Study Finds Link Between Use of Corporal Punishment and Juvenile Delinquency

Released: 6/25/1997 12:00 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of New Hampshire
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 24, 1997

Contact: Carmelle Druchniak
603-862-1460, FAX 603-862-1188
email: carmelle@christa.unh.edu

UNH STUDY FINDS LINK BETWEEN USE OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AND JUVENILE DELINQUENCY

DURHAM, N.H. -- Parents spanking their children may undermine the parent-child bond enough to make youngsters tend towards juvenile delinquency.

The study of 915 children by Murray Straus, co-director of the University of New Hampshire Family Research Laboratory, and graduate student Kimberly Hill will be presented at the 5th International Family Violence Research Conference, which begins Sunday, June 29, at the New England Center on the UNH campus.

Straus' work is among more than 300 research papers scheduled to be presented at the meeting, which concludes Wednesday, July 2.

Parents who spank or slap a child caught stealing assume that using corporal punishment reduces the chances a child will be delinquent, says Straus, but a previous study by the researcher showed the opposite. Straus found that the more corporal punishment a parent reported using, the greater the probability of the child being delinquent.

"Spanking and other forms of physical discipline may stop undesired behavior," says Straus, "but in the longer run, there's a danger that it teaches children to avoid a particular behavior only in the presence of a parent or other authority figure, or other circumstances when the probability of punishment is high."

Avoiding delinquent behavior depends on a child adopting behavioral standards, that is, developing a conscience, Straus explains.

However, corporal punishment interferes with developing these standards. First, it puts the focus on behaving correctly to avoid punishment rather than because it is right, or does not hurt others. Second, corporal punishment tends to undermine the child-parent bond, which is important because children are more likely to accept parental restrictions and follow parental standards if there are such bonds of affection.

Straus notes this study focused on the mother-child bond, rather than father-child relationship, since all study respondents were mothers.

His past findings and those of other studies also link the use of corporal punishment with low self-esteem, alienation and a higher level of anger and rage, all of which also can increase the probability of delinquency, says Straus.

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