Building Bridges Between Research and Practice of Juvenile Justice

Susan Broderick squareOver the past several weeks, I have attended a number of meetings and conferences in which both practitioners and researchers were present. Over and over, I was reminded that these two groups really do speak in different languages and often have very different philosophies.

At the most recent meeting I truly wished there had been an interpreter present, because the confusion was palpable.

While I am currently working at an academic institution, I am a practitioner at heart. More specifically, I am a prosecutor to my core. I think that having lived in both worlds has provided an opportunity to offer a unique perspective into working to translate between these two groups.

I think some of the confusion stems from the infusion of science into the justice system. “Evidence-based practices” have resulted in hours and hours of trainings in which those on the front lines are introduced to concepts that would normally be part of a graduate-level course in a research institution. While I applaud the advances, I am still a bit skeptical. I am a New Yorker after all.

hub_arrow_2-01In a recent exchange with a very well-respected researcher, Dr. Garvin (name changed to protect him) we discussed “best evidence.” The moderator explained that we needed to identify what we considered to be best evidence. Dr. Garvin immediately talked about the gold standard of research — randomized controlled double-blind studies.

When it was my turn, I said, “a videotaped confession” and “DNA matching the perpetrator.” This is when I realized that an interpreter would have been helpful. How can we solve problems when we have very different definitions of such an important term?

In the push to focus on research studies, the value and importance of experience and the realities of the real world have been largely ignored and/or looked down upon.

[Related: OP-ED: Bridging Adolescent Brain Research, Reality]

While a double-blind random controlled research study may be the gold star in research, you will never get those types of optimal conditions on the streets of New York City (or anywhere else for that matter). Unless and until the research community comes to terms with this, we will continue to have this disconnect.

Not just in terms of the words — but also with regard to respect and appreciation of what the other side has to offer. When I arrived at Georgetown, I had no idea that my years of working with victims and offenders would not play a role in what researchers deemed important.

While they considered my cases to be merely “anecdotal evidence,” I knew that they represented powerful examples of real-life crime and victimization. The outcomes of those cases were not dependent on the methodology employed by a researcher — those cases were the result of good detective work and many nights burning the midnight oil preparing the case for trial.

Another tremendous issue in the field is the lack of attention given to victims. In almost every juvenile justice meeting or conference I attend, the entire focus is on the offenders. Having worked on child abuse cases in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, I am well aware that many of the young people in juvenile court were abused and/or neglected as children. In fact, I believe a very real issue is the child welfare to juvenile justice pipeline.

But that doesn’t mean that we ignore the people and/or community. stakeholders who are adversely affected by juvenile offending. There are very real costs to youthful offending and they must be acknowledged.

Too often, young people are given a “pass” because they have grown up in dysfunctional environments. Of course, we must make sure we address that abuse and neglect, but to use it as an excuse is a mistake — especially to that young person. Accountability matters and in fact builds character.

Finally, with all the attention on adolescent brain science in juvenile justice reform, I have seen more fMRI brain scans than I’d care to admit. Once again, I think this ignores a critical element of helping young people make changes in their lives. Focusing solely on brain development without recognizing the importance of connecting with their spirit is a critical mistake.

There are many ways to do this — sports, arts, music, writing, mentors — but we must remember that there is a transformative power in positive emotions. I have seen this happen firsthand so many times that I’ve lost count.

And anyone on the front lines will confirm that this is not just “feel-good” talk — they have seen positive emotions fuel resiliency. The good news is that this has even been confirmed by research studies (including one conducted by George Vaillant at Harvard University).

So, for the time being, I am going to try to build this bridge between research and practice. Since my dad was a steelworker and built bridges in New York City for 35 years, maybe this is exactly where I am supposed to be.

I appreciate the value and strides that have been made in the research community and I am trying to share this work with the practitioners across the country. At the same time, I am doing my part in trying to get the research community to understand and recognize the importance of real-life experience.

As Brene Brown has said, “Stories are data with soul.” Real stories may be the “lowest form of evidence” in academic institutions, but on the front lines of our communities, stories have enormous power. Stories offer real hope and inspiration.

We are all in this work because we care about kids. Now it’s time to start finding ways to collaborate so we bring the best of both worlds to the kids who are depending on us.

Susan Broderick is project director of Georgetown University’s National Juvenile Justice Prosecution Center.

