This article will summarize the results of our recent study of subabusive violence in child rearing in middle-class families, and will then discuss the implications of the findings for the questions before us—"What are the short and long term effects of corporal punishment of children?"; "Should we try to reduce its use?"; "If so, can we be advised by these results on how to accomplish that?"
Subabusive violence against children1 consists of those ordinary, everyday acts of violence—spanking, hitting, slapping, etc—that do not rise to the common definitions of abuse. Most parents accept these as proper acts of discipline in the children's best interests.
The pervasiveness of subabusive violence in child rearing is not in doubt. It is rooted solidly in American traditions2 and is supported by commonly held religious beliefs.3 Surveys4-6 indicate that some 90% of parents use corporal punishment in child rearing, and its continued use in public schools has been well-documented.7
Although its pervasiveness is not in doubt, there are questions about its effects on children—intended and unintended, positive and negative effects. Is it an effective set of disciplinary tools? Does it harm children? Do its costs outweigh its benefits? There is no doubt that abusive violence against children has harmful effects, but what about subabuse? It has been argued that subabusive violence may have direct negative effects on child development, may be a risk factor for abuse, may escalate to abuse under some still unknown conditions, may violate humanitarian values, and may contribute to maintaining a general culture of violence.1