Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

18 Parental Physical Punishment: Predictors, Consequences, and Intervention

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 3:30 PM-5:15 PM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Child Welfare
Symposium Organizer:
Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Wayne State University
Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Introduction and Overview of Symposium

Although the acceptability of physical punishment, such as spanking, as a disciplinary practice continues to be debated among the public, research continues to build a strong case that parents' use of physical punishment is associated with negative child outcomes. Specifically, the more often parents physically punish their children, the more likely their children are to experience aggression, antisocial behavior, and mental health problems, and to suffer physical abuse at the hands of their parents (Gershoff, 2002). Yet, the majority of U.S. parents use physical aggression to discipline their children, often beginning when children are very young. Indeed, 30% of one year old children had experienced physical punishment at least once in the prior month (as reported in presentation #1 in this symposium) and 65% of three year old children had experienced physical punishment at least once in the prior month (Taylor et al., 2011).

Paper #1: Parental physical punishment of one year old children and risk for Child Protective Services involvement

Paper #2: Father's physical punishment and child externalizing behavior: A longitudinal examination

Paper #3: The association of maternal physical punishment and warmth to children's aggressive and positive behavior

Paper #4: An experimental evaluation of parent training, unskilled parenting, and child welfare involvement for adults in the community corrections system

The four papers presented in this symposium are novel for several reasons. First, presentations use data from both fathers and mothers in order to clarify the unique role that each parent may have in contributing to child wellbeing. Second, longitudinal data are used in all four presentations, with the first three studies beginning in early childhood (at one year of age) to capture the transactional parent-child processes over time. Third, we examine both the mechanisms associated with physical discipline and its outcomes for children, as well as present findings relating to an intervention designed to promote positive parenting among at-risk families.

The first three papers use data from the Fragile Families Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a large, community-based study of urban families. The final paper presents results from a randomized experimental study of a parenting intervention with fathers and mothers involved in the corrections system. Each paper will present clear implications for practice specific to that study. The symposium discussant will provide an overarching set of implications for social work intervention based on all four presentations. First, these studies strongly suggest that physical discipline by mothers, fathers, or both parents is neither a safe way to discipline children, nor effective at bringing about positive behavior changes. Practitioners must enhance efforts to educate both fathers and mothers about the consequences of physical discipline, and provide parents with alternative disciplinary practices that could be used in place of physical discipline. In addition, physical discipline of young children is associated with increased risk for Child Protective Services involvement. As a result, parenting programs in the child welfare context must explicitly focus on helping these at-risk parents to reduce or eliminate their use of physical discipline.

* noted as presenting author
Parental Physical Punishment of One Year Old Children and Risk for Child Protective Services Involvement
Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Wayne State University; Lawrence M. Berger, PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Father's Physical Punishment and Child Externalizing Behavior: A Longitudinal Examination
Inna Altschul, PhD, University of Denver; Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Wayne State University; Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, University of Texas at Austin
The Association of Maternal Physical Punishment and Warmth to Children's Aggressive and Positive Behavior
Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Wayne State University; Inna Altschul, PhD, University of Denver; Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, University of Texas at Austin
An Experimental Evaluation of Parent Training, Unskilled Parenting, and Child Welfare Involvement for Adults In the Community Corrections System
Lew Bank, PhD, Oregon Social Learning Center; Bowen McBeath, PhD, Portland State University; Shawna J. Lee, PhD, Wayne State University
See more of: Symposia