The term Corporal Punishment” means the intentional infliction of pain on the body for the purpose of punishment. It includes slapping, hitting with objects, pinching, shaking, and forcing children to stand for long periods of time (Epoch 1). Family researchers define corporal punishment as “the use of physical force aimed at causing children to experience pain but not injury, for the purposes of correction and control of youthful behavior” (Day 83). “Spanking” is a form of physical or corporal punishment (Epoch 1). The general acceptance, and sometimes support, of corporal punishment as a method of discipline is an aspect of American culture (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, Perrin 61).
Children are abused because they are unable to defend themselves against stronger and more powerful adults (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, Perrin 61). Researchers have recently recognized that spanking is primarily used with young children and that the incidence and severity of spanking often diminishes by the time children are 8-10 years old (Day 80). Studies of the incidence and intensity of spanking provide evidence that most parents have spanked their children. About 90% of parents in the United States report having spanked their children (Day 80).
In a research project using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, researchers examined the antecedents of parents’ spanking behavior. This study represents an important step forward in understanding the profile of parents who spank their children. The study showed that younger mothers spank more frequently than older mothers, younger children are spanked more than older children, and higher levels of socioeconomic status are associated with decreases in spanking. It also showed that mothers with lower education, mothers living in the south, and African American mothers reported increased levels of corporal punishment. Mothers reporting higher levels of religiosity also spanked more (Day 80). Consistent use of corporal punishment is an indicator of less effective parenting and is commonly linked to socialization outcomes such as delinquency, low self-esteem, and social incompetence (Day 81). The child’s temperament and personality directly affect the parents’ ability to employ non-physical discipline strategies.
Consequently, children who are perceived as difficult are more likely to be spanked than those who are not perceived as difficult (Day 81). Older parents who have more education will have more experience raising children, will know more about alternative and non-punitive strategies of discipline, and will have a greater sense of personal maturity and self-control, all of which may reduce inclinations to spank (Day 81). There is a widely held tradition in western civilization that sparing the rod spoils the child” (Day 81). Spanking is deeply rooted in the history and culture of our nation as well as in our own personal experiences.
Some people point to the Bible as supporting, even requiring, physical punishment. However, those who subscribe to this argument misunderstand and misuse scripture (Epoch 3). When parents work and are not on public assistance, they have a greater ability to provide necessities and extras for their children. Economic independence may lead to a greater sense of personal worth.
This higher self-worth should convert into more competent parenting, which is an important link to non-punitive discipline (Day 82). Single mothers have been characterized as understaffed” and having difficulty juggling the demands of household, children, and work. When these strains exist, discipline strategies may reflect a more pressured situation. Even when controlling for the age of the mother, the pressurized climate of living as a single parent will increase the amount of reported spanking (Day 82). Fathers generally spank less than mothers.
Fathers are less likely to spank their children, especially when they are young. It is common for younger children to receive frequent spankings, which may make this period of their life difficult for mothers (Day 87). The study also found that boys are spanked more often than girls.
The effects of the gender of the child become more accentuated as the child gets older. Mothers and fathers are less likely to spank older children. Fathers rarely spank older girls. Older boys, if they are spanked at all, are probably spanked by their mothers. Within the groups of women (black or white, married or single), black single mothers report the most spanking. Black married women with older children report more spanking than white women, but less spanking than single black mothers. The black single women are younger, which may account for some of this difference, and are much more likely to espouse.