Background: Although much prior literature suggests a linkage between CP of children and subsequent aggression or externalizing behaviors among those children, there have been a number of important limitations to these studies. There is a need to conduct empirical studies of these constructs that account for such issues as: 1) timing of events (i.e., corporal punishment occurs prior to child aggression), 2) controlling for initial externalizing behaviors of children, and 3) controlling for other key parenting behaviors or conditions (e.g., child abuse and or neglect, intimate partner violence (IPV)) that may confound the association between these constructs.
Methods: Data were drawn from the FFCWS, a population-based longitudinal birth cohort study of families with young children. The study, which began in 1998, includes data from 20 large U.S. cities. Maternal reports of CP, child abuse and neglect (CAN) (including psychological abuse, physical abuse, and neglect), IPV victimization, depression, and children's externalizing behaviors (at years 3 and 5) will be examined. CAN questions are from the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales and externalizing behaviors from the Child Behavior Checklist. Adjusted beta coefficients and confidence intervals will be reported from multiple linear regression models. (Waves used: Baseline, Year 3, and Year 5; the latter for CBCL only).
Results: Maternal spanking (more than two times in the past month) at age 3 increased the odds of “high” childhood aggression at age 5 (Adjusted Odd Ratio = 1.5; CI=1.2-1.9). These associations controlled for the child's initial level of aggression and other important parental risk confounders.
Conclusions and Implications: Most parents in the U.S. view CP as an effective and necessary form of child discipline, and it is a common disciplinary practice. However, the current findings suggest that even minor forms of CP lead to increased risk of child aggression. This study, along with the accumulating evidence relating to CP presented in this symposium and elsewhere, has a number of implications for social work practice and suggests that efforts to reduce the use of CP are warranted. Specifically, practitioners who work with parents need to be informed regarding the consequences of CP, and the use of more effective disciplinary practices that could be used in place of CP. Given that CP is linked to increased risk for physical child maltreatment, parenting programs in the child welfare context may need to more explicitly focus on helping these at-risk parents to reduce or eliminate their use of CP. In community settings, it may be time for a public health campaign that informs the general public about the negative consequences of hitting children. In addition, policy makers may wish to consider an outright ban on CP in public schools, which is currently legal in a number of US states.