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Corporal Punishment as a Stressor Among Youth

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Corporal Punishment as a Stressor among Youth Author(s): Heather A. Turner and David Finkelhor Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 155-166 Published by: National Council on Family Relations Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/353384 Accessed: 23/01/2010 19:17 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of U
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  Corporal Punishment as a Stressor among YouthAuthor(s): Heather A. Turner and David FinkelhorSource: Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 155-166Published by: National Council on Family RelationsStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/353384 Accessed: 23/01/2010 19:17 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available athttp://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unlessyou have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and youmay use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained athttp://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=ncfr.Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printedpage of such transmission.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.  National Council on Family Relations is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to  Journal of Marriage and Family. http://www.jstor.org  HEATHER. TURNERNDDAVIDFINKELHORUniversityofNewHampshire CorporalPunishmentas a StressorAmongYouth Thisarticle addressestheimpactof corporal pun-ishmentbyparentson thepsychologicalwell-beingof youth.Thepresentresearch used the Na-tionalYouthVictimizationPreventionStudy(NYVPS),anationallyrepresentativesampleof1,042boysand 958girls, ages10-16. Based on astress-process framework,weexamine:(a)theef-fects offrequencyof corporal punishment experi-encedbyyouthages10-16onpsychologicaldis-tress andclinicallyrelevantdepressionand(b)themoderatinginfluenceof parental supportontheassociations betweencorporal punishmentandpsychologicaloutcomes.Controllingforso-ciodemographic factorsandphysicalabuse,ourfindingsindicateapositiveassociationbetweenthefrequency of corporalpunishmentand bothpsychologicaldistress anddepression.Althoughdistress isgreatestathigher frequencies ofpun-ishment,theassociation isalsopresentat lowandmoderate levelsof corporalpunishment.Aninteractionbetweencorporalpunishmentandparentalsupportwas alsoevident,showingthattheimpact offrequent punishmentrelative to nocorporalpunishmentwasgreaterin the contextofhighparentalsupport.Corporalpunishmentorphysical punishment referso theuse ofphysicalorce withthe inten- DepartmentofSociology,UniversityofNewHampshire,Hor-tonSSC,Durham,NH 03824.KeyWords:corporal punishment,depression, parentalsup-port,psychologicaldistress,stress,youth. tion ofcausinga childpain,but notinjury,for purposesof correction or control of thechild'sbehavior (Straus&Donnelly,1993,p.420).The corporalpunishmentof childrenbyparentssanormativeform ofdisciplinein oursociety.Infact,spankingandslappingchildrenarenotonlyconsideredacceptable,butgenerallybelievedtobehighlyeffective andquite necessary.Straus(1991)found that 84% of anationalsampleofadultsagreedthat a good,hardspankingissometimesnecessary. Parentswho refuseto usecorporalpunishmenton childrenareviewed astoo lenient andineffective-inessence, poor parents(Carson,1986).Consistent withthe thesenorms,almost allparentsusecorporal punishmenton theirtoddlers(Straus,1991,1994).While theprevalenceofcor- poral punishmentdeclines with theageof thechild,it still remainshigheven intoadolescence.Recently,StrausandDonnelly(1993)foundthatalmost halfof thechildrennearlyadolescenceexperience corporalpunishment byaparent.Moreover,adolescentsreport beingphysicallypunishedatamedianrequencyoffourtimesperyear.StrausandDonnellysuggesthat his is like-lya lowerboundestimate,since itonlyincludespunishmentromoneparent. CORPORALUNISHMENTSACHILDHOODTRESSOR Avarietyofnegativehealth andbehavioralout-comessuggeststhat actsinvolvingphysicalpun-ishmentarestressful orchildren.The mostwell- JournalofMarriageandtheFamily58(February1996):155-166 155  JournalofMarriageand theFamilyknown outcomeofcorporal punishmentis that itincreases violentbehaviorbythepunishedchild(Larzelere,1986;Lefkowitz, Eron,Walder,&Huesmann, 1977;Maurer, 1974;Parke &Slaby,1983; Straus,1991).Forexample,Straus(1991)found thatchildren who received ordinary cor-poral punishmentwere3times morelikelyto as-saultsiblingsthan those who were neverphysi-callypunished. Similarly,Larzelere(1986)re-porteda linearrelationship,across severalagegroupsofchildren,betweenfrequencyofcorporalpunishmentandaggressiveacts.Althoughmost research ontheeffects ofphysi-calpunishmenthas focused on childaggression,othernegativeeffects on behaviorand health havebeenreportedalso. Forexample,several studiesrelatedphysicalpunishmenttodepressionin chil-dren(Holmes&Robins, 1988;Maurer,1974;Straus,1994).Bryanand Freed(1982)found thatcollegestudents who werephysically punishedinchildhood manifestedseverallong-termeffects,including havingfewerfriendsandagreaterfre-quencyofnegativesocialinteractions,as well aselevated levels ofdepressionandanxiety.Similar-ly,Straus and Kaufman-Kantor(1994)found thatcorporal punishment experiencedinteenage yearswaspositivelyassociatedwithdrinking problems,depressive symptoms,andthoughtsof suicide.Past studiesconcerningthe effectsofgeneralparenting stylesorstrategieson childdevelop-mentalsopointtocorporal punishmentas apo-tential childhood stressor. Forexample,parentingstylesdefinedas authoritarian, poweras-sertive, coersive, or harsh (allof whichin-cludeanemphasisonphysical discipline)haverepeatedlybeen related toaggressionin children(Anthony,1970;Feshbach&Feshbach, 1972;Maccoby&Martin, 1983;Rothbaum &Weisz,1994;Weiss,Dodge,Bates,&Pettit,1992).Au-thoritarian-type parentingalso has been associat-ed with childrenhavinglesssocialcompetencewith theirpeers, developingan external ratherthan aninternal moralorientation,andshowinglessmotivation forintellectual achievement rela-tive tochildren of nonauthoritarianparents(Hoff-man, 1970;Maccoby&Martin,1983).Bryanand Freed(1982)found thatcollegestu-dents whoreportedreceiving highlevels of cor-poral punishmentaschildren oradolescents weremorelikelythanthosewhoexperiencedlesscor-poral punishmenttodescribe theirgradesas belowaverage, eventhoughtherewasnoactualdifferenceintheirgrades.Theinvestigatorsat-tributed this tothedamagingeffect ofcorporalpunishmentonself-concept.Infact,anumber ofscholars havesuggestedthat authoritarian disci-pline,whichemphasizestheuseofphysical pun-ishment,contributestonegative self-judgments(self-esteem),as well aslowerperceivedpersonalcontrol(mastery)overlife outcomes(Belsky,Learner,&Spanier,1984;Bongiovanni,1979;Maccoby&Martin,1983;Patterson,1982).AsPearlin(1989)argued,thesetwoaspectsof self-concept,self-esteem andmastery,caninfluencethe extent to whichstress becomestranslatedintopsychologicaldistress.It isimportanttoacknowledgethepossibilitythat children withbehavioral andemotional diffi-culties or bothmaybe morelikelyto elicitphysi-calpunishmentthan childrenwithout suchprob-lems.Inotherwords,itispossiblethat the causaldirection of a cross-sectional association betweenfrequencyofcorporalpunishmentandnegativebehavioral andpsychological problemsruns fromthe child tocorporalpunishment.Whilethis inter-pretationisplausible,there is sufficient theoreti-calandempirical justificationforassumingthatatleast someimportant partof this association isdue to the causalimpactofcorporal punishment.Infact,arecentlongitudinal studydemonstratingthe influence ofcorporalpunishmentonsubse-quentincreasesin antisocial behavior(Sugarman,Straus,&Giles-Sims,1994),stronglysupportsthe idea thatcorporal punishmentis acausalfac-tor fornegativeoutcomes. Sincedepressedmoodseems lesslikelyto elicitpunishmentthanantiso-cial behaviorand,therefore,is even lesssuscepti-ble to the alternativeinterpretation,we areconfi-dentthatasignificant partof anassociationbe-tweencorporal punishmentandchild distress isduetothe causalimpactofcorporalpunishmentonchildren'swell-being.Research on theconsequencesofcorporalpunishmentruns the risk ofconfoundingcorporalpunishmentwithphysicalabuse. Evidence thatphysicalabuserepresentsaserious childhoodtrauma is wellestablished(seeNational ResearchCouncil,1993),andmuch of thedebate concern-ingtheeffectsofcorporal punishmentcenters onwhether this formofpunishmenthasnegativeef-fects that areindependentofabusivefamilycon-texts. Whilecorporalpunishmentiscommoninnonabusivefamilies,parentswhoarephysicallyabusivealso tend to uselargeamountsofcorporalpunishment(Straus,1994).Unfortunately,muchof theresearch oncorporalpunishmenthas notdisentangledits effects fromthose ofphysicalabuse.156  