Spankers and Nonspankers: Where They Get Information on Spanking

By Walsh, Wendy | Family Relations, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Spankers and Nonspankers: Where They Get Information on Spanking


Walsh, Wendy, Family Relations


Because spanking is common, puts children at risk for harmful side effects, and is ineffective as a positive behavior management tool, it is important to identify the kind of advice families receive about the appropriateness of spanking. Using the health belief model, I examined spankers and nonspankers on the spanking messages they received from eight sources of discipline information and how important they perceived these messages to be. Data from telephone interviews with 998 mothers with children aged 2 to 14 years showed that 33% of mothers rated advice from workshops, pediatricians, newspapers and magazines, and books as "very important." Less than 15% rated parents and relatives and friends as such. Spankers perceived sources as recommending spanking, whereas nonspankers perceived sources as opposing spanking. Mothers were more likely to spank when they perceived more intense messages to spank, less intense messages opposing spanking, had younger children, and were of lower socioeconomic status.

Key Words: corporal punishment, discipline, parenting, physical punishment, spanking.

What we read and learn from our environment influences behavior. The messages we perceive help us to determine what is normative or expected behavior. For example, public smoking was once culturally accepted and not questioned. Once the link between smoking and negative health effects was emphasized, smoking was redefined as harmful behavior, and legal controls were supported (Ferraro, 1990). Similarly, corporal punishment was once more culturally accepted than today. Because parenting attitudes and beliefs are formed in part by interaction with those in our social context and what we read, this study examines the sorts of advice families receive about the appropriateness of spanking and the importance of information sources.

Spanking Prevalence

Corporal punishment is defined as "the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for purposes of correction or control of the child's behavior" (Straus, 1994, p. 4). Six types of corporal punishment include slaps on the hand or leg, spanking on the buttocks, pinching, shaking, hitting on the buttocks with a belt or paddle, and slapping in the face (Straus & Stewart, 1999). Spanking is common; approximately 67% of all parents report using some type of corporal punishment (Straus). This figure is misleading, however, because the use of corporal punishment is strongly dependent on the age of the child. For example, spanking on bottom with a hand is a common type of corporal punishment with 72% of parents of 2- to 4-year-olds, 71% of parents of 5- to 8year-olds, 43% of parents of 9- to 12-year-olds, and 14% of parents of 13- to 17-year-olds using this type of corporal punishment (Straus & Stewart).

Characteristics Associated With Spanking

Some adults spank more than others. The characteristics associated with spanking are the age of the child, age and gender of the parent, socioeconomic status, circumstances, and cultural norms. Younger parents are more likely to use corporal punishment than older parents (Giles-Sims, Straus, & Sugarman, 1995; Straus & Stewart, 1999; Wolfner & Gelles, 1993). Mothers use corporal punishment more frequently than fathers, although the relative difference is small when time spent with the child is considered (Dietz, 2000; Wolfner & Gelles). Research on the relationship between socioeconomic status and the use of corporal punishment is inconclusive (Dietz; Giles-Simes et al.; Straus, 1994; Wolfner & Gelles). Parents who were hit as children are more likely to hit their children (Bryan & Freed, 1982; Graziano & Namaste, 1990; Rodriquez & Sutherland, 1999; Straus).

Not only does a parent's past history with corporal punishment influence his or her own use of it, but also cultural and subcultural norms may influence the use of spanking. …

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