More related articles:

States Need to Try New Ideas With Young Adults in Justice System: Report

States Look Beyond Incarceration to Rearrest Rates

Creating a More Equitable and Effective Juvenile Justice System

OP-ED: Opening Our Eyes to Uncomfortable Truths

John LashAthens, Ga., is a funny town. It’s the home of the University of Georgia, meaning some 35,000 students make their home here for nine months out of the year. A lot of full-time residents are connected to the school as faculty or staff, and many businesses count on the money students spend. The downtown is vibrant with restaurants, stores and nightclubs, and the live music is everywhere.

A 15-minute walk from downtown can take you to several lovely neighborhoods of a type not seen much anymore. The homes are older, closer together, neighbors actually know one another. A lot of homes have decorative gardens. Oak trees line the streets, and the streets have sidewalks. This is the realm of professors, doctors, lawyers, retirees and other folks who have worked hard to create a sense of community with their neighbors.

The same 15-minute walk in a slightly different direction will take you to a poorer part of town. The homes in these neighborhoods are often run down, the residents more likely to be impoverished, and the crime rates higher. Several housing projects are in the middle of these neighborhoods. The residents are mostly black.

In Athens/Clarke County the poverty rate is almost 35 percent, more than double the state average. Among  children the rate is even worse, at almost 43 percent. The state average for kids is a little more than 22 percent. The disparity is striking, particularly when contrasted with either the high culture of the wealthier residents or the party lifestyle of many of the students. You don’t see many black people in either of these scenes.

I was pretty blind to this separation when I first started living here, but working at the conflict center has taken me to parts of the city and introduced me to residents I wouldn’t have otherwise had cause to encounter. Like many people, I was unaware of the larger picture of the community.

Blindness exists in all of us to some extent. Humans create systems of interaction, and whether they are communities, families, workplaces, or some other collection of folks, all systems have facets that are hidden. They are hidden, but they still exert an influence on the big picture.

One blindness I am beginning to be healed of has to do with young people, and in particular their propensity for crime and other forms of stupidity. The beginning of my cure was reading an op ed in the JJIE by Mike Males a few weeks ago. The article pointed me towards a few studies, and lead to a correspondence with Mike about his conclusions.

To summarize: when we take into account the level of poverty, kids don’t commit crimes at a higher rate than adults. Take a few seconds and read the previous sentence again. Now, if kids aren’t as stupid as we’ve been lead to believe, what are the implications?

First, a lot of the interest in brain research might be a red herring, or at least misdirected. As Mike wrote to me in an email, “...whether adolescent crime is seen as an innate, biodevelopmental feature or as one related to social conditions is pivotal in all kinds of public policies.”

Not to discount approaches to rehabilitation that have shown promise (for instance cognitive behavioral therapy, or my favorite, restorative justice) but is it possible that these approaches could work with anyone who is committing crime, and not just juveniles? The differences between those who commit crimes, regardless of age, and those who don’t, are far more striking than the differences between adults and kids.

Is it possible that the real obstacle to conquer here is not crime, which can be seen as symptomatic of social conditions, but poverty itself? I think the answer is yes. Imagine that we were able to drop the poverty rate here in Athens to the state average. It seems probable that we would see a drop in criminal activity across all ages.

Perhaps we can employ both avenues of addressing problematic behavior, but let’s be clear that currently we are only following one path. The larger social and economic context is being ignored by many connected to the criminal justice system, both researchers and practitioners. This is a choice we are making as a society. As Mike writes, “...a policy choice to subject young people to far higher rates of poverty and family abuses than we would accept in middle age, and we have a self-interest in dismissing their offending as just a teenage attitude problem.”

This means that we, as adults, extract some heretofore unacknowledged benefit from the power imbalance we have with young people, and that young people’s concerns, as with those of all disadvantaged groups, are minimized and trivialized.

My eyes are opening, and I invite you to open yours as well. It can be disconcerting at first, but I believe the discomfort will give way to energy and purpose as we begin to address this root cause of crime.


Former CDC Director Says NRA “Terrorized” Gun Violence Researchers

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) has published numerous studies analyzing firearms-related deaths and injuries data, but over the last 16 years, the NCIPC hasn’t conducted a single study exploring why such acts of violence take place.

