Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parent-to-Child Aggression among Asian American Parents: Culture, Context, and Vulnerability

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parent-to-Child Aggression among Asian American Parents: Culture, Context, and Vulnerability

Article excerpt

We examined correlates of lifetime parent-to-child aggression in a representative sample of 1293 Asian American parents. Correlates examined included nativity, indicators of acculturation, socioeconomic status, family climate, and stressors associated with minority status. Results revealed that Asian Americans of Chinese descent and those who immigrated as youth were more likely to report minor parental aggression; ethnicity and nativity were not associated with severe aggression. Indices of acculturation did not predict risk, but minority status stressors (perceived discrimination, low social standing) predicted risk of both minor and severe aggression. Affective climate differed markedly in families with minor versus severe aggression. Parental aggression in Asian American families may not be cultural per se, but stress associated with immigrant family context may heighten vulnerability.

Key Words: Asian Americans, child abuse, child discipline/ guidance, family diversity, immigration/migrant families, parenting.

It is widely accepted that child physical abuse poses a major threat to public health. The psychological sequelae of physical abuse are widely recognized with elevated risk for mental health problems (for review see Kolko, 2002). Beyond immediate physical injuries, abuse is also associated with numerous chronic illnesses and health impairments (Goodwin & Stein, 2004; SachsEricsson, Blazer, Plant, & Arnow, 2005). Furthermore, abuse broadly compromises public safety through increased antisocial behavior, delinquency, and adult criminality among victims (e.g., Jaffee, Caspi, Moffitt, & Taylor, 2004). The annual societal cost of child abuse is estimated to exceed $72 billion, incurred by health care, judicial, and correctional systems alone (Fromrn, 2001).

Although child physical abuse represents an extreme form of parent-to-child aggression, there is little consensus regarding the threshold efforce that separates normative physical discipline from abuse (Cicchetti & Manly, 2001; Gershoff, 2002). There is evidence that milder forms of parent-to-child aggression including corporal punishment are associated with mental health problems later in childhood and adulthood (Gershoff, 2002), yet there is active debate regarding the relationship between milder forms of parent-to-child aggression and abuse. Some suggest that physical discipline and physical abuse lie along a single continuum of parent-child aggression, such that corporal punishment may unintentionally or insidiously escalate into abuse when administered with increasing force or frequency (Straus, 1994). The alternate position suggests that physical discipline and physical abuse are distinct phenomena that differ fundamentally and qualitatively (Baumrind, Larzelere, & Cowan, 2002; Strassberg, Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994).

Commentary on Gershoff's (2002) meta-analytic review focused on the importance of distinguishing corporal punishment from abusive parenting. Gershoff invoked the definition proposed by Straus (1994) that "corporal punishment is the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury for the purposes of correction or control of the child's behavior" (p. 4). Baumrind et al. (2002) argue that conceptual and operational definitions of parental aggression should distinguish between moderate practices intended to correct child behavior and harsh punitive practices that are more uniformly acknowledged to be detrimental to children and ethically unacceptable. Straus claimed that the severe assault items on the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) can be used to partial out effects of abusive practices from corporal punishment or to exclude abused children from studies of corporal punishment. Unfortunately, few studies do so and the majority of studies in Gershoff's review of corporal punishment included measures with severe CTS items.

Few studies have examined potential differences in risk factors for more minor parent-child aggression versus more severe or abusive levels of aggression. …

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