The most important finding of the review is that there are not enough quality studies that document detrimental outcomes of nonabusive physical punishment to support advice or policies against this age-old parental practice. Only 30 relevant journal articles were found from 1974 through 1995, an average of less than 1 1/2 per year. Next, many of the studies had methodological weaknesses, and the stronger ones were more likely to find beneficial outcomes of physical punishment. A particularly pervasive weakness was that no prospective or retrospective study controlled for the original frequency or severity of child problem behavior, which would be like studying cancer recurrences following radiation treatment without taking into account the severity or existence of the original cancer. More quality research is needed on nonabusive physical punishment. Public and private agencies should make quality research on the broader topic of parental discipline a top priority.
How parents use discipline tactics may be more important than which ones they consider off limits. Effects of physical punishment, as well as nonphysical punishment, probably depend on when and how parents implement it, its role in their overall approach to parental discipline, and the overall parentchild relationship. Other aspects of parental discipline may be more important indicators of dysfunctional parenting than whether parents spank or not.
- Copyright © 1996 by the American Academy of Pediatrics