Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Is It Considered Violence? the Acceptability of Physical Punishment of Children in Europe

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Is It Considered Violence? the Acceptability of Physical Punishment of Children in Europe

Article excerpt

This study analyzes correlates of the acceptability of physical punishment of children in Europe. The design was a three-level ordinal logistic regression of 10,812 people nested within 208 localities (cities), nested within 14 countries of the European Union. Results showed that higher levels of acceptability were reported by men, the older, the less educated, and those who perceived that violence against children was less frequent in their own country. At the country level, the existence of laws prohibiting physical punishment of children as well as a lower number of child maltreatment deaths were significantly associated with lower levels of acceptability of physical punishment of children. Findings suggest that education efforts at the individual and population level are needed.

Key Words: child discipline/guidance, cross-national, multi-level models, parenting, violence.

Perceptions about the appropriateness of physical punishment of children are rooted in personal attitudes and values about what is acceptable in the way children should be treated, attitudes that, in turn, are linked to the views and values of the social and cultural context in which a person is embedded (e.g., Gershoff, 2002a; Peisner, 1989; Straus, 1994). Derived from current scientific knowledge about the potential negative effects of physical punishment and its questionable effectiveness, recommendations have been made to discourage physical punishment in favor of alternative parenting practices, to condemn its use, or to ban physical punishment of children (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998; Gershoff, 2002b; Straus, 1999,2004). Recommendations to abandon physical punishment of children as an acceptable cultural practice have been made on ethical and human rights grounds as well (Bitensky, 1998; Lyon, 1999; UNICEF, 2003). Furthermore, a small number of European countries have made the issue of physical punishment of children a matter of legislative concern, explicitly banning its use by parents.

Despite controversies about what constitutes sufficient empirical evidence to discourage the use of physical punishment (e.g., Baumrind, Larzelere, & Cowan, 2002; Straus, 1994, 2004), there is wide agreement about the importance of public education and advocacy efforts to reduce the use of physical punishment and to promote alternative methods of discipline. There is also agreement that the main tool available to reach those goals is public education campaigns (e.g., American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998; Gershoff, 2002b; Straus & Mathur, 1996). Greater knowledge of correlates of public attitudes toward physical punishment of children would help to better tailor and target these efforts.

This study analyzes correlates of the acceptability of physical punishment of children in a representative sample of Europeans of 14 Member States of the European Union. Using a multilevel approach, multiple correlates at the individual, locality (cities), and country level were analyzed. At the individual level, sociodemographic factors were explored, as they have been found to be related to the acceptance or use of physical punishment of children (Gershoff, 2002a; Straus & Mathur, 1996). Individual perceptions of the frequency of violence against children within country were also explored as they may be related to levels of acceptability (Ashton, 2001; Gracia & Herrero, 2006a, 2006b; Tirosh, Shechter, Cohen, & Jaffe, 2003). Country-level variables were also explored, as they may condition individual attitudes toward physical punishment of children and may be useful to understanding betweenindividual variations of the outcome variable. The national death rates from child maltreatment, as a proxy measure of child maltreatment for each country and its relationship with citizens' public attitudes toward physical punishment of children, were analyzed. A variety of studies have found associations between physical punishment of children and child physical maltreatment at the individual level (Gershoff, 2002a; Gil, 1973; Straus & Stewart, 1999; Whipple & Richey, 1997). …

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