The Cultural Context
of Physically Disciplining Children
Kenneth A. Dodge, Vonnie C. McLoyd,
and Jennifer E. Lansford
One of the major tasks of parenting is shaping child behavior, both for immediate compliance to expectations and norms and for long-term socialization of behavioral habits. Much of this socialization occurs around the discipline event, in which the parent responds to the child's misbehavior or noncompliance. The most important finding from analyses of discipline patterns among African American families is great heterogeneity across families. This chapter focuses on one of several disciplinary strategies used by African American parents in contemporary society, namely, physical punishment. African American parents, in general, rely on a context of warmth and acceptance of their children and employ mild physical punishment (e.g., spanking) in response to child misbehavior. Even though spanking is experienced by more than 90% of all American children (Giles-Sims, Straus, & Sugarman, 1995), one of the more striking and well-replicated findings in the child development literature is that European American parents employ spanking less frequently than do African American parents. The reasons for this difference, the effect on child outcomes, the mechanisms through which parenting practices exert an impact on child outcomes, and the public policy implications of this difference are all addressed in this chapter.