When we think of babies, we tend to think of the joy they bring, their
sweetness and beauty. Their faces cause our hearts to melt, their tiny
feet and tiny hands just beg to be kissed. The word "innocent" usually
comes to mind, and innocent they are of personal sin. But what must
never be forgotten is that babies are born in a state lacking
sanctifying grace -- a state we refer to as "original sin." Even after
Baptism, when the eternal effects of original sin have been blotted
out, the temporal effects of original sin remain. These effects make us
prone to personal sin, to indulge the lower appetites, to selfishness.
The baby, though perfectly innocent of personal sin, is not considering
the needs of others, and when the baby grows, he is able to manifest
his concupiscence in actual sins. It is this tendency toward sin that
is natural to the human being and which must be dealt with carefully,
with sound discipline.
To raise emotionally healthy children, parents need to be just, fair,
reasonable, in control, bendable but not breakable, affectionate,
honest, understanding, emotionally affirming (by which is meant
acknowledging the child's feelings and helping him to see, name,
understand, and deal with them appropriately), and grounded firmly in
Christ and in the knowledge of what ultimate pupose parenting serves --
to raise children to know, love, and serve God. Consistency and
unity between the parents in carrying out this
goal are absolutely crucial, and before a couple marry, they should
talk deeply with one another to determine how they will raise any
children God blesses them with and to help ensure they can achieve the
necessary consistency and unity in their lives as parents. They
shouldn't be afraid, generally, to fight in front of the children as
long as the fights are fair and not unreasonable, and as long as
resolutions are come to. In fact, trying to hide all disagreements
fails to prepare children for the real world, in which disagreements
are had all the time, and ways to resolve them need to be learned.
But unity in discipline is
extremely important. Don't allow your children to see you disagree
about that. It seems that the
children of those who want to be only their
child's "buddy," who are permissive, and afraid of their children's
disappointment, are constantly pushing against boundaries they can't
see, trying to find one.
The children of those who are controlling, rigid, power-hungry, angry,
emotionally cold and unaffirming grow up angry and wanting to rebel
against it all.
And the children of parents who are not consistent and unified become
confused and unable to discern. They come to have no firm foothold to
balance on while trying to make judgements about the world and
themselves. They become manipulative, playing one parent off the other,
and their homes are places of tension and stress as one parent resents
the other for being lax, weak, oblivious, and the "kiddies' best
friend" while he or she has to be "mean" and say no. No parent should
ever be the "good guy" -- the permissive, "fun one" -- while the
other goes about the necessary business of setting boundaries. This is
the stuff that tears parents apart (and trust me, you "good guys" out
there: while children "love" the "can't say no" types when they are
young, they grow up to resent them and have little respect for them
later. You can count on it.)
One issue of vital concern is that of corporal punishment -- spanking.
It has become trendy to believe that spanking is always wrong and only
"teaches children to be violent." There are certainly abusive parents
in the world. There are those who spank when they could reason, who
humiliate children in public, who spank in a physically abusive way, or
who don't see spanking as a possible sad, rare duty but as a way of
venting. But at rare times, and though spanking should be a
last resort always, corporal
punishment is not only sometimes necessary for certain children, but just,
and crucial to the child's development as a Christian and a member of
society. Not all children
will respond well to spanking; it's for you to discern if that's the
case with your child. But a relative few percentage of children benefit
from the -- once again, very rare
spanking as a very last
To show how this is simply the way it is, to prove that our
ancestors throughout the ages weren't so wrong after all, I present
this study conducted by John S. Lyons and Robert E. Larzerle. They
observed what happened in Sweden when spanking was made illegal in
1979, and found that child abuse rates shot up an amazing 489% over the
next decade or so, as did the rates of assaults by minors against other
minors, which shot up 672% in that same time period. Their conclusions
Why might Sweden
experience an increasing child abuse rate and an increase in assaults
by minors after outlawing corporal punishment? Haeuser's (1988)
description of some parental frustration and yelling in 1981 might
indicate an increased risk of escalation to abuse at that time. This is
reminiscent of Baumrind's (1973) observation of permissive parents.
Compared to authoritative and authoritarian parents, permissive parents
were the most likely to report "explosive attacks of rage in which they
inflicted more pain or injury upon the child than they had intended. .
. . Permissive parents apparently became violent because they felt
that they could neither control the child's behavior nor tolerate its
effect upon themselves" (Baumrind, 1973, p. 35). Permissive parents
used spanking less than did either authoritative or authoritarian
parents. So it could be that the prohibition of all spanking
eliminates a type of mild spanking that prevents further escalation of
aggression within discipline incidents (see Patterson's 
coercive family process). Haeuser's (1988) report suggests that Swedish
parents later developed new, firm discipline responses that reduced
escalations to yelling and possibly to child abuse.