CorporalPunishment as aStressor ASTRESS-PROCESS FRAMEWORK Given evidenceconcerningthepotential negativeeffects ofcorporal punishmentonthewell-beingofchildren,thestress-processframeworkmayrepresentaparticularlyusefulapproachforstudy-ingthese issues. Thestress-processmodelhasbeenawidelyusedandeffectiveconceptualframework forexaminingthe linkbetween theso-cial environment andindividualconsequences.Stressresearchon both adults and children hasclearlydocumentedthenegative impactof stress-fulevents and circumstances on thephysicalandpsychologicalhealthofindividuals.However,whiletherehavebeen studies thatconsider thenegativeeffectsofcorporalpunishment,theso-cial stress literaturegenerallyhas notrecognizedtheexperienceofcorporalpunishmentas a child-hood stressor. Andalthoughimportantresearchon thecorporal punishmentof children canbefoundinparentingand childdevelopmentlitera-tures,most of thisresearch has beenconductedinthe context oftryingtounderstand thedevelop-mentofaggressivebehavior inchildren.Placingcorporalpunishmentwithin astressmodelmayallow for bettertheoreticaldevelopmentoftheprocesses bywhichcorporal punishmentaffectsmental health.Forexample,researchonsources of stress hasshown thatlifeeventsperceivedasnegative,un-expected,oruncontrollable havethe mostpoten-tial to elicitnegativeresponses(Thoits,1983).Tothe extentthatcorporal punishmenthas thesequalities,itmaymorelikelyresultinpsychologi-caldistress. Chronicstrain,anotherimportantsourceofstress(Pearlin,Leiberman,Menaghan,&Mullan,1981),isalsorelevant tocorporal pun-ishment and itseffects. Unlike lifeevents,chronicstrains do not havea discreteonset andending,butrepresentmoreenduringconditions inpeo-ple'slives.Corporalpunishmentthat isveryfre-quentmaybecome anongoinghardshipfor chil-dren. Someinvestigatorsbelieve thatthesemorechronicconditionshave thegreatestpotentialforproducing negativeeffects(Pearlin,1989).Partof theutilityofthestress-processap-proachis itsconsideration ofthesocial andper-sonalcontextsinwhich astressoroccurs.Peoplevaryconsiderablyintheextent towhichtheyareaffectedby potentialstressors. Atleastpartofthisdifferenceinresponsetostressors isdue tovaria-tions instressmoderators. Thatis,individualsmaypossesscertainsocialorpersonalresourcesthatbufferthenegativeeffects ofstress,whileother factorsmayfunction to exacerbate itsim-pact.Turner(inpress)outlinesa number ofcon-texts orconditions under whichcorporalpunish-ment isadministered thatmayinfluence itsout-come. Onepotential moderatinginfluenceisthedegreeto which childrenreceive socialsupportfrom theirparents.Children whoexperiencetheirparentsas nurturant andsupportive maybelessadverselyaffectedbycorporal punishment.Parentalsupport mayincreasethechild'sconfi-dence,self-esteem,andabilitytocopewithstressfulcircumstances,making corporalpunish-ment lessdistressing.Since socialsupportbuffersthenegativeeffects ofstressinnumerousothercontexts(seeCohen &Syme,1985),there isrea-sontoexpectthatsupportwouldalsoreduce theharmfulimpactof this childhoodstressor.While,given pastresearch,wemight expectparentalsupportto reduce thenegativeimpactofcorporal punishment,analternativehypothesisisworthconsidering.Since,inthepresentcontext,boththe stress and thesupport experiencedbythechildarise from the samesource(theparent),adifferentset ofprocesses maytakeplace.Ratherthanserve asabuffer,high parentalsupportmaycreate a context in which thechildexperiencesin-cidents ofphysicalpunishmentasinconsistent,confusing,andespeciallydistressing.Childrenwithhigh parentalsupport mayhavegreateremo-tionalattachments totheirparents,and,as a re-sult,maybemorenegativelyaffectedwhenpar-entsarethesources ofstress. Ifthis were thecase,highparentalsupport mightfunction toexacer-bate,rather thanreduce,thenegativeeffectsofcorporalpunishment.Inthecontextofthisstress-processframe-work,theobjectivesof thepresentstudyare to:(a)examine theimpactofcorporalpunishment(independentofphysicalabuse)onpsychologicaldistress anddepressionamongyouthaged10-16and(b)assessthe role ofperceivedparentalsup-portas acontextual factorthatmayaffect theseassociations. METHODS SampleandProcedureThepresentstudyuses datafromthe NationalYouthVictimization PreventionStudy(NYVPS),conducted in1992. TheNYVPS,designedtoad-dresschildvictimization andpreventionof vic-timization,consistsofanationallyrepresentativesampleof1,042boysand958girlsbetween the157
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