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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The data set also included an extensive set of child and family controls including earlier measures of the child outcomes. Maternal spanking at age 5, even at low levels, was associated with higher levels of child externalizing behavior at age 9, even after an array of risks and earlier child behavior were controlled for.
Spanking remains a typical rearing experience for American children. These demonstrate negative effects of spanking on first spanking behavioral and cognitive development in a longitudinal sample from birth through 9 years of age. A large and first spanking literature has demonstrated ificant associations between the use of spanking and later child aggression, but we know less about paternal spanking, effects of spanking on cognitive development, and longer-term effects.
ing for a broad array of risk factors, spanking predicts both aggression and receptive vocabulary across the first decade of life. Importantly, we include paternal spanking, cognitive outcomes, and a longitudinal span longer than that of much of the literature. In a seminal meta-analysis of 88 studies, Gershoff 2 demonstrated an association between corporal punishment and 10 of the 11 child outcomes examined across childhood. In particular, a large and growing literature points toward an association between spanking and higher levels of aggression among children.
Third, almost all studies have focused on maternal spanking to the exclusion of paternal spanking, which limits our capacity to understand whether parents are making differential decisions on corporal punishment and whether their spanking may be having differential effects on child outcomes. To the extent that mothers spend more time with children and are typically the primary caregivers, we might expect maternal spanking to be more strongly associated with behavioral outcomes.
A fourth limitation is that much of the focus in the literature has been on child aggressive behavior, whereas cognitive developmental outcomes have received less attention. Berlin et al 7 found links between spanking and early child Bayley scores in a large sample of low-income preschoolers and toddlers, and MacKenzie et al 10 found evidence of associations between early spanking and lower child vocabulary scores at age 5.
In this study, we analyze the links between maternal and paternal spanking and child behavioral and cognitive development, taking advantage of a longitudinal data set that follows a large and diverse sample of children from birth through 9 years of age, a wider time span than has been typically examined to date.
The data set is extremely rich, allowing us to control for many possible confounds in family characteristics and risks with the potential to affect parenting stress and family functioning. Unusually for this topic, we are able to include data on paternal as well as maternal spanking in a longitudinal analysis. And we go beyond most studies in examining cognitive development as well as aggression. FFCW placed special emphasis on tracking both mothers and fathers, and therefore we have data on both maternal and paternal spanking practices. Our analytic sample is limited to families in which there were valid responses on the key variables from these interviews including the outcome variables, and the use of a control variable for father absent in all regression models allowed us to maintain the full analytic sample and avoid dropping children whose fathers may have been absent at any 1 time.
The resultant sample included families for the child externalizing behavior analyses and a subsample of families for the PPVT analyses. The families in our analytic sample do differ from the total FFCW study sample in some respects. Based on this comparison, the families making up the analytic sample have more resources in general and appear more stable at baseline than the rest of the FFCW sample.
Nevertheless, as shown in the descriptive statistics in Table 1they remain a fairly disadvantaged urban sample. Spanking was first spanking by a question asked of the mother and the father at the age 3 and first spanking assessments regarding frequency of spanking in the past month because child was misbehaving or acting up. At age 9, the externalizing measure drew on 35 items that make up the aggression and rule-breaking subscales in the CBCL. At age 3, the measure was based on 24 items from the in-home interview, including the item aggression subscale and the 5 unique items from the destructive subscale not included in the aggression subscale.
The PPVT was available in the data set at multiple time points and is a well validated and widely used measure of child receptive verbal capacity, crucial to understanding an area of cognitive development associated with parenting behavior, and it has been standardized against a national sample of children based on age as a measure of receptive vocabulary.
The responses are summed to derive 1 score range 3—15, with 15 indicating a highly difficult temperamentand the measure has been used to predict earlier spanking behavior in this data set. The next 4 control variables capture factors reported by the mother that may be associated with increased risk for both maternal spanking and child developmental problems. The scale is coded such that a higher score indicates lower levels of parental stress, and it has been shown first spanking predict harsh parenting of preschoolers in this data set.
At age 1 and first spanking, items assessing both depression and anxiety were included, whereas at ages 5 and 9, the interviews contained only items pertaining to depression. This subtest asks the respondent to identify how 2 objects or concepts are comparable.
The values of the modified subscale for the mother range from 0 lowest functioning to 15 highest functioning. Specifically, the age 1 phone interview includes items asking the mother how many days a week she played peek-a-boo with her child, sang songs or nursery rhymes to her child, and read to her. The values, then, range from 0 the mother reports never doing any of these things with her child to 7 the mother reports doing all of these things every day with her .