The reason, several former CDC directors say, is because pro-gun lobbyists made the topic of gun violence research forbidden through several measures adopted in the mid 1990s.

In 1996, several legislators co-sponsored an amendment that would cut the CDC’s budget, with a House Appropriations Committee adopting an additional amendment that prohibited CDC funding “to advocate or promote gun control.” Eventually, $2.6 million was removed from the CDC’s budget -- the exact amount that the NCIPC spent on firearms injuries studies a year prior.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has long been critical of the CDC, with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre recently telling the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) that he believed the agency was promoting a political agenda through the NCIPC in 1995.

Other gun proponents agreed. Former Georgian congressman Bob Barr -- a member of the NRA board -- said that firearms violence is “nothing CDC should be involved in.”

“It has nothing to do with health,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I don’t think when the CDC was created there would by any contemplation that they would be studying firearms as a health issue.”

Several ex-CDC directors, however, claim that gun lobbyists have effectively eliminated any possibility of meaningful firearms research studies being conducted today, with former director of NCIPC Mark Rosenberg going as far as to say that “the scientific community has been terrorized by the NRA.

Dr. David Satcher, a CDC director when the budget cuts and amendments were passed, said that the restriction of research serves as a threat to both public health and democracy.

“It is sad when you really think about it,” he is quoted by the AJC. “We are in an environment when children are dying and we are playing political games.”

Today, researchers financed by the CDC are required to contact the agency when planning to publish firearms-related research. The CDC then forwards the information to the NRA “as a courtesy.”

RAND Corp.’s Arthur Kellermann said that now, the number of gun violence studies being published is just a fraction compared to the research released prior to the mid-1990s CDC budget cuts and amendments.

“It is almost impossible today to get federal funding for firearm injury prevention research,” he is quoted by the AJC. “I have to acknowledge that the (NRA) strategy of shutting down the pipeline of science was effective.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Saechang via Flickr.

Juvenile Justice on Appeal: Making our System of Justice More Accountable

When a young person is sent to a detention facility away from his or her family, it is a drastic intervention and most would agree that our system of justice should approach it with great care. Even if the child is not removed from the community and sent to live in juvenile detention, a delinquency case can now follow the child throughout her life in an increasing number of ways, such as DNA registration, housing access, and sentencing enhancements, and sex offender registration. As a result, on paper, our system of justice purports to provide this child with most of the same procedural checks that we provide to adults and sometimes, in theory, even more. But in reality, our system falls short. Too often, this entire process is left to one overburdened judge with no jury, little public access, sometimes no defender, and, as it turns out, little appellate oversight.

In order to inform the discussion about justice and accuracy in the juvenile system, I recently conducted a study by surveying states to determine the appellate rate in juvenile delinquency cases. While commentators agree that appeals are rare for juveniles, the extent of the defect was somewhat unknown. Nearly all of the states responded to the survey and though many do not track delinquency appeals, fourteen states were able to provide information for the survey. The results are startling: Only 1 in 200 cases where a youth is found delinquent will ever be appealed. Even in Florida which had the highest appellate rate for juveniles in the study, only two percent of the juvenile delinquency cases included appeals. Without Florida, the state average drops to less than one appeal for every 300 cases. This means that only one set of eyes, those of a judge—who in most instances has a docket larger than most of us would like to consider—will ever determine the accuracy or consider the weight of the evidence and other critical issues in a case.

To put this in perspective, consider the results from Texas. Texas has the second highest number of children living in detention each year: according to U.S. Census data, there are 8,247 youth in confinement in the state. This study found that on average each year, 20,000 children were found delinquent in Texas; yet, only 52 of those cases were reviewed by anyone other than the trial court in a given year. In New Jersey, over 25,000 children were found delinquent each year and only 43 cases were ever reviewed by another judge on appeal. With these results, how confident are we that these youth received justice and that their cases were free of error?

What kinds of errors are we talking about? This can be any number of legal and factual issues, including germane pre-trial questions that will comprise the evidence in the case. For example, was a confession actually voluntary or was a young person subjected to coercion, risking a false confession? We know that young people are more vulnerable in this setting and many wrongful convictions of young people include false confessions. It could also include the validity of identification procedures, just as it would when a person is tried as an adult. And what about the validity of a plea or of a child’s waiver of other constitutional rights, such as the right to an attorney? When young people waive rights, there are serious constitutional questions about whether they did it voluntarily.

