Date of Award

Spring 1986

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study investigates why some parents deviate from American norms on childrearing and decide to use no form of physical punishment. Based on the percentage of American parents who use physical punishment, the views of popular childrearing manuals, relevant laws and court cases it is concluded that the use of physical punishment of children in American society is a context where the use of physical force is legitimate.

To locate non-spanking parents, questionnaires were distributed to parents of all first, second and third graders in a eastern seacoast town of approximately 27,000 people. Of those who returned the questionnaires, 87% reported using physical punishment. Among those who spank, 60% said they used it for rule violation and found it to be effective in childrearing. Forty percent reported that they used it when the parents themselves were tired, frustrated or out of control. These parents said nothing about the behavior of their children as being related to the use of physical punishment and, in addition, these parents said that spanking was not an effective method of disciplining.

Indepth interviews were conducted with the parents who use no form of physical punishment. The reasons they gave for not spanking involved issues of child management (e.g. it does not work), reactions to their own parent's abusive treatment and views of spanking being a form of violence. All of the non-spanking parents reported being tempted to spank and they all said that they might spank in response to hypothetical scenarios where other parents frequently spank. Yet, when describing misbehaviors of their own children which were similar to the behaviors described in the hypothetical scenarios, these parents did not use physical punishment.

It is concluded that the decision not to spank in American society is an extremely deviant position. Non-spanking parents are hesitant to acknowledge their commitment to not spanking. In fact, these parents do not tell others about their deviance. Non-spanking parents are very skilled at the management of their deviance and use socially acceptable accounts, such as saying their children do nothing so serious to deserve spanking, to avoid confrontation with others around them. Yet, by their own descriptions, their children do engage in the very behaviors that would be met with a spanking by other parents.