Study Suggests Link Between Spanking and Child Abuse
Special Report - August 20, 2008
A new study contends that parents who spank their children, especially with an object such as a switch or a belt, are more prone to child abuse than parents who don’t. The study, released August 19 by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and entitled, “Speak Softlyand Forget the Stick: Corporal Punishment and Child Physical Abuse,” is to be published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It is based on an analysis of a 2002 anonymous telephone survey of adult mothers with children under age 18 living in North and South Carolina. The mothers who participated in the survey were asked a number of questions regarding their own behavior and the behavior of their partner toward their child, and their responses were used to “determine an association between corporal punishment and an index of harsh physical punishment consistent with physical abuse (beating, burning, kicking, hitting with an object somewhere other than on the buttocks, and shaking a child under age 2). In the study, “spanking” is defined as “striking a child with an open hand, most commonly on the buttocks,” and “corporal punishment” is defined as including “spanking, spanking with an object, and slapping.”
According to the survey, 45 percent of the mothers reported that they or their partner had spanked their child and 25 percent reported spanking with an object, while four percent reported some form of physical abuse of their child. The UNC analysis of the survey found that: “Mothers who report that they or their partner hit the…child with an object on the buttocks are nearly nine times more likely to report potentially abusive behaviors.” In addition, mothers who reported spanking their child were 2.7 times more likely to report abuse.
“Corporal punishment, when administered in a loving and responsible manner, can be an effective means of child discipline and of helping children to learn what is right and wrong,” said John Rustin, vice president and director of government relations for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “This study erroneously implies that parents who choose spanking as a form of discipline are more likely to physically abuse their children. In fact, it is reasonable to conclude from the study that parents who administer corporal punishment in an inappropriate and abusive manner are predisposed to physical abuse in the first place.”
The authors of the UNC study argue that efforts by the media, educators and legislators to reduce discipline by parents that involves spanking with an object could lead to a reduction in child abuse. “In this country, where nearly 90 percent of parents of preschoolers admit to spanking their child in the past year, laws banning corporal punishment are likely to be untenable,” the study’s conclusion states. “As spanking a child on the buttocks with an object is less common, programs and policies to eliminate this behavior may be more personally tenable and politically feasible. Future research on programs and policies to decrease corporal punishment should evaluate the relationship between change in corporal punishment and change in physical abuse. Finally, those who provide care for children and families, as well as advocacy organizations, should educate parents about the risk of all forms of corporal punishment.”
“We completely agree that child abuse is a serious and horrible problem in our society,” Rustin continued, “and we must have effective programs and policies that address the heart of this issue. But suggesting, as this report seems to, that all parents who spank their children are at risk of abusing them, unnecessarily diverts attention away from where it really needs to be.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.