Researchers: African-Americans most likely to use physical punishment
Researchers said African Americans are among the most likely to use corporal punishment on children.
November 10th, 2011
11:50 AM ET

Researchers: African-Americans most likely to use physical punishment

A switch, a belt, a shoe, a hand. Paddling, whipping, whupping, spanking. The instruments and language of corporal punishment vary, but what connects them is how often they are employed as parenting tools.

Researchers who study corporal punishment say that parents of all ethnic groups, socioeconomic categories and education levels practice some form of physical punishment with their children.

“The majority of parents across all ethnic groups spank at some point,” said Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor and researcher on corporal punishment at the University of Texas at Austin.

But among the groups most likely to use it: African-Americans.

In a study Gershoff co-authored that examined 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, she found that 89% of black parents, 79% of white parents, 80% of Hispanic parents and 73% of Asian parents said they have spanked their children.

But why do so many black parents approve of disciplining their children that way? The answer is complicated, experts said.

Some researchers have suggested it's a legacy left by the brutality of slavery. Some say it's rooted in fear - that if parents don’t use force to demand obedience, someone else will. Others said African-American parents, in aggregate, are disproportionately lower-income, have less education and are more likely to follow a religion that implores them not to spare the rod for fear of spoiling the child - all factors that correlate with use of corporal punishment, regardless of race.

Numerous studies have pointed to negative consequences for all children who are spanked, regardless of parents' race, ethnicity, income-level or education level. Kids who are physically punished face higher risk of anxiety and depression, higher rates of aggression toward others and a more distant relationship with their parent, Gershoff said. Those risks are in addition to the risk of injury from parents who cross the line from a hard smack on a behind  - still damaging, researchers said -  to abuse that leaves children bruised or bleeding.

Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist who has studied mental health issues and parenting in African-American communities, is a leading voice against corporal punishment. It’s an uphill battle.

“It’s culturally embedded in America that spanking is a legitimate and good way to discipline children. But the fact is, nearly all studies, except for a few, say it is not a good way of disciplining and can actually produce damage,” Poussaint said. “We have such damage in the black community, when you add to that parents beating their kids, it’s sending the message that violence is an OK way to solve problems.”

Nevertheless, Poussaint said, questioning corporal punishment can provoke a defensive or angry reaction from parents.

“Usually some people stand up and say, ‘Well, I was beaten as a kid and I turned out pretty well.’ Well, did they?” Poussaint said. “If you dig more deeply, you don’t really know that… beating may have left scars in them that they don’t really understand.”

Poussaint dismisses the biblical imperative so often used as a justification for corporal punishment as “a tired excuse.”

“Violence begets violence, anger begets anger, and the loss of control makes it all worse,” he said.

There are researchers, community leaders and parents that are trying to change attitudes toward spanking and corporal punishment among African-Americans.

The Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit community organization that provides education and social services to a 100-block area in New York City, is working to convince parents that corporal punishment isn't the answer. It spends two sessions of its Baby College program for parents of children ages zero to 3 talking about how physical punishment is harmful and why it shouldn’t be used. Since the nine-week Baby College began classes in 2001, more than 3,600 parents have graduated.

“Sometimes there is some pushback during those sessions, sometimes they go home and are told by older relatives that they’re spoiling the child,” said Marty Lipp, an Harlem Children's Zone spokesman. “We have to equip them to be able to make the case to themselves and possibly to their relatives and neighbors.”

Asadah Kirkland, an African-American mother and educator in Brooklyn, was inspired to write her anti-spanking book, “Beating Black Kids,” after a friend said “something about how you just need to beat kids sometimes.” The book includes adults discussing how spanking affected them, and also offers parents alternative methods of discipline.

Kirkland now gives workshops encouraging parents not to use corporal punishment, and she often encounters resistance from parents who believe it’s necessary. They passionately defend their right to raise their children as their parents raised them – with switch in hand.

“They don’t want to be incriminated, they don’t want to incriminate their parents,”  Kirkland said. “They need to validate what’s happened to them.”

