Video Abstract: U.S. Pediatricians' Attitudes, Beliefs, and Perceived Professional Injunctive Norms about Spanking
Pediatricians are one of the most credible professional sources of advice for parents concerning how best to discipline their children. There is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that hitting children, even for disciplinary purposes (i.e., spanking or corporal punishment), leads to increased risk of harm to children’s overall health. This study shows that most U.S. pediatricians are aware of this evidence and do not support hitting children for discipline. Pediatricians can play a crucial role in shifting this long-standing, widely held social norm in the U.S. by sharing their views and pointing parents toward alternative forms of discipline
Objective: To assess United States pediatricians' attitudes, beliefs, and perceived professional injunctive norms regarding spanking.
Method: A self-administered questionnaire was mailed to a nationwide random sample of 1500 pediatricians in the US, drawn from a database maintained by IMS Health. Four survey mailings were conducted and cash incentives of up to $20 were provided. The response rate was 53% (N = 787).
Results: Most respondents were members of the American Academy of Pediatrics (85%), had been practicing physicians for 15 years or more (66%), and were white (69%) and female (59%). All US regions were represented. About 3-quarters of pediatricians did not support the use of spanking, and most perceived that their colleagues did not support its use either. Pediatricians who were male, black, and/or sometimes spanked as children had more positive attitudes toward spanking and expected more positive outcomes from spanking than their counterparts. Nearly 80% of pediatricians never or seldom expected positive outcomes from spanking, and a majority (64%) expected negative outcomes some of the time.
Conclusion: The majority of pediatricians in the US do not support the use of spanking with children and are aware of the empirical evidence linking spanking with increased risk of poor health outcomes for children. Pediatricians are a key, trusted professional source in advising parents about child discipline. These findings suggest that most pediatricians will discourage the use of spanking with children, which over time could reduce its use and associated harms in the population. This is of clinical relevance because, despite strong and consistent evidence of the harms that spanking raises for children, spanking is still broadly accepted and practiced in the US
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