Do Americans discipline harshly?
Harsh discipline, including spanking, is never a good idea. Although all reputable childhood professional associations agree that harsh discipline, including various forms of corporal punishment, is a highly problematic way to treat children, Americans continue to administer harsh discipline at high rates, providing various kinds of rationalized justifications for its supposed value. Are we a unique, particularly violent society?
An important international study, led by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill researchers, directly addresses this question. The researchers studied parental practices in Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, the Philippines and the United States and concluded that nearly all parents used nonviolent discipline and verbal or psychological punishment. According to the researchers’ findings, “Physical punishment was used in at least 55 percent of the families. Spanking rates (with open hand on buttocks) ranged from a low of 15 percent in an educated community in India to a high of 76 percent in a Philippine community. Similarly, there was a wide range in the rates of children who were hit with objects (9 percent–74 percent [median: 39 percent]) or beaten by their parents (0.1 percent –28.5 percent). Extremely harsh methods of physical punishment, such as burning or smothering, were rare in all countries. It is concerning that 20 percent of parents in nine communities admitted shaking children younger than 2 years.”
The good news—if it can be thought of that way—is that American parents do not seem to stand out as being particularly violent to children. The bad news is that children are subjected to harsh and violent discipline at alarming rates from culture to culture, and the mistreatment is independent of whether the family is one of low, moderate, or high income.
We have written about spanking in more detail, and a pdf of this article for parents is available at http://lucydanielscenter.org/page/spanking-children.
– Mental Health Matters! is written by the Lucy Daniels Center for Early Childhood and posted on the Carolina Parent Magazine's website, the Triangle's family resource - in print for over 21 years! And online at www.carolinaparent.com.