Kirkland said more parents must realize that parents need to use discipline in a way that gives kids skills for handling conflict in the future: negotiation, respect of authority and courage.

“Whatever you want your future to look like, that’s what you need to be rearing and creating in your children’s future,” Kirkland said. “These are the people who are going to run the future, and if they’re coming up beaten up and resentful, that’s the way they’re going to be when they grow up.”

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  1. Richard

    Its been a long while since this article ran, and the comments have run their course. What emerges is a a pervasive trend that insists this article is racist and in so doing requires that violence in the homes of African american families in the guise of discipline never be discussed. That has always been the refuge of those the perpetrate violence, the abusive husband, the hooded Klansman, the rape victim, the beaten child. Silence is always demanded. Meanwhile young African american males die violent deaths at each others hands by the dozens everyday.

    August 5, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Wow

    I think I feel sorry for the children of most of you posting comments here. You do not have to hit or use force to get the behavior you desire of your child and I have never personally seen a case of a child disciplined with force being better behaved than a child that was not. It is sad however when I see a baby raise their hands in defense when their parent approaches them

    December 2, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DG

    My 2c: The main issue is not the method, but the spirit. I am a parent of a 3-yr old and have never raised my hand against my child yet, but I'd definitely do that, if I felt that is the best way of disciplining him. I have my rules, the same as my dad had: 1). Never raise your hand if I am angry. 2). My wife believes in corporal punishment (but I don't allow her to beat my child in front of me) and I have only one rule for her: Your punishment should NOT hurt the child, only discipline him.

    July 2, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Zach Sparks

    I Wrote a Paper About this article for my sociology class and just wanted to share so heres a piece of it.

    Response to African Americans most likely to use physical punishment: African Americans as a society are expected to discipline their children physically. The article “African Americans most likely to use physical punishment” by Stephanie Sick mentions how parents feel it’s necessary to raise their children the way there parents raised them with switch in hand. This idea that Africans Americans should raise their children with switch in hand may have very well come from slavery when the master demanded obedience through physical punishment Switch in hand. It’s a fact that almost every child in the black community has faced some form of physical punishment. At one point in time someone other than the child’s parent could physically discipline them because the African American community accepted it. A African American child that acts out should expect a “whoopin” it’s an unavoidable cause and effect relationship. However there are unknown long term effects of this physical punishment. African Americans do have the highest rates of crime in their neighbor hoods where the victim and the criminal are the same color. Blacks also are often seen as aggressive and short tempered. Corporal punishment is not limited to one specific race but blacks have suffered from it the longest. African American parents often say” this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” before physically punishing their children, just like any parent African Americans want good obedient children so their intentions are good, but fear of only physical punishment may put African American children in a vulnerable position to be victims.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sara

    If your parents used any object to "beat" or "tap" you with, they abused you. It may just be what they were taught but it doesn't make it right. Abuse is abuse.

    November 17, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. ToWit

    I'm getting "Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that" when I send my final comment to "queenbee 10." Can you comprehend the fact that I sent it again only because it does not appear on this blog page?So, the big question is: why doesn't it appear on this blog page? Shall I assume that you're napping on the job? I spend my time drafting a post, and you don't have the curtesy to post it? What a wast of my time! Thanks for nothingl Go back to sleep.

    November 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  7. ToWit

    @ queenbee10:

    Furthermore, you are demeaning all African Americans because your words suggest that there are no professional African Americans who study such things.

    November 14, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Raymond

    to John in OH:

    II can't believe you said that, but you did. You put it perfectly in these few words ..." Without love, their use of corporal punishment would be child abuse..."

    As Alice Miller so well said, the excuse, the mantra is ..."it breaks my heart to do it, it kills me, but I do it FOR YOUR OWN GOOD." Any wonders society is so mad and mixed up. When it's done to animals, it's called CRUELTY. But when it's done to kids, to our children, then it's E-DU-CA-TION.

