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Press Room > June 27, 2002

Focus on the Family Defends Parents' Right to Discipline

Colorado Springs- A new study suggesting that spanking can cause long-term harm in children was criticized by Focus on the Family today as significantly flawed and "potentially misleading to millions of parents who are attempting to teach healthy boundaries."

Dr. Bill Maier, Vice President and Psychologist in Residence for Focus on the Family, disputed psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff's assertions that spanking can lead to aggression, anti-social behavior and mental health problems in kids. Gershoff's study was published in a recent edition of the American Psychological Association's journal. Unlike other controversial issues, the APA was forthcoming with dissenting opinions and further analysis. Unfortunately, many members of the media have not provided the same balance.

"The study implies that every parent using non-abusive corporal punishment does so out of uncontrollable rage," Maier, a child psychologist, explained. "For years, millions of parents have lovingly and intentionally administered mild corporal punishment out of a true desire to raise happy, secure children-and have been successful."

While Gershoff rails on the "long-term harm" inflicted by spanking, she admits that there is no scientific basis for her conclusions. "Parental corporal punishment," she says, "cannot be identified . . . as the cause of these child behaviors."

Another problem with Gershoff's study, a meta-analysis of 88 studies, is that it grossly misrepresents well-meaning parents, since the bulk of the information is taken from studies not on normal, lovingly administered spanking, but corporal punishment of the most severe kind. Dr. Robert Larzelere, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, is one of several researchers who have criticized Gershoff's findings and according to him, "severity and context are much more important than whether parents spank their children."

Maier noted that 65 percent of the studies Gershoff reviewed measured only severe corporal punishment, such as slapping the face, beatings, or hitting with a fist and causing bruises or cuts. Yet Gershoff has used these results to argue against all corporal punishment, telling the Washington Post that "corporal punishment is associated with numerous risks for children" and that "there is no situation I can think of where a child should be spanked."

Dr. Walt Larimore, family physician and Vice President of Medical Outreach for Focus on the Family, disagrees, "Parents should never discipline their children in anger; however it is an offensive notion that lovingly administered spanking is tantamount to abuse. Parents should be horrified and outraged to know that their efforts to bring up well-adjusted children have been equated with child abuse.

"We are encouraged by the way that the American Psychological Association has approached an issue so critical to America's families and we urge them to continue to support research that analyzes the positive effects of non-abusive corporal punishment."

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For more information, contact Paul Hetrick at (719) 531-3336 or hetricpl@fotf.org, or Julie Neils at (719) 548-4634 or neilsja@fotf.org.


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