May 8, 2009
Insights [download PDF] is a Save the Children commissioned study into children’s perspectives on family discipline. The findings of the study, conducted by child advocate Terry Dobbs, show an alarming rate of physical punishment used in ordinary Kiwi families and supports the current Child Discipline Law. The research was launched in 27 September 2005 prior to the law reform that made New Zealand the first English speaking country in the world to have banned the physical punishment of children. The findings published in Insights are still very relevant today – and send a strong message to parents that physical punishment does not work.
More than nine out of ten (92%) of the 80 children aged between five and 14 years interviewed for the study said they had been or that they believed children were smacked. Some reported being hit around the face and/or head and with implements and many described it as the first line of discipline the parent used, rather than a last resort. They reported parents were often angry or stressed when they smacked– and would later express regret or offer ‘treats’ to compensate. Children said smacking made them feel angry, upset and fearful – and was not an effective form of discipline.
“The information contained in this study is crucial for every parent and caregiver of children in New Zealand,” Save the Children New Zealand executive director Phil Abraham says.
“Children’s voices are often missing from the debate around family discipline and effective parenting. The level of physical punishment reported in the study is shocking and delivers crucial information for the debate around the repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961. Children need to be listened to in discussions about issues that affect them. They have some important messages which challenge the assumptions of many parents out there”.
The study also found children were more often hit by fathers and male members of the household and were more often physically punished for hurting others.
“This sends a contradictory message to children,” Terry Dobbs says. “Children are told that it is wrong to hurt someone else and yet they are hurt in response to hurting others, this is a confusing message for children”
Children suggested that parents should stop being angry, and talk to children explaining what the child had done wrong before administrating any family discipline, as this would have better outcomes for both children and parents. They said that talking with children about the rules the child had broken would assist the child’s understanding, rather than using physical punishment, which did not. They said using ‘time-out’, having privileges removed or being grounded were more effective means of discipline.
The research formed the basis of Ms Dobbs’s thesis for her Master of Arts in Childhood and Youth Studies, supervised by Otago University’s Children’s Issues Centre.
The children were chosen from 10 different schools – ranging from decile one to 10 – across five geographical locations in New Zealand.
To fit the criteria for the study, the children had to have no known or alleged history of abuse or neglect and sufficient verbal skills to participate in focus group discussions. They were questioned using a storybook methodology about their experiences and understanding of family discipline and their views of the effects of various disciplinary techniques.