    How can we justify this argument? This leads all the way the the death penalty. And THEN WHAT? Has that policy made any difference? The US jails are the most full on the planet. The cost is horrendous in financial terms only, never-mind the morals of it. People need to be told about this. The mechanics of Violence must be EXPLAINED. It is the Parents who need to be taught and educated. And the Government must make resources available to this purpose. >>>>

    November 14, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jorge

    Who did this research, some East-Texas white-robe yeehahs with barely passable college entrance scores and beer-pong headaches??? Let's talk about folks with a long heritage of spare-the-rod, spoil-the-child methods like the coal miners of Appalacia, Eastern and Northern Europeans who are big on Mein Kampf and Nietzsche, and White Southern Baptists who like to "open a can of whoop @$$" on their kids when they go astray...

    November 14, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    "But why do so many black parents approve of disciplining their children that way? " Because they WANT TO! People who violently abuse their children don't have regrets. They enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on others. They can't inflict violent abuse on adults without risking arrest. However, they can do it to children with impunity, so they do. Never underestimate the human capacity for evil.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Pete H

    ..."have less education and are more likely to follow a religion that implores them not to spare the rod for fear of spoiling the child"... So being a Christian or a Jew implies ignorance? The Jews and Christians have handed down the wisdom of what works and doesn't work in society for thousands of years. The "enlightened ones" go out of their way to ignore these teachings. They content themselves with reinventing the wheel every generation, leaving way more damaged souls in their wake as corporal punishment ever has. Notice the correlation between the last couple of generations walking away from God and such things as skyrocketing crime rates and our swelling prison populations. 'Wonder why... Maybe those old geezers in the Bible had something there...

    November 14, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Seriously?

    I'm so glad to see there are quite a few people on here questioning why this is even a story. Stories like these are a part of the reason why race relations in this country are the way they are. And then the "findings" tell us that there isn't much difference amongst the races where this is concerned (a mere 10%). I don't see any stories about which race is most likely to become a serial killer or pedophile. This study and the story on it is completely irresponsible. Personally I don't think interviewing 20,000 people out of the millions of folks living in this country is even a good enough to make this "research" sound. Just ridiculous.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Walk the streets of any city and you will see people of color unashamedly violently abusing their children. It's sickening to hear the childrens' pitiful cries as their mothers slap and kick them. Sometimes I just stand and stare at the mothers until they stop. I know it's pointless because they will just pick up where they left off later. Why do they have these children? Why not just buy a punching bag instead? I see a direct coorelation between the violence practiced by many Black youth and the treatment they received from their mothers. Violence begets violence from generation to generation.

      November 14, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  13. juice123456

    The study was done based on race. It's not just a simple attempt at white collared racism, people. The majority of these studies are done with various controls and variables. I'm sure they also weighed in geographic location, income, age group, number of children etc. But the most drastic or interesting correlation just so happened to be that of race. Stop whining about it and learn from it.

    PS. If one isn't intelligent enough to use the brain to discipline a CHILD they will usually wind up using the hand. Striking a child is NEVER the appropriate solution NO MATTER the skin tone.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Kevin

    if the beatings my father gave to me and my brother and sister happened today my father would be in jail for a very very long time. He hit us with a belt and a coat hanger. He grabbed us by the throat and pushed us up against the wall many times.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kama Mustafa

      You should have kicked him the balls.. thats anger issues and beyond abuse.. he deserves to get his head kicked off.. and if I seen it happen he would have

      November 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  15. mary

    Well I am a white women who grew up in a black community where there 20% white 10% spanish and trust me we all got whoopings from all the mothers when we did things out of line. Most of my friends didn't have Daddy's and I didn't have one either. 80% of us all went to the Same High school and then went on to collage. I keep up with most of them and we are all making a good living (even with the GOP) and are still respectful of our parents who still live.

    November 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wally Bunker

      You went to collage? Hard to fathom.

      November 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Jason

    It's articles like this why there are still people who have "black" friends and "white" friends. C'mon....really?