There are other important questions that are developed when young people have more access to file appeals in their cases. For example, the way that age influences the ability of a young person to knowingly waive her Miranda rights is developed through appeals. The Supreme Court has also said that courts must consider age–among many other factors–to determine whether a confession or an accused person’s consent to a search by police is voluntary. Lower courts dealing with juvenile cases each day look to appellate rulings to decide how the age of a child should and does matter in these common settings. Appellate rulings also provide guidance to police officers as they are called upon to make quick decisions, as well as set policies to train officers when they interact with young people. In the confession setting, unfortunately, the courts have charted a course where age has typically “mattered” very little, despite the science and common sense that it does. And there is little case law addressing questions about young people consenting to searches, which means there is little guidance for law enforcement and courts.

Many commentators and attorneys who work with young people are hopeful that recent Supreme Court cases analyzing the role of age in criminal justice matters will create a shift such that age will be considered in a more meaningful way. When and how that will happen depends very much on the ability of lower courts to hash out and develop these issues--case by case, day by day, child by child. Too often, states do not provide enough resources so that the representation of a young person will be adequate and include appeals or young people are pressured to waive the right to an attorney in the first place. Both the law’s development and the integrity of the system that is defined by age—yet often ignores it—depends upon the access that young people have to appeal rulings that will affect the rest of their lives.

Megan Annitto is an Assistant Professor of Law at Charlotte School of Law where she teaches and researches in the areas of criminal procedure and juvenile justice.

Want Fries with That? Only if it’s Regulated

school vending machine

Care for a fizzy soda pop with that lunch room meal? How about a thick slice of pizza to add to that loaded-up cafeteria tray? Want a bag of chips or fries with that?

Chances are, many public school kids would say yes to any of the above. It might not be a healthy choice, but rest assured, these foods are served widely in school cafeterias. Unlike other food served in public schools, these goodies – soda, pizza, fries, salty snacks, the items you might find in the a la carte line or in vending machines -- are not subject to the same nutritional regulations.

That is set to change with the introduction of updated federal standards that could be in place by next year.

It is a move that, according to one poll at least, has broad support among the public.

The poll, part of a project called the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project – a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – found that some 80 percent of those polled want standards regulating the calorie, fat and sodium content in these foods served to kids at school.

In the coming months, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to introduce updated nutritional standards for these foods that are not part of the federal school meal programs.

“Today many children get more than half their calories during the school day,” said Jessica Donze Black, registered dietitian and Project Director at the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project. “What these new standards will do is set a baseline for nutrition in school so that parents can feel confident that when they send their children to school the options available to them there are as healthy as foods available to them in other environments.”

Such items are often called “competitive foods” because they compete for student spending against more heavily regulated federal school meal programs. In January 2012, the USDA issued new nutritional standards for school meals, but the standards that govern the nutritional value of “competitive foods” are more than three decades old.

Despite national attention on the issue of childhood obesity, student’s access to snack food and beverages has increased over the past decade. The availability of vending machines in middle schools, for example, has more than doubled since the 1990s, the USDA reported.

On a typical school day, about 40 percent of students consume snack food or beverages available on campus, according to the USDA. Such foods were often unhealthy due to high levels of fat, sodium and calories, data from Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found.

Interestingly, the call for increased nutritional standards is largely bipartisan with 89 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans agreeing on the issue.

The USDA will accept public comments on the proposed regulations for 90 days following their release, with the final standards for snack foods and beverages expected to go into effect in the fall of 2013.

Clay Duda and John Fleming contributed to this article. Stock photo credit: Clay Duda/JJIE

Meth Project Ads Effective at Preventing Drug Use, Study Says

The Meth Project’s graphic ads are effective at deterring meth use, according to new research by the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. The new study, “How Disgust Enhances the Effect of Fear Appeals,” compared ads that rely on disgust and fear with ads that use fear alone as the deterring element.

Researchers showed a series of three ads to a group of college students. Each of the ads had an identical message, but the images were different. Those that relied only on an element of fear did not lead to immediate changes in attitudes or behavior. However, the study says ads by the Meth Project (and other similar ads) that incorporated elements of disgust such as rotting teeth, skin sores or infections, did not compel viewers to “undertake distancing behaviors,” such as deciding not to use illegal drugs.