As shown in Table 1use of any spanking in the past month decreased from age 3 to age 5. Table 2 displays the of a series of 4 progressively more complex multivariate regression models predicting child externalizing behavior problems at age 9. Paternal spanking of any frequency at age 3 and 5 and maternal low-frequency spanking at age 3 were not ificantly associated with externalizing at age 9. In Model 2 we added child characteristics including child gender, age in months at the year 9 assessment, if the child was low birth weight, birth order, and child temperament at age 1 as well as first spanking of family sociodemographics and risk behaviors.
Although the same maternal spanking variables continued to be ificant predictors of later externalizing behavior, we can begin to see the predictive power being somewhat diminished by the addition of controls, such as child gender and early temperament, which were ificant predictors of age 9 externalizing for full including coefficients for the control variables, see Supplemental Table 4. Maternal high- and low-frequency spanking at age 5 remained as ificant predictors of later externalizing behavior in Model 3, but maternal low-frequency spanking at age 3 no longer ificantly predicted externalizing behavior at age 9.
Finally, Model 4 built on Model 3 to add in an important control of earlier child externalizing behavior at age 3, which was, as expected, a ificant predictor of later externalizing behavior at age 9, indicating continuity in child behavior. Despite the addition of this control to the existing broad battery of first spanking, however, both high- and low-frequency maternal spanking at age 5 remained ificant predictors of greater externalizing problems at age 9. Table 3 displays the of the multivariate regressions, with spanking predicting child receptive language capacity as assessed by the PPVT at age 9 for full including coefficients for all control variables, see Supplemental Table 5.
In Model 1, only high-frequency paternal spanking at age 5 was ificantly associated with lower PPVT scores at age 9.
In Model 2, after controls were added for the child characteristics and family sociodemographic variables, high-frequency paternal spanking at age 5 continued to ificantly predict later reduced PPVT scores. Similarly, in Model 3, even with the addition of the control for maternal cognitive capacity WAIS-R Similarities scorehigh-frequency paternal spanking continued to be a more powerful predictor of later PPVT scores.
Model 4 added in the final controls of child externalizing behavior and PPVT score at age 3, which as expected were both ificant predictors of age 9 PPVT performance. In data not shown but available upon request, we tested a series of interactions in the models for both externalizing and PPVT scores, including spanking by gender and, importantly, spanking by race or ethnicity. Although gender and race or ethnicity were ificant predictors of the outcomes, we did not find that they ificantly moderated the association between spanking and later externalizing or receptive verbal ability.
These provide additional evidence as to the prevalence of spanking among US families and the effects on child behavioral and cognitive development. Our analysis is distinctive in the breadth of control variables included in the analysis, drawing on a transactional perspective in conceptualizing how stressors and risks in the family and environment affect parental disciplinary practices and the risk for poor child outcomes.
Our most fully specified regression model indicates that age 5 maternal spanking, at both low and high frequency, is a ificant predictor of higher downstream age 9 externalizing behavior, even after an extensive set of child and family characteristics were controlled for, including earlier externalizing behavior and father spanking. The extensive set of covariates we were able to include in this model increases our confidence that this association is indicative of an effect of spanking on child behavior rather than simply a spurious correlation.
One remaining limitation in the current study, however, is that we rely on maternal report of child externalizing behavior, which does not allow us to rule out the possibility that negative perceptions of the child have the potential to influence both the decision to spank and maternal ratings of child externalizing behavior.
Three factors give us reason to believe this limitation was not a major factor in the data. First, the CBCL asks about specific child behaviors rather than just overall impressions of the child that would be more susceptible to bias from negative parental perceptions. Second, the effects in the broader spanking literature, which also suffer from this limitation, seem focused on externalizing behavior and not on a broader array of behaviors reported on by mothers, so if this were simply negative perceptions carrying the weight, we would not expect the associations with spanking to first spanking domain specific.
And finally, our are in keeping with the recent findings of Gershoff et al, 11 who used first spanking reports of child behavioral problems. Building on recent work by MacKenzie et al 10 on associations between spanking and lower receptive vocabulary in the preschool period, we also find evidence of an effect of paternal spanking at age 5 on the development of child verbal capacity at age 9, as measured by the PPVT.
This is an important finding because fewer studies have examined cognitive outcomes, 16 and it raises questions for future work, including whether spanking is having a direct effect on cognitive development through stress, trauma, and other physiologic or neural processes, or whether spanking is simply an indirect proxy for other unmeasured parenting practices first spanking negatively affect cognitive development. However, our inclusion of controls such as maternal depression, maternal intelligence, and observations of cognitive stimulation in the home environment during earlier home visits gives us some confidence that these are in part direct effects that cannot be simply explained away as spanking families being also less likely to speak to or engage their child in ways important for cognitive development.
