Academic journal article Family Relations

The Predictors of Parental Use of Corporal Punishment

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Predictors of Parental Use of Corporal Punishment

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Corporal punishment has been the focus of considerable study over the past decade. Some recent research suggesting that the use of corporal punishment may have significant long-term negative effects on children has prompted increasing exploration and interest in the issue. We used tobit regression analysis and data from the 2000 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to examine both the prevalence and the chronicity of spanking in a nationally representative sample of parents. Mother's characteristics (e.g., age, education) and neighborhood context did not show a relationship with parental use of corporal punishment. Among parents who used corporal punishment, being Protestant had a relatively large relationship with its use. Although children's externalizing behaviors had some association with parent's propensity to spank, findings suggest that use of corporal punishment may be better understood as part of a constellation of behaviors relating to a parenting style. Further, findings indicate that it is easier to predict the incidence of corporal punishment than to predict its frequency of use.

Key Words: corporal punishment, discipline, parent-child relationships, tobit regression.

Debate over appropriate and effective parental disciplinary tactics frequently focuses on questions about corporal punishment. Research suggests that many parents have spanked their children at some point (Gershoff, 2002; Grogan-Kaylor, 2004). It is likely that many parents who use corporal punishment consider it to be an elicited response to a child's problematic behavior. Over the past two decades, however, an increasingly rigorous body of research has suggested that corporal punishment contributes to increases in a broad spectrum of child behavior problems (Gershoff; Grogan-Kaylor). Indeed, some important research suggests that measurable outcomes of parental use of corporal punishment may persist well into adulthood (MacMillan et al., 1999; Straus, 2000). This emerging picture of the use of corporal punishment as a potential contributor to the continuation of behavior problems suggests the need for better understanding of the individual and contextual factors that may relate to corporal punishment use.

The purpose of the current study was twofold. Guided by an ecological framework, we first sought to identify those contextual and individual factors that predict parents' propensity to use corporal punishment. A second goal of the analysis was to examine more closely the characteristics of those parents who indicated the use of corporal punishment to address the question of whether there exist individual and community differences related to the frequency of use.

Ecological Theory and Corporal Punishment Utilization

As previously noted, research examining predictors of corporal punishment has focused primarily on individual characteristics of parents and children, and parental expectations about the effectiveness of the tactic in achieving disciplinary goals. Little attention, however, has been given to ways that social context and cultural norms may influence both the prevalence and the chronicity of corporal punishment. An ecological framework provides both the tools and the impetus for considering the influence of environment on parental and child behavior (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1986). Ecological theory suggests tenets that guided our decision to consider both individual and community factors in our efforts to understand the nature of corporal punishment utilization. The model underscores the interrelatedness of people and their social and physical worlds. Parenting does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, parents' actions are often viewed and judged by others around them-neighbors, friends, and community members. Reactions in these settings, as well as the parents' own observations of others' actions, provide information that may or may not support the use of corporal punishment. Through these reciprocal relationships, parents may come to view corporal punishment as the preferred method of discipline, as inappropriate only under certain circumstances, or as inappropriate regardless of the circumstances of the child's actions. …

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