If, in your
parental heart, you believe that a spanking is due, take courage in
what you intuit and what you can see from the effects of our
permissiveness on our culture. Be reasonable, be prudent, be forgiving,
and most affectionate -- but do what is best for your child's
soul (which would require that any spanking be rare, a last resort, and
always -- always -- coupled with communication and emotional
validation). The abstract from the study is below...
Evidence That Non-Abusive
Corporal Punishment Increases Aggression?
John S. Lyons,
University of Northwestern Medical School, Chicago, IL, USA Robert E.
Larzelere, Father Flanagan's Boys' Home Boys Town, NE, USA
reviews of parental corporal punishment have found little sound
evidence of detrimental child outcomes such as child aggression. This
paper explores whether the 1979 Swedish law against all corporal
punishment has reduced their child abuse. Sweden's 1979 law was
welcomed by many as a much needed policy toward reducing physical child
abuse. Surprisingly, this search located only five published studies
with any relevant data. The best study found that the rate of child
abuse was 49% higher in Sweden than in the United States, comparing a
1980 Swedish national survey with the average rates from two national
surveys in the United States in 1975 and 1985. By comparison, a
retrospective survey of university students in 1981 found that the
Swedish child abuse rate was 21% of the USA rate in the 1960s and the
1970s, prior to the anti-spanking law. More recent Swedish data
indicate a 489% increase in one child abuse statistic from 1981 through
1994, as well as a 672% increase in assaults by minors against minors.
The article discusses possible reasons for this apparent increase in
child abuse and calls for better evaluations of innovative policies
intended to reduce societal abuse and violence.
Poster presented at the XXVI International Congress of Psychology,
Montreal, August 18, 1996
Send correspondence about this paper to: Robert E. Larzelere,
Psychology Dept., 985450 Univ. of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE
68198; Email: email@example.com; (402) 559-2282
Where is Evidence That Non-Abusive
Corporal Punishment Increases Aggression?
reviews of the literature on parental corporal punishment have found
few methodologically sound studies. Further, hardly any of the soundest
studies found detrimental child outcomes associated with corporal
punishment. This paper explores whether there is evidence that the
outlawing of corporal punishment by parents in Sweden and other
countries has had any discernible effect, particularly on child abuse
and, to a lesser degree, on child outcomes such as aggression.
Lyons, Anderson, and Larson (1993) attempted to review all journal
articles on corporal punishment by parents from 1984 through 1993. Only
24 of the 132 articles (17%) included any empirical data on corporal
punishment. Less than half of those (11) investigated corporal
punishment as a possible cause of some other variable. Most (83%) of
the studies were cross-sectional, and only one made any attempt to
exclude child abuse from the measure of corporal punishment.
They concluded that there was empirical evidence supporting one of
three hypotheses: Several studies found that parents were more likely
to use corporal punishment themselves if their parents had used it.
There was no sound evidence that corporal punishment was ineffective,
nor that it was associated with child aggression.
Larzelere (in press) built on their review by extending the search of
peer-reviewed articles to the period 1974 to 1995 plus older articles
that met the inclusion criteria. The inclusion criteria were designed
to exclude studies that were cross-sectional or whose measures
emphasized the severity of usage of corporal punishment. Only 18
studies were found that both met the two inclusion criteria and limited
the sample to children under 13 years of age. The 8 strongest studies
found beneficial outcomes of corporal punishment, usually in 2- to
6-year-olds. The 10 other studies were prospective (6) or retrospective
(4). Three of them found detrimental outcomes, but only 1 of those 3
made any attempt to exclude abuse from its measure of corporal
punishment. Further, none of the 10 studies controlled for the initial
level of child misbehavior. This seems to be an important
methodological problem, since the frequency of every type of discipline
response tends to be positively associated with child misbehavior,
whether the associations are cross-sectional or longitudinal
(Larzelere, Sather, Schneider, Larson, & Pike, 1996; Larzelere,
Schneider, Larson, & Pike, in press). Finally, no alternative
discipline response in any of the 18 studies was associated with more
beneficial child outcomes than was corporal punishment, whereas 7
alternatives were associated with more detrimental child outcomes,
mostly in 2- to 6-year-olds.
These reviews suggest that the empirical linkage between nonabusive
corporal punishment and aggression comes only from cross-sectional
studies, studies of teenagers, studies measuring particularly severe
forms of corporal punishment, and, perhaps, studies of punitiveness.
