Posts Tagged calvin college

“Research” shows that smacking is good for kids?

January 8, 2010

Recently there have been reports in the media in New Zealand and internationally drawing attention to an unpublished study by Marjorie Gunnoe at Calvin College in Michigan USA that purports to have found that children who are smacked occasionally do better at school than children who are never smacked. These findings are, of course, being made much of by proponents of physical discipline – including those who would like to see New Zealand’s 2007 child discipline law overturned.

It needs to be said at the outset that the case for bringing children into line with all other citizens in regard to their rights to protection from assaults does not primarily rest on whether or not smacking is effective or good (or bad) for children. We do not ask the same questions in regard to whether or not assaults might be effective in controlling other groups of citizens whose reasoning is sometimes less developed than other adults – the aged, the mentally ill and those with intellectual disabilities, for example. Removing the legal justification for assaults on children is fundamentally an issue of human rights to full protection from attacks on bodily integrity.

However, that aside, there is now a huge volume of credible research internationally that shows consistently that children who are physically hurt in the course of discipline often have poor relationships with their parents and are more likely to have poor developmental outcomes including emotional problems. Physical punishment is also consistently shown to be a risk factor for child abuse ie children who are physically punished are more likely to be hit hard and suffer injuries than those that are never hit or smacked. Children who experience and witness violence in their own homes can come to regard hitting another person as an acceptable way of behaving.

The following points are relevant when considering the media coverage of Gunnoe’s study:

1. The institution which undertook the research is an avowed sponsor of ‘faith-based inquiry’ not open scientific inquiry. Their stated vision is: “Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church, and society. We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world.”

2. The lead researcher has published work which seems designed to confirm established beliefs of some conservative Christian communities.

3. She is not a recognised contributor to the scientific literature in this field.

4. The report of the study findings has not been published in a recognised scientific journal and so has not been subject to the scientific scrutiny associated with such publication.

5. The media reports are second or third hand and subject to the accompanying distortions.

6. The methodology of the research is unknown. Important points that bear on the validity of its reported conclusions are:

  • Were the smacking and non-smacking groups selected and matched so as isolate smacking and non-smacking as the only significant variables upon which the conclusions were based?
  • How were smacking and non-smacking defined? Was there a severity scale?
  • What were the outcome measures that purportedly distinguished between children who were and were not smacked? Were they chosen so as to be reliably and consistently measurable and were they important? Was the difference statistically significant?

7. If the reported conclusions are legitimate, they require support from repeated studies if they are to have any credibility, i.e. they could be unrepresentative results.

8. Calling an investigation ‘research’ can be aimed at investing it with a respectability that it does not deserve.

Beth Wood and Ian Hassall

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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