Parent's Use of Physical Punishment Increases Violent Behavior Among Youth

Ohene, S., Ireland, M., McNeely, C., & Borowsky, I. W. (2006). Parental expectations, physical punishment, and violence among adolescents who score positive on a psychosocial screening test in primary care. Pediatrics, 117, 441-447.

What is the study about?

Violent behavior is one of the leading causes of mortality among youth. Research has revealed numerous predictors of violent behavior among youth, many of which relate to various forms of violence exposure (e.g., media violence, bullying, neighborhood violence, corporal punishment, etc.). In this study, researchers examined the relationship between young adolescents’ involvement in and attitudes toward violence, parental use of physical punishment, and parental expectations of violence use (both perceived and stated) among youth. The study was conducted with the participation of 134 parents and their children (aged 10-15 years), focusing on both urban and suburban populations. The objectives of the study were to:

(a) Compare the intentions of adolescents in a potentially violent situation with what their parents would advise them to do, and

(b) Explore the relationship between parents’ expectations of their children’s behavior when provoked and their own use of physical punishment (therefore modeling of violent behavior) with the following outcomes: youth attitudes about the appropriateness of using violence to resolve conflicts, their intention to use violence when provoked, and their perpetration of violence and victimization.

What did the study find?

The results demonstrated that perceived parental disapproval of the use of violence was associated with more prosocial attitudes and less use of physical violence among adolescents, whereas stated parental expectations had no relation to adolescent attitudes, intentions, or use of violence. Additionally, adolescents who were more likely to engage in fighting, bullying, and victimization of others reported that their parents engaged in corporal punishment as a disciplining method. These findings suggest that perceived parental disapproval of violence may serve as a protective factor against violent behavior among adolescents. Alternatively, parental use of corporal punishment may pose a risk for violent behaviors among youth.

How does this relate to the ACT Against Violence program?

As this study suggests, if parents use negative forms of discipline (i.e., physical punishment), their children are more likely to use violence to resolve their own conflicts. Parents are the most influential people in their children’s lives, and children’s behaviors are often a reflection of their observations and imitation of parental behaviors. Children’s early life experiences, which are in large part provided by their families, set the stage for how they will develop the ability to think, feel, trust, and relate to others. Particularly during the early years, when children have not fully developed the cognitive ability to understand and interpret their experiences, they are more vulnerable to violence exposure, and their early experiences may have long-term psychological impact. The ACT program emphasizes the need for parents to learn about child development and use that information to respond appropriately to their children’s behaviors instead of reacting emotionally to them. The program teaches parents how to set a positive example by modeling respectful, nonviolent behaviors at home.