An undercover study by Michigan State University to first and foremost find out how many caregivers physically disciplined their children, but also (just a little) to find out the limits of personal restraint for researchers covertly observing instances of public spanking, found that nearly one in four parents randomly observed by researchers resorted to physical force when trying to settle disputes with their kids. That's because, as it turns out, kids can be really clever rhetorical opponents, and some grown-ups are just too lazy to resist exploiting the physical advantage an adult has over a child.
The study sought to get a better idea of how parents and caregivers respond to misbehaving children outside of the lab because, and this is going to blow your mind, most adults aren't inclined to strike the child they're looking after in front of a gaggle of professors and research assistants. Researchers fanned out around East Lansing and anonymously observed 106 public instances of caregivers disciplining ornery children between the ages of three and five-years-old. Of these instances, 23 percent were "negative touch," where children in parks and restaurants were kept in line by some combination of pinching, arm pulling, slapping and full-on, do-not-care-who's-witnessing-this spanking.
Lead researcher Dr. Kathy Stansbury, an associate professor of the human development and family studies at Michigan State, said that the frequency of public "spankings" was a little shocking:
I was very surprised to see what many people consider a socially undesirable behavior done by nearly a quarter of the caregivers. I have also seen hundreds of kids and their parents in a lab setting and never once witnessed any of this behavior.
On a sunnier note, researchers also observed 35 instances of "positive touch," — tickling, gentle patting — and found, a little surprisingly, that male caregivers were more likely to use positive touch than their female counterparts. Stansbury thinks this may help dispel some stereotypes of men always being severe disciplinarians and women always being nurturing and gentle. "I do think that we are shifting as a society," Stansbury said, "and fathers are becoming more involved in the daily mechanics of raising kids, and that's a good thing for the kids and also a good thing for the dads."
Unsurprisingly, positive touch more often and more quickly quelled a misbehaving child than all manner of parental pugilism. According to earlier studies, striking a child as a regular form of discipline may be a guaranteed way to ensure that that child grows into an adult with a mood, anxiety or personality disorder. When it comes to parenting, it's usually best not to judge, but I think the general rule on employing physical violence to make a kid stop screaming goes something like this — don't. Hitting children will help create a world in which Thunderdome becomes our civilization's dispute-settling venue of choice.
Image via Bronwyn Photo/Shutterstock.