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April 2002Vol. 3, No. 3Study Examines Spanking Among Minnesota Parents

Parents who stop physically punishing their children and employ alternative methods of discipline, such as nurturing and teaching, are rewarded with children who become less aggressive and violent. Those are the findings of a recently concluded 8-year study coordinated by the University of Minnesota's Extension Service in Goodhue County, in partnership with other agencies. Researchers followed 1,000 parents of children younger than 13 to learn about their attitudes toward spanking.

"If you hit your children, it will be very difficult to teach them not to hit others because they have experienced it from the most important person in their lives," said retired University of Minnesota Extension Service sociologist, Ron Pitzer, who led the study. Running concurrently with the study, a public awareness and educational campaign called "Kids: Handle With Care," sent the message to Goodhue County residents that it is never okay to spank a child. The message was disseminated through newspaper articles, radio programs, restaurant table tent cards, grocery bags and carts, church programs, parade floats, and a county fair exhibit.

The following results were reported among Goodhue County parents at the conclusion of the study:

  • The use of physical punishment dropped from 36 percent to 12 percent.
  • Parents who spanked their children reported a considerable increase in their children's aggressiveness.
  • Parents who reduced physical punishment reported their children were less aggressive.
  • Parents who attended classes were better at setting limits and enforcing consequences, and they were more calm and nurturing. Their children were more compliant, communicated more openly, had a better attitude, and were calmer.
  • Fathers matched or exceeded mothers in alternative, more positive discipline methods.

The findings demonstrate that the county-wide educational effort was successful in helping parents make the decision to eliminate spanking, resulting in happier parents and happier children.

For more information on the Goodhue County study, contact Kathleen Olson, University of MN Extension Service, 651-385-3100.