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The Christchurch Health and Development Study -- an Overview and Some Key Findings

by David Fergusson published in the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand Issue 10, June 1998.

 "3.9% of the cohort reported that their parents either used physical punishment too frequently or had treated them in a harsh or abusive way.  Parents of this small group of children had a profile of childhood discipline strategies that involved the repeated use of violent methods of punishment.  At the other extreme, 10.8% of the cohort reported that their parents never used physical punishment, with the majority (77.7%) reporting that their parents occasionally used physical punishment.

Evaluation of the relationships between reports of physical punishment or abuse during childhood and psychosocial outcomes in early adulthood clearly showed that young people reporting harsh or abusive treatment had increased rates of conduct problems, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and violent crime.  There are were, however, no clear differences between the adjustment of young people who reported that their parents never used physical punishment and those who reported that their parents infrequently used physical punishment.

There was no evidence to suggest that those exposed to occasional physical punishment by their parents were at any greater or any lesser risk of adjustment problems than those whose parents did not use physical punishment methods.

Physical Punishment/Maltreatment During Childhood and Adjustment in Young Adulthood

by David Fergusson and Michael Linskey (Child Abuse & Neglect, Vol 21, No 7; 1997)

Those reporting harsh/severe treatment during childhood were more likely to come from single parent families, to have young mothers, mothers lacking formal educational qualifications, and to come from families of unskilled or semiskilled socio-economic status.  However, there was no clear significant association between reports of physical abuse and gender.

......the findings suggest that much of the elevated risk seen among those exposed to maltreatment may be more due to the family and social context within which abuse occurs rather than to the traumatic effects of abuse.  These findings suggest the need for child abuse prevention policies and interventions to avoid a narrow focus on physical abuse, and to take into account the family, social, and contextual factors that are frequently associated with abuse.

In addition, it has been our experience for the research on physical child abuse to be over generalised in public debates; to imply that any physical punishment of children is child abuse that may lead to harmful psychological consequences.  The present study does not support this interpretation. .......  These results suggest that it is unlikely that the occasional or mild use of physical punishment has either beneficial or detrimental effects on longer-term adjustment..  Clearly, since the evidence suggests that most physical child abuse arises from excessive punishment rather than a deliberate maltreatment, it is prudent to advocate that parents avoid these methods because of the risks they entail.  It is, however, misleading to imply that occasional or mild physical punishment has longer-term adverse consequences.

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