Child development researchers have long suggested that corporal punishment is a predictor of negative behavioral outcomes in children. However, because they suffer from serious methodological limitations, studies on the effects of corporal punishment have yet to definitively determine if corporal punishment is causally related to negative adolescent outcomes. In this study, the authors attempt to determine the extent that quality of parental involvement and corporal punishment independently predict adolescent maladjustment, specifically adolescent aggressiveness, delinquency, and psychological well-being. The authors used a prospective study design, interviewing 332 families annually over a three-year period. Interviews consisted of parent self-reports, adolescent reports, and observed ratings of family interaction tasks. Corporal punishment was determined by time (i.e., consistent use of physical discipline over the three-year study period), age-appropriateness (i.e., continuing during adolescence, indicating harsh discipline), and type (i.e., use of object, being shoved or pushed.) Quality of parental involvement was determined by display of warmth and affection, monitoring and supervision, consistency of discipline, and use of inductive reasoning to explain rules and expectations. The authors found that once other dimensions of parenting are controlled for, there exists a significant relationship between quality of parental involvement and adolescent outcomes. Contrary to past research on this topic, the study found no significant relationship between corporal punishment and the adolescent outcomes.
This study’s main strength lies in its design aimed at isolating other parenting behaviors to determine that quality of parental involvement, rather than corporal punishment, was a predictor of maladaptive behavior among adolescents. The study’s use of self-reports from parents and adolescents, combined with observation of family interactions, created a more comprehensive depiction of family interaction. However, the sample selection presents some limitations to the study. Firstly, the sample represents a rural population, highlighting the need for the study to be replicated in an urban setting. Furthermore, though 451 families were recruited for the study, only 404 families completed all four waves, 19 families were not eligible after divorcing during the study period, and there was incomplete data for 53 of the families. Secondly, the authors emphasize that corporal punishment should not be confused with physical abuse, for in this study, the corporal punishment wasn’t extreme enough to be considered physical abuse; therefore, additional studies should be conducted to examine the effects of physical abuse on adolescent outcomes, independent of other parental behaviors. Thirdly, there might be other adolescent dimensions not addressed in this study that would be important indicators of maladjustment; the authors suggest looking at autonomy, self-reliance, and creativity in future research.
Simons, R.L., Johnson, C., and Conger, R.D. (1994). Harsh corporal punishment versus quality of parental involvement as an explanation of adolescent maladjustment. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56(August 1994), 591-607.