This led us to ask how well current societal experiments are working in
countries that have outlawed all forms of parental use of corporal
In 1979, Sweden passed a law prohibiting all corporal punishment by
parents. This was hailed as a crucial step in the effort to reduce
child abuse (Deley, 1988; Feshbach, 1980; Ziegert, 1983). Several
countries have passed similar laws since then (Norway, Denmark,
Finland, Austria, and Cyprus), and organizations have formed to
advocate against parental corporal punishment throughout the world
(e.g., End Physical Punishment of Children [EPOCH]: Radda Barnen, no
This movement represents one of the most sweeping changes ever
advocated by social scientists. In the United States, for example,
about 90% of parents have spanked their 3-year-old children in the past
year (Straus, 1983; Wauchope & Straus, 1990). Some social
scientific research has been used to support the anti-spanking position
(e.g., Hyman, 1995; Straus, 1994), but the reviews summarized above
have found such support coming primarily from methodologically poor
studies. Given the inconclusiveness of relevant research and the
importance of the issue, it is desirable to know whether child abuse
has decreased in Sweden following their 1979 anti-spanking law.
Accordingly, this article asks two inter-related questions: (1) To what
extent have social scientists evaluated the effect of the 1979
anti-spanking law in Sweden, and (2) what do those evaluations indicate
about the effects of the anti-spanking law in reducing child abuse? We
also report one finding about Swedish trends in assaults by minors
discovered during our study.
Literature Search for Evaluations
Two procedures were used to find evaluations of the effects of Sweden's
anti-spanking law. First, PsycLit was searched from 1974 through June
of 1995 for all publications that included "Sweden" or "Swedish" and
either "punishment" or "spanking" in their abstracts. Second, Social
Sciences Citation Index was used to identify all articles citing Gelles
and Edfeldt (1986) through April 1995, because their study reported a
well-done survey of Swedish child abuse rates one year after the
anti-spanking law was passed.
Empirical Evaluations of Sweden's Anti-Spanking Law
Five published studies and one unpublished paper were found that
included any empirical information relevant for evaluating the 1979
anti-spanking law. Ziegert (1983) published a conceptual, preliminary
article on why the law should be effective. His only empirical data was
from a Swedish opinion poll showing that the percentage of respondents
considering corporal punishment to be necessary had dropped from 53% in
1965 to 35% in 1971 to 26% in 1979 and 1981. In an article comparing
Swedish and American use of corporal punishment, Solheim (1982)
reported that 26% of Swedish respondents considered corporal punishment
necessary in 1978. Like Ziegert (1983), Solheim's (1982) article was
mostly nonempirical, discussing such issues as court decisions about
corporal punishment in schools, the 1979 law, and expert opinions.
Together these two articles show that the decline in support for the
necessity of parental corporal punishment in Sweden preceded the 1979
law, and it did not decrease thereafter, at least through 1981.
A third article reported the rate of child homicides in various
European countries, comparing 1973/1974 with approximately 1987/1988
(Pritchard, 1992). Note that this compared statistics before and after
the 1979 law. The Swedish child homicide rate was the sixth lowest of
the 17 countries at both time periods. However, it nearly doubled from
1973/1974 to 1986/1987. Sweden's 93% increase in its child homicide
rate was the fifth largest percentage increase among the 17 countries.
It should also be noted that the rate of accidental baby deaths in
Sweden was the lowest of the 17 countries at both time periods. Unlike
the child homicide rate, it decreased by 67% between the two time
periods, although 10 of the other 16 countries decreased their
accidental baby death rates by an even larger percentage.
A fourth article compared child abuse rates among university students
at one Swedish university compared to one American university as
reported in a 1981 survey (Deley, 1988). Because these were
retrospective reports, they were child abuse rates during the 1960s and
the 1970s as these students were growing up, a time period preceding
the 1979 law. The critical question asked whether a spanking had ever
left physical marks that lasted for more than 10 minutes. Two percent
of the Sweden students reported receiving such physical marks from a
spanking, compared to 9.5% of the American students. Although this is
far from a representative sample, this suggests that the child abuse
rate in Sweden was only 21% of the American child abuse rate in the
1960s and 1970s (i.e., 2.0 divided by 9.5 = .21).
The fifth and best study used telephone surveys of a nationally
representative sample of Swedish parents to measure the rates of
spanking and of child abuse in 1980 (Gelles & Edfeldt, 1986). It
used the Conflict Tactics Scale, which was also used to measure the
prevalence of spanking and child abuse in two National Family Violence
Surveys in the USA (Straus & Gelles, 1986; Straus, Gelles, &
Steinmetz, 1980). Gelles and Edfeldt (1986) compared their 1980 Swedish
survey only with the 1975 National Family Violence Survey. They
concluded that a smaller percentage of parents were spanking their
children in Sweden than in the United States, but that there were no
significant differences in child abuse rates.
