PART 6: Are physically punished children better behaved?
By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D.
Parents use physical punishment primarily to reduce undesirable child behavior in the present and to increase desirable child behavior in the future. Decades of social and behavioral science research studies indicate the following about these parental goals.
Because there have been numerous studies on these topics, it has been possible for researchers to conduct meta-analyses of several related studies to determine the average strength of the findings.
SHORT TERM EFFECTIVENESS
The research findings on the short-term effectiveness of physical punishment in achieving child compliance are mixed. A meta-analysis of five studies examining children’s immediate compliance with physical punishment found a positive effect on average.
However, the findings were highly inconsistent in that one of the studies found no effect and another found that children were less likely to comply when physically punished. In one of these studies, the authors concluded that “there was no support for the necessity of the physical punishment” to change children’s behavior.
LONG TERM IMPACT
The research to date also indicates that physical punishment does not promote long-term, internalized compliance. Most (85 percent) of the studies included in a meta-analysis found physical punishment to be associated with less moral internalization of norms for appropriate behavior and long-term compliance. Similarly, the more children receive physical punishment, the more defiant they are and the less likely they are to empathize with others.
IMPACT ON CHILD AGGRESSION AND ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIORS
Parents often use physical punishment when their children have behaved aggressively, such as hitting a younger sibling, or antisocially, such as stealing money from parents. Thus it is particularly important to determine whether physical punishment is effective in achieving one of parents’ main goals in using it, namely to reduce children’s aggressive and antisocial behaviors over time.
In a meta-analysis of 27 studies, every study found physical punishment was associated with more, not less, child aggression. A separate meta-analysis of 13 studies found that 12 of them documented a link between physical punishment and more child antisocial behavior.
Similarly, in recent studies conducted around the world, including studies in Canada, China, India, Italy, Kenya, Norway, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and the United States, physical punishment has been associated with more physical aggression, verbal aggression, physical fighting and bullying, antisocial behavior, and behavior problems generally.
The conclusion to be drawn from these studies is that, contrary to parents’ goals when using it, the more parents use physical punishment, the more disobedient and aggressive their children will be.
It is no wonder then that most people jailed for violent crimes have long histories of being frequently physically punished as children.
ARE THESE FINDINGS SURPRISING TO YOU?
We encourage your comments and opinions below.
The NEW Confident Parenting is a book that discusses many of the issues surrounding the use of physical punishment and offers an entire program for raising children without ever having to use physical punishment.