Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

The Special Problem of Cultural Differences in Effects of Corporal Punishment

Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

The Special Problem of Cultural Differences in Effects of Corporal Punishment

Article excerpt

I

INTRODUCTION

A large body of research documents the link between corporal punishment and child-behavior problems such as aggression, delinquency, and criminality. (1) Until fairly recently, these studies largely ignored the potential influence of a family's culture on the links between corporal punishment and children's adjustment--that is, culture as a kind of filter that can ease or exacerbate the effects of corporal punishment on child behavior. But a growing body of literature brings into question whether these links are generalizable to families from a broad range of cultural backgrounds. Researchers have increasingly investigated how different cultural contexts contribute to parents' attitudes, goals, and practices in raising their children. Specific parenting practices may have different effects on children's behavior, depending on the cultural contexts in which the parenting occurs. (2)

This paper first reviews research within American samples that has examined the cultural differences and similarities in associations between corporal punishment and children's adjustment. Second, it describes parental warmth as a moderator of those same links. Third, it documents the role of parents' beliefs about corporal punishment. Fourth, it addresses why there may be cultural differences in the links between corporal punishment and children's adjustment. Fifth, it considers an apparent paradox regarding within-culture versus between-culture effects. Finally, it summarizes the implications of the research in this area for the global community.

II

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES IN LINKS BETWEEN CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AND CHILDREN'S ADJUSTMENT IN AMERICAN SAMPLES

Researchers investigating the potential differences in the relationship between corporal punishment and children's adjustment have focused primarily on externalizing behavioral outcomes such as aggression and delinquency, and secondarily on internalizing outcomes such as depression and anxiety. Most of this research has focused on comparisons between European American and African American families. These studies have reported four patterns of findings:

A. Studies Reporting a Significant Relationship Between Corporal Punishment and Behavior Problems for European Americans; Weak or No Relationship for African Americans and Hispanics

1. After accounting for the effect of children's antisocial behavior on their parents' use of corporal punishment, European American children's antisocial behavior elicited more-frequent corporal punishment. (3) African American children's antisocial behavior, though, was unrelated to the frequency with which their parents used such punishment.

2. Using a representative community sample, a study found that although the experience of corporal punishment in the first five years of life was associated with higher levels of teacher- and peer-reported behavior problems for European American children in third grade, this was not so for a similar cohort of African American children. (4) No significant association between the experience of corporal punishment and subsequent teacher- and peer-reported behaviors was found for African American children.

3. A study reported generally similar associations between spanking and child-behavior problems across racial and ethnic groups, but reported a trend for a weaker relationship for African Americans than for European Americans. (5)

4. A study found a significant association between corporal punishment and clinical thresholds of behavior problems for European American children, yet this association was not significant for African American or Hispanic children. (6)

5. Data from the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Study led to a finding that, after controlling for earlier aggression, corporal punishment of three-year-olds was significantly associated with concurrent, parent-reported child aggression for European American families, but not for African American or Hispanic families. …

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