It would have been more appropriate, however, to compare their 1980
Swedish survey with the 1985 National Family Violence Survey in the USA
(Straus & Gelles, 1986), which reported a 47% lower rate of child
abuse in the United States than in 1975. For one thing, the 1980
Swedish survey was closer to the 1985 USA survey in its method, because
both used telephone interviews. In contrast, the 1975 USA survey used
face-to-face interviews. Table 1 gives the percentage of Swedish and
United States parents reporting the use of various forms of physical
aggression in both national surveys in the United States and the
national survey in Sweden. In contrast to Gelles & Edfeldt (1986),
we report whether the Swedish rate was significantly different from the
mean USA rate from both the 1975 and the 1985 surveys. This approach
represents a compromise on the issue of which USA survey is the most
appropriate comparison, and it assumes that the 1980 rates in the USA
might have been halfway between the 1975 and the 1985 rates.
See Table 1
As can be seen, significantly fewer Swedish parents spanked or hit
their child with an object, compared to USA parents. Nonetheless, 27%
of Swedish parents reported spanking or slapping their child in the
past year, reflecting imperfect compliance with the law. In contrast,
most of the more serious types of physical aggression occurred more
often in Sweden one year after passing the anti-spanking law than they
did in the United States. The rate of beating a child up was three
times as high in Sweden as in the United States, the rate of using a
weapon was twice as high, and the overall rate of Very Severe Violence
was 49% higher in Sweden than the United States average from the 1975
and 1985 surveys. Except for weapon usage, all of these differences
were significantly different using a test of differences between
proportions (Downie & Heath, 1974, chap. 13), p < .05. In
addition, the rate of pushing, grabbing, or shoving was 39% higher in
Sweden than the average rate in the United States, p < .001. Thus,
the rate of spanking was significantly lower in Sweden than in the
United States, but the rate of other forms of physical aggression,
including child abuse, was significantly higher in Sweden than in the
Because there were so few published studies with relevant empirical
data, we also included an unpublished field study by Haeuser (1988) and
sought additional data from Swedish sources. As co-founder of
EPOCH-USA, an organization advocating the banning of all corporal
punishment in the United States, Haeuser (1988) explicitly wanted to
"promote positive visibility of this Swedish law in the U.S. and garner
U.S. support for the possibility of promoting U.S. parenting norms
which avoid physical punishment" (p. 2). Her paper was based on her
1981 and 1988 field visits to Sweden, using extensive interviews of 7
parents and 60 personnel in government, health and human services, and
In the summary, she concluded, "Most, if not all, believe the law has
not affected the incidence of child abuse" (p. iii). Specifically, she
reported that concerns about sexual abuse and youth gang violence had
superseded concerns about physical child abuse by 1988. She also
reported that she observed toddlers and young children often hitting
their parents in her 1988 visit.
According to her, "In 1981 both parents and professionals agreed that
parents had not . . . found constructive alternatives to physical
punishment [within the two years since the law was passed]. For most
parents the alternative was yelling and screaming at their children,
and some believed this was equally, perhaps more, destructive" (p. 22).
Haeuser went on to report that most Swedish parents had developed
firmer discipline techniques by 1988.
Haeuser (1988) concluded that the child abuse rate was lower in Sweden
than in the USA based on Swedish police statistics of 6.5 cases of
physical child abuse per 1000 children in 1986. Haeuser compared this
to a "U. S. rate of 9.2 to 10.7" per 1000 (Haeuser, 1988, p. 34), but
acknowledged, "Since the Swedish police data omits child abuse cases
known to social services but not warranting police intervention, the
actual Swedish incidence rate is probably higher" (p. 34).
However, the American survey that she cited (National Center on Child
Abuse and Neglect [NCCAN], 1988) indicated that the basis of the rate
of 9.2 or 10.7 per 1000 differed from the Swedish police statistic in
two ways. First, the USA rate included sexual and emotional abuse as
well as physical abuse. Second, the USA rate included not only cases
known to police, but also cases known to at least one professional
across a wide range of occupations, including those in child protection
services, public health, education (schools, daycare centers),
hospitals, mental health, and social services. If limited to only
physical abuse, the USA rate was only 4.9 or 5.7 known to at least one
of these professionals, depending upon the definition of physical child
abuse. If limited to all three kinds of abuse known specifically to
police or sheriffs, the USA rate was only 2.2 per 1000 (NCCAN, 1988).
