Objective: To deal with the causal relationship between corporal punishment and antisocial behavior (ASB) by considering the level of ASB of the child at the start of the study.
Methods: Data from interviews with a national sample of 807 mothers of children aged 6 to 9 years in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-Child Supplement. Analysis of variance was used to test the hypothesis that when parents use corporal punishment to correct ASB, it increases subsequent ASB. The analysis controlled for the level of ASB at the start of the study, family socio-economic status, sex of the child, and the extent to which the home provided emotional support and cognitive stimulation.
Results: Forty-four percent of the mothers reported spanking their children during the week prior to the study and they spanked them an average of 2.1 times that week. The more spanking at the start of the period, the higher the level of ASB 2 years later. The change is unlikely to be owing to the child's tendency toward ASB or to confounding with demographic characteristics or with parental deficiency in other key aspects of socialization because those variables were statistically controlled.
Conclusions: When parents use corporal punishment to reduce ASB, the long-term effect tends to be the opposite. The findings suggest that if parents replace corporal punishment by nonviolent modes of discipline, it could reduce the risk of ASB among children and reduce the level of violence in American society.