    November 14, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kama Mustafa

      really jason? or do some of us just dont like to be around blacks because of the difference in culture? Im not racist but I wouldnt want to hang out with 90% of the blacks. I know saying "the blacks" is racist but whats not. who really cares anymore? Not everybody is racist with hatred some are "racist" because they dont like the culture, style, etc

      November 14, 2011 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
  17. myslant

    To the editor. Just contacted your organization about your failure to publish my post.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kama Mustafa


      November 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Dan

    If beating kids works so well for the black community, why do they fill the prisons because of their lack of respect for law and authority? Teaching kids instead of beating them would prepare them for becoming a responsible member of society.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • nospam2

      If that's true, then why is there a more than 10% difference between the number of black and white people in prison. It's not about race...

      November 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
      • juice123456

        a mere 10% difference? can you site your source on that cuz it sounds like bull....

        November 14, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
      • Kama Mustafa

        LOL maybe you need an updated list kiddo... sorry but mexicans and blacks are at the top of the crime list

        November 14, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  19. nospam2

    1) I don't think this is a race issue, it's upbringing. There might be a higher percentage of african americans that use corporal punishment, but it's not becuase they're black, it's because of how they were brought up. So I think it's unproductive to break this down based on race as opposed to say income, religion or geography.

    2) We have ample evidence that non-corporal punishment does not work for young kids. Timeout isn't really a deterent when a child is willing to sit there and argue or throw a tantrum for 4-5 hours instead of doing 20 minutes worth of homework. It's not until they're older that you can begin to reason with them because they think they know better than you usually until they've gotten out of college and are facing the job market or have gotten tired of OWS.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kama Mustafa

      way to contradict yourself.. to quote you "but it's not becuase they're black, it's because of how they were brought up." so its not because they are black, its how they were brought up... a.k.a in a black family LOL.

      November 14, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alon

      It seems like nothing's about race when it comes to holding Blacks accountable, but everything's about race when it comes to giving Black benefits.

      November 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  20. someguy

    Isn't yelling at your child in anger and sending them off to their room as emotionally damaging as hitting them? Perhaps the issue isn't the method of discipline as the spirit in which it is done.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • ShellyB.


      November 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Ronald

    Are you kidding, CNN? Seems like it would be more appropriate to identify by age bracket of parent or even area of country family is living in. This seems like another (and another, and another....) attempt to separate black vs white. When "talking" and/or withholding of toys, privileges, etc fail, responsible parents move on to other means, black or white, or Chinese, or what have you. This concept of trying to be "friends" to your child is doomed to failure. Parents of adult children can be friends to their child; parents of school age children need to instill proper concepts of respect, work ethnic, etc. That is all I've got to say about that (so says Forrest Gump)!

    November 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  22. bcdc

    Why on earth would you break this up by race, no wonder there is division in society, lib outfits like CNN dwell on these areas.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  23. Solomon

    Proverbs 22:15 – Foolishness [is] bound in the heart of a child; [but] the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • axia

      Since that's from Proverbs, maybe that's just that- a proverb. A metaphor. Maybe the rod is just meant to show that a parent should be firm and stand by his or her decision and be the one in charge. You don't have to instill fear to demand respect and obedience. Maybe it's not meant to be taken as an actual "rod".

      November 14, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • The Queen

        wow! did you think it meant an actual rod?

        November 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • dabubz

      Kids will just get better about hiding their "foolishness"...beatings breed secrecy and sneakiness. Stick that "rod" up your, well, you understand I think.

      November 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      The Bible also recommends that disobedient children should be stoned to death. I presume you would approve of that as well. After all, it's in the Bible.

      November 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
      • The Queen

        ......and what scripture is that found in?

        November 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Gary

    Growing up, we had an allowance chart. Each job was worth x amount of money. The chart also had a deduct column. If we got in trouble, we had to deduct y amount of money. That was enough to keep us in line.

    November 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Veronica

      ALLOWANCE!!???!!! hahahahaha!!! We did what we were told because we were taught to respect our parents. We were taught to follow God's commandment of Honoring Our Parents! Nuf said. If my child needs to be taught the same commandment, so be it!

      November 14, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
      • Moli

        Wait what the heck would you get an allownace for...cleaning your room...washing dishes????? Things that you SHOULD be doing as a member of the family? Bet you got paid for good grades as well. SMH

        November 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
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