Science journalist Anna Kuchment with The Dallas Morning News covered the research of SMU psychologist George W. Holden about the controversial practice of corporal punishment. The article, “Study: Parents Hit Children For Trivial Reasons,” published April 21.
Holden, an expert in families and child development, is a founding member of the U.S. Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, endhittingusa.org.
He was recently elected president of Dallas’ oldest child abuse prevention agency, Family Compass.
Most recently Holden’s research found that children misbehaved within 10 minutes of being spanked and that parents don’t follow the guidelines for spanking that pro-spanking advocates claim are necessary for spanking to be effective.
Other recent research showed that parents who favor spanking changed their minds after they were briefly exposed to summaries of research detailing the negative impact of corporal punishment on children. Holden, who considers spanking a public health problem, said the research indicates that parents’ attitudes about spanking could economically, quickly and effectively be changed to consider alternative disciplinary methods.
Holden’s earlier research provided a unique real-time look at spanking in a way that’s never before been studied. In a study of 37 families, mothers voluntarily recorded their evening interactions with their young children over the course of six days, including incidents of corporal punishment.
By Anna Kuchment
The Dallas Morning News
A new study suggests that three-quarters of parents who hit their children do so for “extraordinarily mundane” offenses, such as turning the pages of a storybook.
(Listen as a mother in the study slaps her child while reading to him. The child’s name has been bleeped out for privacy: Reading Slap)
The study, published in the online version of the Journal of Family Psychology followed 33 Dallas area mothers as they came home from work and prepared to put their children to bed. The mothers used voice recorders, which they wore in sport pouches on their upper arms, to chronicle their interactions with their families.
Those evening hours constitute “the most stressful time period of the day, when emotional spillover from prior events are likely and children are most at risk for [corporal punishment],” write the paper’s authors, who recruited families at local daycare and Head Start centers.
Forty-five percent of the families in the sample struck their children; many did so more than once over the course of four to six consecutive evenings. One family resorted to the practice 10 times.
“The fact that we heard [corporal punishment] as much as we did, and in limited time samples, underscores the fact that it is an extremely common practice,” says George Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University and lead author of the study.
Nationwide, 70 percent to 90 percent of parents hit or slap their children, says Holden. The practice is especially common in the south, and the punishment is most often meted out by mothers, who tend to be the primary caregivers.
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