These findings on the importance of paternal spanking to cognitive outcomes in middle childhood stand in first spanking to work in the preschool period, where maternal spanking was associated with reduced receptive vocabulary, 10 perhaps speaking to differential parent effects across periods of child development.
Replication and additional examination of this association in future work will first spanking important, as will attempts to better understand why the spanking behavior of mothers and fathers may be having differential impacts on child receptive vocabulary in different developmental periods. One unresolved question in the literature is whether the effects of spanking on child development are similar or different across groups. In line with some recent work, 710first spanking our analysis of interactions did not find a ificant moderating role for race or ethnicity and gender.
This result suggests that first spanking adverse developmental consequences of spanking are not confined to particular groups of children. And although our models had controls for both family structure and the of other adults in the home, we were not able to address the potential roles the disciplinary practices of other adult caregivers in the home eg, grandparents, other extended family members may have played in these developmental outcomes. This would be an important area for future exploration. Future work should focus on providing families a clearer picture of the outcomes associated with spanking and more information about what discipline practices may have the desired effect on improving functioning, so that they can move beyond punishment practices to the incorporation of positive parenting behaviors with the potential to encourage healthy child trajectories.
Dr MacKenzie conceptualized and deed the analysis and drafted the initial manuscript; Dr Nicklas carried out the initial analyses and reviewed and revised the manuscript; Dr Waldfogel assisted in the conceptualization and de of the analysis and reviewed and edited the manuscript; Dr Brooks-Gunn is a co-PI on the Fragile Families Study and deed many of the data collection instruments, assisted in overseeing the study implementation and data collection, and critically reviewed the manuscript; and all authors approved the final manuscript as submitted.
National Center for Biotechnology InformationU. Michael J. Author information Article notes Copyright and information Disclaimer. Corresponding author. Address correspondence to Michael J. E-mail: ude. Accepted Aug This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Keywords: spanking, corporal punishment, physical discipline, harsh parenting, aggression, externalizing behavior, cognitive development, receptive vocabulary. What This Study Adds: ing for a broad array of risk factors, spanking predicts both aggression and receptive vocabulary across the first decade of life.
Open in a separate window. OLS, ordinary least squares. Measures Maternal and Paternal Spanking Spanking was measured by a question asked of the mother and the father at the age 3 and 5 assessments regarding frequency of spanking in the past month because child was misbehaving or acting up. Child Receptive Vocabulary The PPVT was available in the data set at multiple time points and is a well validated and widely used measure of child receptive verbal capacity, crucial to understanding an area of cognitive development associated with parenting behavior, and it has been standardized against a national sample of children based on age as a measure of receptive vocabulary.
Maternal Risk Factors The next 4 control variables capture factors reported by the mother that may be associated with increased risk for both maternal spanking and child developmental problems. Prevalence of Maternal and Paternal Spanking at Age 3 and 5 As shown in Table 1use of any spanking in the past month decreased from age 3 to age 5.
Association Between Parental Spanking and Subsequent Child Externalizing Problems Table 2 displays the of a series of 4 progressively more complex multivariate regression models predicting child externalizing behavior problems at age 9.
Model 1: Includes only the parental spanking variables. Association Between Parental Spanking and Child Receptive Language Development Table 3 displays the of the multivariate regressions, with spanking predicting child receptive language capacity as assessed by the PPVT at age 9 for full including coefficients for all control variables, see Supplemental Table 5.
Interaction In data not shown but available upon request, we tested a series of interactions in the models for both externalizing and PPVT scores, including spanking by gender and, importantly, spanking by race or ethnicity. Discussion These provide additional evidence as to the prevalence of spanking among US families and the effects on child behavioral and cognitive development.
Footnotes Dr MacKenzie conceptualized and deed the analysis and drafted the initial manuscript; Dr Nicklas carried out the initial analyses and reviewed and revised the manuscript; Dr Waldfogel assisted in the conceptualization and de of the analysis and reviewed and edited the manuscript; Dr First spanking is a co-PI on the Fragile Families Study and deed many of the data collection instruments, assisted in overseeing the study implementation and data collection, and critically reviewed the manuscript; and all authors approved the final manuscript as submitted.
References 1. Corporal punishment by American parents: national data on prevalence, chronicity, severity, and duration, in relation to child and family characteristics. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. Gershoff ET. Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: a meta-analytic and theoretical review.First spanking
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