Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Amy Damashek
Dr. Scott Gaynor
Dr. Galen Alessi
Dr. Dilip R. Patel
Parenting, primary care, corporal punishment, randomized controlled trial, behavioral health, discipline
Spanking is commonly used by parents (64-94%) in the United States as a strategy for managing undesirable child behaviors. Research has found that the use of spanking is particularly high among young mothers, low-income parents, and African American families. Decades of literature on the use of spanking has identified abundant detrimental outcomes for children such as increased externalizing behaviors, decreased long-term compliance, and less guilt following misbehavior, as well as serious outcomes in adulthood such as depressed mood and alcohol/drug use. There is also a risk for spanking to escalate to physical abuse. Thus, safer, more effective discipline strategies are recommended by research experts as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998).
There are currently no evidence-based interventions aimed at reducing parents’ use of spanking, and there is a particular lack of interventions that are broadly accessible to parents across a variety of life circumstances. Recent studies have evaluated a brief, online intervention called Play Nicely and found preliminary evidence that it decreases parents’ favorable attitudes toward spanking. These studies have some methodological limitations, though, and no research has attempted to measure Play Nicely’s impact on parents’ actual use of spanking as a discipline strategy. Additionally, little research has assessed whether the intervention is perceived as being culturally appropriate to users across racial/ethnic groups, and no study has examined whether the intervention is equally effective in changing attitudes/behavior among White caregivers and caregivers of other racial/ethnic groups.
The present study used a randomized controlled trial design to: examine Play Nicely’s impact on attitudes toward spanking; evaluate Play Nicely’s impact on caregivers’ reported use of spanking; examine whether there were differences in treatment effects on attitudes toward spanking and reported use of spanking between White caregivers and caregivers of color in the treatment group; and examine whether there were differences in perceptions of the intervention’s cultural sensitivity between White caregivers and caregivers of color in the treatment group.
Participants in the treatment group demonstrated significantly greater changes in attitudes toward spanking from pretest to follow-up than did the control group. There was not, however, a significant difference between conditions in caregivers’ reported use of spanking at follow-up. Within the treatment group, there were no significant differences in outcomes between White participants and participants of color; specifically, there were no significant differences in changes in attitudes toward spanking or reported use of spanking between these subgroups. Finally, there was no difference in reported perceptions of the intervention’s cultural acceptability between White participants and participants of color in the treatment group.
Richardson, Hilary L., "Can a Brief Online Intervention Change Low-Income Caregivers’ Reported Use of Spanking? A Randomized Controlled Trial" (2020). Dissertations. 3636.