Variation in African American parents' use of early childhood physical discipline
Scott, Judith C.
Pinderhughes, Ellen E.
Johnson, Sara K.
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CitationJ Scott, EE Pinderhughes, SK Johnson. 2018. "Variation in African American Parents' Use of Early Childhood Physical Discipline." Society for Social Work Research Annual Conference. Washington, D.C.,
Physical discipline is endorsed by a majority of adults in the U.S. including African American (AA) parents who have high rates of endorsement. Although many studies have examined physical discipline use among AA families, few have considered how early childhood physical discipline varies within the population. Individuals within a cultural group may differ in their engagement in cultural practices (Rogoff, 2003). Furthermore, AA families’ characteristics and their contexts, which are shaped by the interaction of social position, racism, and segregation (García Coll et al., 1996), likely influence how AA families physically discipline their young children. This study examined variation in early childhood physical discipline among AA families living in low-income communities and relations with demographic and contextual factors. Year 1 data from 310 AA parents living in three regionally distinct low-income communities were used from a sequential longitudinal intervention program study of the development and prevention of conduct disorder. Latent class analyses were conducted using parents’ responses on a measure, of the frequency of overall physical discipline, spanking, and hitting during prekindergarten and kindergarten. The associations between latent classes and six demographic and contextual factors were examined using the Bolck, Croon, and Hagenaars (BCH) method. The factors were: child gender (59% male); marital status (51% never married); parental education (66% high school graduates and beyond); income (mean = $16.66K, S.D. = 12.50), family stress, and perception of neighborhood safety. Measures included the Family Information Form, Life Changes, and the Neighborhood Questionnaire. After considering two to seven class solutions, five physical discipline classes or sub-groups were identified. Classes were defined by discipline frequency (‘Infrequent’, ‘Weekly’, ‘Monthly’, ‘Almost-Every-Day’ and ‘Weekly-All’) as well as by discipline type (only parents in the ‘Weekly-All’ class hit their children). Significant associations were found between class membership, and child gender, marital status, income, and perception of neighborhood safety. Girls were more likely to be physically disciplined infrequently, χ2(4, N = 310) = 11.88, p = .05. The ‘Weekly’ class had significantly fewer married parents than all classes except ‘Almost-Every-Day’, χ2(4, N = 310) = 21.56, p < .001. Parents in the ‘Almost-Every-Day’ class had a significantly lower income than parents in all other classes except “Weekly-All”, χ2(4, N = 310) = 10.88, p = .03. Finally, parents in the “Almost-Every-Day” class perceived their neighborhood as significantly less safe compared to those in all other classes except the ‘Weekly-All’ class, χ2(4, N = 310) = 14.13 p = .01. These findings suggest that AA families vary in physical discipline during early childhood; this variation may result in sub-groups with different demographic characteristics. Associations between frequent discipline classes and perceptions of neighborhood safety implies that some AA parents may use physical discipline to protect their children from being harmed if they believe their communities are unsafe. Future research should qualitatively examine how AA parents respond to unsafe neighborhoods in their parenting behaviors, including physical discipline.