over time.”

I would suggest two take home messages:

1. Avoid corstop2poral punishment as there are too many negative side effects associated with it. Moreover, there are many more effective strategies available that do not have such negative side effects. (e.g., see Chapter Five of my parenting book or search this blog site).

2. Trying to be warm as a way of mitigating the effects of consistent corporal punishment can actually have the effect of increasing a child’s anxiety; this most likely happens because achild is confused over and stressed by the mixed messages.

In next week’s blog entry I’ll review some immediate things a parent can do when tempted to give a kid a smack.


3 Comments so far. Leave a comment below.
  1. Christine Ganis,

    David: I am active with a group here in NC (; Action for Children North Carolina) that has been trying to eliminate CP in the schools. I have written about it twice in the NC Psychologist since I moved here. While its use has declined dramatically in recent years, we have 5 school districts out of our 115 which still permit and use it. One has high usage (Robeson county), including 40 % with special needs kids. No restrictions on the implement used, the number of times a student can be struck, nor the presence of witnesses. The State Board of Education formally opposes its use. I will forward this study on to hopefully further the cause of positive discipline. The empty argument given to oppose discontinuance is — “we can’t be permissive with these kids.”

    • Your group is doing the work of angels Christine. As you likely know, the Pennsylvania Psychological Association previously championed such legislative protection in PA. If you’d like to know more about that, just email Sam Knapp.

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