The most relevant statistics we have obtained from Sweden are
police-record trends in physical abuse of children under 7 years of age
(Wittrock, 1992, 1995). Those records showed a 489% increase in the
child abuse rate from 1981 to 1994 (see Figure 1). The same police
records also indicated a 672% increase in assaults by minors against
minors (under 15 in Sweden) from 1981 to 1994 (see Figure 2).
Discussion and Conclusions
Although the Swedish anti-spanking law was intended to reduce child
abuse, the best empirical study since then indicated that the rate of
child abuse in Sweden was 49% higher than in the United States one year
after the anti-spanking law was passed. Does this mean that the
anti-spanking law increased the rate of physical child abuse in Sweden?
Deley's (1988) retrospective data indicates that the Swedish physical
child abuse rate was 21% of the USA rate in the 1960s and 1970s. This
suggests that the anti-spanking law not only failed to achieve its goal
of reducing child abuse, but that the child abuse rate increased from
21% to 149% of the equivalent USA rate, a seven-fold increase relative
to the decreasing rate in the United States. We doubt that the increase
was actually that substantial, because Deley used a retrospective
measure with a small unrepresentative sample. Nonetheless, the
available evidence suggests that a sizeable increase in the Swedish
child abuse rate occurred around the time of the 1979 anti-spanking
law. The other studies indicate no changes in attitudes about corporal
punishment nor in child homicides due to the 1979 law.
Was the apparent increase in the Swedish child abuse rate only a
temporary increase following their anti-spanking law? More recent data
on Swedish child abuse rates would help answer that question. One piece
of subsequent data was the 6.5 cases of physical child abuse per 1,000
children in official 1986 Swedish police statistics, which was
substantially higher than the 2.2 per 1,000 known to police or sheriffs
in the USA. The other available evidence is the sharp increase in
physical child abuse in Swedish police records from 1981 through 1994,
along with a similar sharp increase in certain assaults by minors.
Why might Sweden experience an increasing child abuse rate and an
increase in assaults by minors after outlawing corporal punishment?
Haeuser's (1988) description of some parental frustration and yelling
in 1981 might indicate an increased risk of escalation to abuse at that
time. This is reminiscent of Baumrind's (1973) observation of
permissive parents. Compared to authoritative and authoritarian
parents, permissive parents were the most likely to report "explosive
attacks of rage in which they inflicted more pain or injury upon the
child than they had intended. . . . Permissive parents apparently
became violent because they felt that they could neither control the
child's behavior nor tolerate its effect upon themselves" (Baumrind,
1973, p. 35). Permissive parents used spanking less than did either
authoritative or authoritarian parents. So it could be that the
prohibition of all spanking eliminates a type of mild spanking that
prevents further escalation of aggression within discipline incidents
(see Patterson's  coercive family process). Haeuser's (1988)
report suggests that Swedish parents later developed new, firm
discipline responses that reduced escalations to yelling and possibly
to child abuse. But adequate data on the resulting child abuse rates
In conclusion, the available Swedish data indicate that we cannot
reduce child abuse just by mandating that parents stop using corporal
punishment. Parents also need new, effective techniques to replace
corporal punishment if it is to be outlawed. It is even possible that
mild corporal punishment may play an important role in preventing
escalation to abuse for some parents.
The other surprise is that there has been so little empirical
evaluation of the effects of Sweden's anti-spanking law. Perhaps it has
seemed so obvious that eliminating parental spanking would reduce the
child abuse rate that people have felt that no evaluation was needed.
If so, this summary of available evidence should shake us out of our
premature complacency. The role of parental discipline responses in
preventing aggression in parent and child is surprisingly complex
(Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Patterson, 1982; Snyder & Patterson,
1995). We need better research to understand the complexities involved
in parental discipline, including its relationship to child abuse. We
need to discriminate effective from counterproductive forms of
discipline responses, including the role of different forms of corporal
punishment in increasing or decreasing the risk of child abuse. We also
need better evaluations of policies designed to change parental
discipline, given that the effects of the Swedish anti-spanking law
seem to have had exactly the opposite effect of its intention, at least
in the short term.
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Prevalence Rates of Various Forms of
Physical Child Abuse in the United States and Sweden
Type of Violence
||Threw things at
||Hit (spanked or
||Kicked, bit, or
hit with fist
||Hit with an
||Used a weapon
Violence (4, 6-8)
the United States this item referred to attempted or completed hits. In
Sweden, the item referred only to completed hits. The 1975 and 1980
surveys are taken from Gelles & Edfeldt (1986) and the 1985 survey
from Straus & Gelles (1986).
*p <.05, 2-tailed t-test of proportions, comparing the combined USA
samples with the Swedish sample.
***p < .001, same test.
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