• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Tuesday 20th November, 2007

Corporal punishment hurts over the long run

The statistics add up to a worrisome conclusion. Ninety percent of US children experience corporal punishment at least once in their lives. And the evidence is mounting that using physical means to impose discipline does more harm than good, by making it more likely that a child will become aggressive or depressed. Yet few parents are getting the message. One study found that only fifty percent of mothers have been counseled to refrain from corporal punishment. Part of the puzzle is that the research – persuasive as it should be – is not conclusive where the effects of physical discipline are concerned. Some studies aren't able to say whether the corporal punishment is at the heart of the problem or if the overall parenting style (which includes this type of discipline) is the real cause. Other studies have not been able to rule out another possibility: that parents with problem children use corporal punishment more often. So the children’s difficulties might be the cause of the punishment, rather than the other way around. Finally, some have argued (and some research supports this idea, too) that corporal punishment is not harmful when it’s the norm – when most parents in a community resort to it. For example, physical discipline is more common among African American families than among those of other ethnicities.To try to clear up the confusion, Matthew K. Mulvaney and Carolyn J. Mebert of the University of New Hampshire in the US examined data from over a thousand families who have been participating in a national study, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development).Trawling back as far as 1991, they found that corporal punishment was associated with poor behavior in children at the age of three and then again at the ages of six and seven, even when differences between families in terms of ethnicity, income, parenting styles, and earlier use of corporal punishment have been taken into account. They therefore conclude that corporal punishment is a definite problem and that teachers, counselors, doctors and others working with children and parents need to do more to discourage it. They also caution that the impact of corporal punishment might be aggravated as children grow older because those with mental health and behavior problems are at greater risk for peer rejection and victimization than other children. • Summary of “Parental Corporal Punishment Predicts Behavior Problems in Early Childhood” by Matthew K. Mulvaney and Carolyn J. Mebert in Journal of Family Psychology, Volume 21, Issue 3, September 2007, p. 389–397.

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