60-Second Mind

Parents Who Support Corporal Punishment Do It a Lot

Thirty-three families allowed themselves to be recorded for up to six nights. Parents who said they supported corporal punishment did it often and with little provocation. Christie Nicholson reports


[Audio of mother and child]
When it comes to disciplining their young children, there’s a big gulf between what parents say they do and what they actually do. New research finds that parents spank or hit more often and for more mundane reasons than researchers previously thought.
The study followed 33 families from four to six evenings while parents wore audio recorders documenting all interaction with their toddlers, who averaged four-years-of-age. Participants were mostly working mothers—80 percent were educated beyond high school and married.
Those parents who approve of corporal punishment contend that they only spank as a last resort, do it only for serious misbehavior and only when they are calm. But the recordings often revealed the opposite. Parents seemed angry when striking their child, they did it reactively and for minor transgressions. [Audio of mother and child]
On average, spankings happened only 30 seconds after a conflict started, and half the time parents sounded angry before any conflict began. The study is in the Journal of Family Psychology. [George W. Holden, Paul A. Williamson and Grant W. O. Holland, Eavesdropping on the family: A pilot investigation of corporal punishment in the home]
Previous studies using parental self-reports have estimated that parents spank about 18 times per year. But this study using real-time audio found the median rate to be 18 times per week—and this is among people who knew they were being monitored.  That means that among the mothers who spanked, half of them spanked more than 18 times per week.
—Christie Nicholson
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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