By John Fluke, director, Child Protection Research Center
Last year, UNICEF awarded a contract to our Child Protection Research Center to analyze child discipline in several countries and give recommendations on improving the measurement of child discipline in future international UNICEF surveys.
One of the main goals in the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child is to protect children from all forms of violence. Both American Humane and UNICEF are interested in protecting children’s safety and well-being.
In pursuit of this common goal, my staff and I analyzed data collected by UNICEF in 2005-2006 and wrote a preliminary report. The data forms a general picture of how caregivers discipline their children in 33 low- and middle-income countries in Africa, The Middle East, Latin America, The Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, and East Asia. Parents and other caregivers in these countries were asked questions about their child discipline practices and attitudes. More than 162,000 households were surveyed, which represents 3 percent of the world’s children ages 2 to 14.
The surveys divided discipline into two forms: violent and nonviolent. Violent discipline included psychological practices such as yelling and name calling and physical practices ranging from shaking and spanking to hitting with an object, slapping and beating repeatedly. Nonviolent discipline included explaining to the child, giving him something else to do and giving consequences for undesirable actions.
Only 24 percent of the families surveyed believed it is necessary to use physical discipline to properly raise a child, yet 48 percent reported using some form of physical discipline, including spanking. In comparison, according to a 2000 article by Tracy L. Dietz in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect, the average use of physical discipline in the U.S. is 60 percent.
In summary, most parents or caregivers did not think that physical discipline was necessary, but they used it anyway.
I don’t have children of my own, but I have been a foster parent. Obviously, foster parents should meet a high standard, and the law is quite clear in most states that while children are in their care, they can’t be physically disciplined. It was sometimes hard not to make an easy choice to spank, and I’ll admit, it takes some mental effort and time to use nonviolent techniques. But I believe there is scientific evidence that says we do more harm than good when we use physical discipline.
What about you? Do you believe in spanking? What kinds of disciplinary techniques do you use? Why? Share your thoughts with us.