Physical punishment of children is associated with the development of antisocial behaviour in children, as well as poorer academic achievement and adjustment to school, according to a review of research by Otago University's Children's Issues Centre. The review concludes physical punishment is a health risk for children.
The Children's Issues Centre surveyed more than 300 internationally published peer-reviewed research articles in its investigation, which was commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (see background sheet for more detail). Lead researcher Professor Anne Smith says the research found physical punishment has only limited success in making children compliant. Professor Smith says the long-term effects of physical punishment were all negative.
“The literature is quite consistent in supporting the conclusion that there is an association between the use of parental corporal punishment and the development of antisocial behaviour in children.”
In contrast the research suggests six principles of effective discipline:
Children's Commissioner Dr Cindy Kiro says the research has found that an authoritative and firm parenting style, accompanied by warmth, responsiveness, involvement and reasoning is associated with children's healthy social adjustment. “This is important research because it gives parents evidence-based information about the effects of physical punishment, as well as practical alternatives.”
Dr Kiro points out a recent UNICEF report shows New Zealand had the third highest rate of deaths from child maltreatment in the OECD. The full research findings will be released at a seminar on the use of physical punishment organised by the Children's Issues Centre, to be held in Wellington on 18-19 June 2004.
Important background information
The review has been written up as a detailed report but a shorter version is being released to the public in June. The review and short report were commissioned by the Office of the Children's Commissioner and investigate a range of issues – including the effect of physical punishment on children, why parents physically punish children, effective family disciplinary practices and the legal framework for family discipline. Did the researchers find that it is safe to use physical punishment in any circumstances?
Lead researcher Professor Anne Smith says one of the problems highlighted by the review is the lack of agreement over when physical punishment steps over the line and becomes abuse. Professor Smith points out in cases of physical abuse, about two thirds of the time it is preceded by ordinary use of physical punishment for discipline. The danger of physical punishment is that it can easily escalate into physical abuse.