Ads shown to the college students were grouped in to three categories — fear and disgust, represented by an actual Meth Project ad depicting a teen with open sores on his face; fear-only, represented by the image of a coffin; and neutral, represented by two teens sitting side by side. According to the study, the Meth Project ad, with its graphic depiction of addiction, was the only ad that affected viewers’ future intention to use illegal drugs.

Webcast Highlights Research on Juvenile Brain Development

New research on brain development showing abuse, neglect and poverty may have lifelong negative consequences for children will be featured in a program sponsored by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series.

Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, will present a program Feb. 28 titled “Breakthrough Research on Building Better Brains.” Shonkoff’s research identifies “toxic stress,” persistent, highly adverse experiences that damage a child’s brain circuits. Toxic stress may include living with physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, severe maternal depression and prolonged economic hardship.

Consequences of living with toxic stress may persist into adulthood and include poor learning and higher rates of heart disease or substance abuse.

“Dr. Shonkoff’s findings cement the importance of improving the health and well-being of our youngest children,” said Penelope McPhee, president of The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. “As we come together with business and government leaders to improve outcomes for young children, this kind of research is critical to maximizing the return on our investment.”

The program will be webcast live beginning at 6 p.m. EST. The Blank Family Foundation will partner with national nonprofit research center Child Trends to produce the webcast. Child Trends president Carol Emig will be on Twitter during the webcast highlighting key points.

Most Victims of Sexual Assault Know the Alleged Offender, Study Finds

A study conducted in a sexual assault resource center found more than 70 percent of alleged offenders were known to the victims. The report by researchers at the University of Tennessee, “Percentage of Named Offenders on the Registry at the Time of the Assault: Reports from Sexual Assault Survivors,” used one year of data from the resource center during which it provided services to approximately 1,300 people.

Full names were provided for more than 60 percent of the known assailants. Of those 566 cases only 4.8 percent were found on a sex offender registry and even fewer, 3.7 percent (21 cases) were listed publicly due to the date of conviction. More than 95 percent of the alleged offenders were know personally to the victims in the 21 cases where the offender could have been identified by the sex offender registry.

Researchers concluded the sex offender registries might have limited impact due to the fact that they only include convicted sex offenders. Further complicating the issue, past studies have shown “95.9 percent of those arrested for rape and 94.1 percent of those arrested for child molestation were first-time sex offenders.”

The report was published in the journal Violence Against Women.

Controlling Parents More Likely to Have Delinquent Children, Study Finds

Demanding, highly controlling, authoritarian parents are more likely to have delinquent, disrespectful children than parents who are seen by their children as legitimate authority figures, according to research from the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Relying on data from the New Hampshire Youth Study, a longitudinal survey of middle and high school children, researchers identified three distinct parenting styles — authoritative, authoritarian and permissive and looked at whether those styles influenced children’s beliefs about the legitimacy of their parents’ authority, according to a press release from UNH.

“The style that parents used to rear their children had a direct influence on whether those children perceived their parents as legitimate authority figures,” said Rick Trinkner, a doctoral candidate at UNH and the lead researcher. “Adolescents who perceived parents as legitimate were then less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.”

Authoritative parents, who are demanding and controlling but also warm and receptive, are more likely to raise children who view their parents as having legitimate authority.

Children of authoritarian parents, on the other hand, perceived their parents as the least legitimate, according to the study.

“When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to do,” Trinkner said. “This is an important attribute for any authority figure to possess, as the parent does not have to rely on a system of rewards and punishments to control behavior, and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present.”

Permissive parents who are not demanding or controlling of their children but who are still warm and receptive to their needs, have children who are less self-controlled and content. Because they rarely enforce rules, their children do not see them as having parental authority.

“While it is generally agreed that authoritative parenting is more effective than authoritarian and permissive styles, little is known about why some parenting styles are more efficient than others,” Trinkner said. “Our results showed that parental legitimacy was an important mechanism by which parenting styles affected adolescent behavior.”

Ask the Experts: Questions Answered with Spanking Researcher Phil Davis

Sociology professor and corporal punishment researcher Phil Davis in his office at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

For more than two decades, Georgia State University professors Phillip Davis has studied corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the home.

Today, you can find him in his office atop a downtown Atlanta high-rise, nestled in a mountain of books, research papers and students' work that seems nearly as tall as the building.

