Taylor Examines Family Dynamics of Spanking

By Keith Brannon

Catherine Taylor, assistant professor of community health sciences, has garnered attention for a pair of recent studies on spanking.

In “Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior,” Taylor found that children who are spanked frequently at age 3 are more likely to be more aggressive when they’re 5, even when you account for possible confounding factors.

“Toddlers that are spanked more frequently at age 3 are at increased risk for being more aggressive at age 5,” said Taylor. “We found this to be true even after taking into account other factors that might have explained this association such as the child’s initial level of aggression as well as parents’ level of stress, depression, use of drugs or alcohol, and the presence of other aggression within the family.”

Study authors asked nearly 2,500 mothers how often they spanked their 3-year-old child in the past month, as well as questions about their child’s level of aggression, demographic features and eight identified maternal parenting risk factors. Mothers with more parenting risk factors were more likely to spank frequently. However, even accounting for these potential confounding factors, frequent spanking at age 3 increased the odds of higher levels of aggression at age 5. Signs of aggression included behaviors such as arguing or screaming; cruelty, bullying or meanness to others; destroys things; fighting and frequently threatening others.

Despite recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics against spanking, most parents in the United States approve of and have used corporal punishment as a form of child discipline. The study suggests that even minor forms of corporal punishment increase the risk for child aggressive behavior.

The second study, “Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence,” showed that young children raised in a household where one or both parents are aggressive or violent toward each other are more likely to be spanked.  Aggression between parents included even minor non-physical (e.g., insults, coercion) as well as physical aggression.

“The children who had the highest chance of being spanked had parents who were aggressive or violent to each other, and there was a greater chance of being spanked by the victim of the partner aggression,” said Taylor

The study included nearly 2,000 families with a 3-year-old child. The families were from large cities across the United States. About 37 percent of the family members were black, about 30 percent were Hispanic and about 28 percent were white.  The parents were married in 60 percent of the families, according to the study.

Both studies were published in the journal Pediatrics.

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About Tulane University SPHTM

Tulane's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine is the oldest school of public health in the country and the only American school of tropical medicine. Our mission is to advance public health knowledge, promote health and well-being, and prevent disease, disability, and premature mortality. This is accomplished through academic excellence in education of public health professionals, rigorous scientific research of public health problems, creative partnerships to advance the practice of public health, and innovative service to the local, national, and international public health community.
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