Smacking Children - Corporal Punishment - Proposed repeal of Section 59 of N Z Crimes Act - what does science say ? The Berkley Study.
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Occasional spanking does not damage a child social or
emotional development, according to a study of long-term consequences in the
lives of more than 100 families..... The study [details below] separates
out parents who use spanking frequently and severely -- resulting in evidence of
harm -- and focuses on those families who occasionally spank their children, a
practice that Baumrind calls normal for the population sampled. "We found
no evidence for unique detrimental effects of normative physical punishment. I
am not an advocate of spanking," said Baumrind, "but a blanket
injunction against its use is not warranted by the evidence. It is
reliance on physical punishment, not whether or not it is used at all, that is
associated with harm to the child."
Diana Baumrind PhD, invited address at the 109th annual
convention of the American Psychological Association August 24th 2001. (The data
included in this address have not completed peer review. Therefore readers
and media should reserve judgment.)
It is generally acknowledged that the methodology used to
address at the effects of spanking on children's adjustment is too problematic
to support a causal argument. Nevertheless findings from these problematic
studies have been used, as though they were causally relevant, to support and
unconditional anti-spanking position by organisations such as EPOCH.....
For that reason it is timely to remind ourselves of the elementary
methodological criteria that correlational data must meet to support causal
conclusions, especially conclusions intended to affect social policy -- in this
case to criminalise at normative disciplinary practice, namely spanking.
I use the term "spanking" to refer to striking
the child on the buttocks or extremities with an open hand without inflicting
physical injury with the intention to modify behaviour.
Unconditional anti-spanking advocates such as Murray Straus
argued that any level of physical punishment is harmful so that in affect the
consequences of normative and abusive physical punishment differ in degree, not
in kind. However, Larzelere (2000) concluded from his review of child outcomes
associated with not abusive physical punishment that "not one of the 17
causally relevant studies found predominantly detrimental outcomes if they did
anything to rule out parents who used physical punishment too severely".
The majority of U.S. adults questioned in a recent survey
by Yankelovich (2000) continue to regard that as "appropriate to spend a
child as a regular form of punishment", and their position is shared by
most children and adolescents. Several studies report a high level of acceptance
by young adults, including college students, of the use of spanking by their
parents during childhood, and respondents generally state that they intend to
spank their own children.
Parents in a democratic society rear their offspring with
different values and perspectives that ensure desirable diversity and
child-rearing brawls and outcomes. The state has significant interests in
the well-being of its youth, but in the absence of compelling evidence that
socially approved practices have harmful effects, it promotes children's welfare
by respecting family privacy and parental autonomy and child-rearing decisions,
thus protecting the supportive and the guiding features of family life that
contribute to children's well-being and minimizing unnecessary intrusions into
family life that are psychologically threatening to children by undermining
their trust and parental authority, even when intended to advance their
"best interests". The ethical problem governing state
intervention into family life is to determine when on balance state intervention
will yield greater benefit than harm to children.
Similarly, consultants should weigh the potential costs to
children against the expected benefits of the advice they give parents.
Professional advice that categorically rejects any and all use of a disciplinary
practice favoured and considered functional by parents is more likely to
alienate than educate them. Patterson's research documents the high rate
of parental non-compliance with professional advice that contradicts parents'
own disciplinary preferences based on their personal experience and cultural
norms (Patterson and Chamberlain, 1988).
The implication that spanking is a proven cause of personal
and social pathology is not only scientifically misleading, but also diverts
attention from physical abuse, systemic causes of violence associated with
injustice and poverty, and neglect of children's best interests in foster care
and child welfare.
If the effectiveness of a disciplinary practice is the
extent to which it has the desired outcome as typically used, and efficacy is
the power of practice to produce the desired effect when properly used, then
efficacy should concern practitioners (e.g. paediatricians, clinicians, and
parent educators) more than effectiveness. By being consistently firm,
rational, and responsive and by proactively teaching the child to behave
morally, caregivers can minimise the need for spanking or other punishment, as
well as render punishment more efficacious.
In this study Authoritative, and to a somewhat lesser
extent Democratic, parents were optimally efficacious, whether or not they
spanked their children, as almost all did when their children were preschoolers.
Although optimal parenting may vary across cultures, it is likely in any culture
to have certain of the generic features that characterise authoritative parents.
These features include deep and abiding commitment to the parenting role,
intimate knowledge of children's developmental needs; respect for a particular
child's individuality and desires; provision of structure and regimen
appropriate to the child's development level; readiness to establish, and
disciplinary strategies to enforce, behavioural guidelines; and cognitive
stimulation, effective communication, and use of reasoning to ensure children's
understanding of parents goals and disciplinary strategies. Clear limits
that are firmly enforced during the early years and that occur within the
context of a rational-authoritative parent-child relationship should maximise
committed compliance and the minimise the need for punishment as the child
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