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Journal Article


Straus MA, Donnelly DA. Youth Soc. 1993; 24(4): 419-442.


(Copyright © 1993, Sage Publications)






VioLit summary:

The aim of this paper by Strauss and Donnelly was to assess the extent to which corporal punishment is currently used on adolescents. Areas addressed included the etiology of corporal punishment with respect to gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and cultural support. Theoretical issues relating to the cause of youth violence were also addressed.

This paper employed a quasi-experimental design using data from a nationally represented sample of 6,002 U.S. couples, gathered in the summer of 1985. These couples participated in the National Family Violence Resurvey by telephone interview. Respondents were 18 years or older, either presently married or living as a couple, or they were single, separated or divorced parents with a child living at home. The response rate was 84%.
The definition of corporal punishment for the purposes of this paper was 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. Corporal punishment included spanking, slapping, and grabbing or shoving a child roughly. Corporal punishment, for the purposes of this paper excluded hitting with an object (hair brush, belt or paddle).
If while conducting the interview, more than one child was living at home, only one child was randomly selected and considered for data purposes. Use of corporal punishment was measured as either "contemporaneous", or "adult recall". Contemporaneous, or current use, referred to the respondent as the perpetrator. Adult recall, the history of the respondents own childhood punishment, referred to the respondent as the victim.
The N for adult recall data was 5,452. The respondents were asked to reflect back to when they experienced the most physical punishment and to rate how often in that year corporal punishment was used on them. The answer categories included: never, once, twice, 3-5 times, 6-10 times, 11-20 times, and more than 20 times. Separate responses were gathered to distinguish between punishment by father or by mother.
Past research has indicated that the peak years for hitting adolescents is between the ages of 13 and 14. In order to best compare adult recall with contemporaneous, the contemporaneous data included 380 cases of adolescents who were between the ages of 13 to 14 at the time data was collected. The minor violence scale of the Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) was used to measure contemporaneous use of corporal punishment when compared to that of adult recall data.
This study addressed the accuracy and limitations of using adult recall data. The following limitations of using contemporaneous data were also addressed by the authors: 1) the parent who did the punishing was not interviewed; 2) only a small percentage of the sample had a child living at home; and 3) the underestimation of the use of corporal punishment by the respondents. Analyses used in this study included prevalence and chronicity rates, and comparisons of aging versus cohort.

The prevalence of recall data (49.8%) which revealed being punished one or more times closely matched the same measure of prevalence for the contemporaneous data (46.3%). These were considered low estimates assuming that some participants may have forgotten their history of punishment and some may not have disclosed information.
Corporal punishment was used an average of 7.9 times, according to the recall data, compared to an average of 5.9 times for the contemporaneous data. The median for both samples sets was four times per year. The authors caution that these values may be low.
The data also revealed that the prevalence rate of corporal punishment was 40% for respondents over 70 years of age, versus 55.4% for respondents between 18 to 19 years of age. This result was opposite of what was expected. Nevertheless, a response rate of 40% recall, after 70 years, was considered remarkable.
Social and psychological factors that could influence use of corporal punishment were explored through an examination of cultural norms, the gender of parent and child, and socioeconomic status (SES).
Cultural norms were explored utilizing data from a survey conducted by Moore and Strauss in 1987. This 1987 survey used a representative sample of 917 New Hampshire parents and reported that 31% agreed, 23% were neutral or mildly disagreed, and 46% strongly disagreed that it was a good idea for a parent to slap a teenager who talked back. In this survey parents supported their right to hit adolescents. Also, a positive correlation existed between parents who condoned hitting and parents who actually hit.
The paper posited that gender differences explained why reason some parents endorsed corporal punishment but did not use it in child rearing. The authors stated that the recall rates of 44% for daughters compared to 58.2% for sons supported the traditional pattern that corporal punishment is more appropriate for sons than daughters. There was a tendency for both parents, regardless of gender of child, to use corporal punishment. Over half of the sons were punished by both parents versus 41% of the girls. However, many families revealed a direct gender influence when only one parent used corporal punishment. When it was the son, there was an equal chance that the mother or father exacted punishment, but when it was the daughter, the mother was twice as likely as the father to exact punishment.
Consequently, it was assumed that adolescent daughters were hit less because fathers hit their daughters less. The lowest use of corporal punishment reported was father to daughter, with 40% having been hit only once. Most disturbing was that the rate of parental use of punishment against sons was six or more times.
The SES index factored into the results the education of the parents, occupational prestige scores of the parents, and their combined income. Using a multiple indicator of SES as an independent variable, and prevalence as a dependent variable, middle class families were shown to have a higher prevalence rate than either the lower or upper class respondents. This result may contradict past research. However, the authors noted that this paper focused on adolescents and not younger children.
When chronicity was used as the dependent variable, it was discovered that the higher the SES, the lower the chronicity. This suggested that although the rate is smaller for lower SES parents, those that hit their children do it more often.
The authors noted that even though results suggested that corporal punishment is considered normal, and that almost all children defend its use, this is not evidence that corporal punishment does not have harmful effects. On the contrary, the authors suggested that corporal punishment is harmful because there is evidence that it is associated with increased probability of violence, crime, depression, alienation, and lowered achievement. The authors also suggested that corporal punishment most likely interferes with the development of independence because it is likely to be used to humiliate and stump the progress of the adolescent.
The authors suggested that the reason corporal punishment has rarely been investigated may be because it is so common. The authors noted that, although there is no statutory limits and no consensus by the public on how much corporal punishment takes place before it crosses the line to physical abuse, most Americans would consider excessive punishment as abuse.

The authors suggested further research to determine the effects of one parent interceding and stopping the other parent from using corporal punishment. They also suggested exploring the following issues with future samples: whether men believe corporal punishment was good for them because they are men and so they don't report being hit, and 2) why fathers don't report when they hit girls or women. (CSPV Abstract - Copyright © 1992-2007 by the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Institute of Behavioral Science, Regents of the University of Colorado)

KW - Family Relations
KW - Family Environment
KW - Parent Child Relations
KW - Juvenile Victim
KW - Child Abuse Victim
KW - Child Abuse Incidence and Prevalence
KW - Child Abuse Offender
KW - Child Physical Abuse Victim
KW - Child Physical Abuse Offender
KW - Child Physical Abuse Incidence and Prevalence
KW - Domestic Violence Incidence and Prevalence
KW - Domestic Violence Offender
KW - Domestic Violence Victim
KW - Adult Offender
KW - Adult Parent
KW - Adult Violence
KW - Physical Punishment
KW - Parent Offender
KW - Corporal Punishment
KW - Corporal Punishment Incidence and Prevalence
KW - Corporal Punishment of Juvenile
KW - Corporal Punishment Causes


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