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Family Relationships and Crime - Variations In Discipline And Crime

punishment children physical punishments

Psychoanalytic theory postulates that development of the superego depends on the "introjection" of a punitive father. This perspective generated research on successive training for control of oral, anal, and sexual drives and on techniques for curbing dependency and aggression. Although resultant studies failed to produce a coherent picture showing which disciplinary techniques promoted a strong conscience and which decreased antisocial behavior, they focused attention on the relationship between discipline and deviance. Studies less closely tied to psychoanalytic theory have considered various types of punishment and used such concepts as firmness, fairness, and consistency in analyzing relationships between discipline and crime.

The Gluecks found that incarcerated delinquent boys rarely had "firm but kindly" discipline from either parent, yet a majority of the nondelinquents with whom they were compared experienced this type of discipline. Parents of delinquents were more likely to use physical punishment and less likely to supervise their sons. Hirschi characterized discipline by asking if the parents punished by slapping or hitting, by removing privileges, and by nagging or scolding. He found that use of these types of discipline was related to delinquency, a conclusion which suggests that such punishments promoted the behaviors they were "designed to prevent" (p. 102).

Several longitudinal studies investigating effects of punishment on aggressive behavior have shown that punishments are more likely to result in defiance than compliance. Power and Chapieski studied toddlers one month after they had started walking unassisted and again a month later. The sample, drawn from Lamaze classes, was middle class, with mothers at home. Among them, "Infants of physically punishing mothers showed the lowest levels of compliance and were most likely to manipulate breakable objects during the observations" (p. 273). Additionally, six months later, the same infants showed slower development as measured by the Bayley mental test scores.

Crockenberg and Litman studied two year olds in the laboratory, where they measured the infants' obedience to requests and interviewed their mothers about discipline and family life. The same mother-child pairs were studied a month later in their homes during meal preparation and mealtime. After controlling other types of maternal behavior, the observers' ratings indicated that negative control was related to defiance in both settings.

Similarly, spanking seems counterproductive for children preparing to enter school. Strassberg, Dodge, Pettit, and Bates recruited families in three cities as they registered the children for kindergarten. Parents present in the home reported their disciplinary practices over the prior year. The children were subsequently observed in their classrooms. Children spanked by their mothers or fathers displayed more angry, reactive aggression in the kindergarten classrooms than did those who did not receive physical punishments.

In 1997, McCord analyzed the effects of corporal punishment based on biweekly observation of 224 parents and their sons over an average period of five and one-half years. In addition to measuring the use of corporal punishment in the home, each parent was rated in terms of warmth expressed toward the child. At the time of these ratings, the sons were between the ages of ten and sixteen. Thirty years later, the criminal records of the subjects were traced. Regardless of whether or not a father was affectionate toward his son, his use of corporal punishment predicted an increased likelihood that the son would subsequently be convicted for a serious crime. Regardless of whether or not a mother was affectionate toward her son, the mother's use of corporal punishment predicted an increased likelihood that the son would subsequently be convicted for a serious violent crime.

Punishment is not necessary to rear an emotionally healthy, behaviorally adaptable, and socially responsible child. Nevertheless, most American adults experienced at least some punishment, typically physical punishment, when they were children. Most use some physical punishment in raising their children. Therefore it is clear that healthy development can occur when physical punishment has been used. Although in the short run, punishments may stop unwanted behavior, they also increase the likelihood that children will learn to use force to get what they want. The use of punishments also endanger the parent-child relationship, a relationship that often provides a foundation for subsequent familial ties.

Punishment is only one of several aspects of effective parenting. Others include holding clear standards of conduct and rules of behavior and communicating these clearly to children. Communication is promoted through attending to what children are doing, monitoring behavior so that parental reactions to unwanted behavior are contingent on that behavior and so that misbehavior can be prevented.

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