Abstract: Examining Parents' Acceptability of Physical Punishment of Children: A Survey of Parents of Children Ages 0-8 (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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254P Examining Parents' Acceptability of Physical Punishment of Children: A Survey of Parents of Children Ages 0-8

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Olivia Chang, Undergraduate student, The University of Michigan, MI
Shawna Lee, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work, The University of Michigan, MI
Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD, Professor of Human Development and Family Sciences, The University of Texas at Austin, TX
Joyce Lee, MS, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Catherine Taylor, PhD, Associate Professor of Global Community Health and Behavioral Sciences, Tulane University, LA
Background and Purpose: Corporal punishment (CP), defined as spanking, physical discipline, punishment, or any force, “with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correcting or controlling the child’s behavior” (Donnelly & Straus, 2005) is a serious public health problem. A meta-analysis (Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016) reported strong empirical evidence that CP contributes to a myriad of long-lasting behavioral and psychological problems (e.g., depression). CP is ineffective at promoting children’s positive behavior (Altschul, Lee, & Gershoff, 2016), and has poor efficacy in controlling problem behaviors in the long-term when contrasted to alternative methods of discipline (Straus, 2001). Importantly, attitudes supporting CP are one of the strongest predictors of use of CP (Taylor et al., 2016). Moreover, recent studies show that different labels for CP influence perceptions of child discipline (Brown, Holden, & Ashraf, 2016; Fréchette & Romano, 2017). Consistent with such findings, we assert that because parents do not view spanking to be the same as “hitting” or inflicting physical violence, it is perceived to be harmless. Methods: We examined the attitudes and beliefs about spanking of 301 current parents of children up to eight years old through an online survey. Results: First, content analysis of participants’ open-ended self-definitions of spanking examined for mention of “hit” or “hitting”, as well as commonly mentioned synonyms (e.g., swatting). Results indicated that hitting was the most common definition of spanking (34%), and therefore the most agreed upon definition of spanking. Other common synonyms for spanking were slapping (17%), smacking (12%), and swatting (11%). Second, we analyzed participants’ ranked-order severity of various synonyms for spanking. Consistent with participants’ self-definitions of spanking, slapping (73%) and smacking (64%) were the most frequently rated as the same as hitting. Third, we compared participants’ ranked agreement to the acceptability of a parent hitting a child, man hitting a dog, husband hitting a wife, and adult hitting an elderly parent. Concerningly, 54% of respondents indicated strong disagreement to hitting a dog, while merely 39% expressed the same disagreement to hitting a child. It is worth noting that 94 participants indicated that completing this survey changed their attitudes toward spanking by making their contradictory attitudes toward spanking apparent, such that some declared that they would no longer use spanking. Conclusions and Implications: The present findings highlight the value of understanding how parents and caregivers cognize specific types of CP like spanking, in addition to pointing to how doing so can help individuals reassess their views on harmful physical discipline.