Through his largely survey- and interview- based research, Davis has taken a variety of approaches to assessing the dynamic of spanking, slapping, whipping and other forms of corporal punishment within American households.

“Nine out of 10 people have done it, and nine out of 10 adults got it when they were kids in one way or another,” Davis said. “ Most who use it grew up with it, so it’s all very normal -- as in ancient history.”

And, in fact, corporal punishment is a practice that dates back to ancient history in varying forms, but the ancient practice has been coming under some very modern scrutiny. Just in the past 30 years, Davis said, public perceptions surrounding corporal punishment has undergone a considerable shift -in both the home and educational settings.

“Comparing early 20th century and late 20th century, spanking has for some [people] come to mean violence, for some it’s come to mean a bad habit, for some it’s come to mean abuse,” Davis said. “These are very non-traditional meanings associated with this practice that has an ancient history.”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”
-Samuel Butler, 1662

How long have you been working on corporal punishment research? For you, what are some of the most interesting findings, trends or developments over the years?

“I got interested about 1989-1990, so that makes it quite a while. In the 1990s the topic really took off.”

“Almost all the research is survey research. In my own projects, I thought it important to observe and interview people as well as do surveys. That survey data has ended up focusing in the ‘90s on long-term negative effects, or potential negative effects of spanking.”

“The new myth is that spanking causes things like lower achievement, child aggression, adolescence aggression, adult partner violence later on. The important thing to remember, I think is that it’s frequent and severe hitting in the absence of parental warmth that is associated with a long list of negative effects, or potential negative effects. It increases the chances that kids are going to be aggressive themselves at school, do less well long-term and have more difficult relationships. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of explanation for all those things that come later on."

"Most people that grew up being frequently spanked don’t engage in partner violence and didn’t become schoolyard bullies, but the likelihood goes up. Murray Straus, one of the pioneering researchers [in the field] said it’s kind of like heavy smoking. Most heavy smokers do not develop a life-threatening disease, but their risk of doing so is far greater than non-smokers.”

“All kinds of things need more investigation, [like] what parents need instead if they’re being told to find something else. Nothing works all the time. If they’re given alternative techniques like time-out, just about anything can be abused and done too much and carried too far and is not going to work all the time."

“It’s really hard to know how to intervene into practices that have long traditions of social support, legal support, family support -- and a lot of people feel like they’re being disloyal to their own parents if they challenge traditional family practices like spanking."

In “Threats of corporal punishment as verbal aggression: A naturalistic study” you talk about adults normalizing their aggression toward their children, and the role situations in a public setting play in developing the reaction as “nothing unusual.” What kind of impact, if any, does this type of normalization have on children, family dynamic or society at large? Are there other implications?

“One effect of treating [corporal punishment] as normal is that it goes unquestioned and becomes deeply entrenched as a cultural trait, not just a personal habit. It’s one of the cultural traits commonly found around the world, so the practice continues at the social level and the practices continues in families from generation to generation."

“There’s nothing that shows if we spare the rod that the child will be spoiled, but it goes back to what anthropologist call magical thinking, ‘If we do X then the kids will be protected against all the various kinds of lures and seductions and won’t go astray.’"

"I don’t have any doubt that it’s well intended, normalized, viewed as a family tradition that doesn’t hurt, but can only help. But does it hurt, [that's] where the public needs to hear about some of the research that [says] ... it very well can.”

Has there been any public shift in public perception of spanking or corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the past 50 years?

“Probably in the last 30 years attitudes of approval [for corporal punishment practices have gone] down, disapproval [have gone] up."

"Maybe half of the U.S. adult population still agrees or strongly agrees with the statement ‘sometimes children just need a good, hard spanking,’ but that’s down from 80+ percent. So opinion polls do find less support over the years, and reported rates of spanking are down."

"But still, for those three- and four-year-old kids, especially sons, the majority of parents say that at least once in the proceeding year they spanked. When asked why, the answers usually are a familiar sounding list of ‘some kids need it, some kids don’t,’ ‘sometimes there’s no other way,’ or ‘as a last resort -- I do it after I try everything else.’”

In the past you’ve looked at corporal punishment cessation among parents that spank their children. Why do parents stop, and what kind of impact does it have on their children?

“A couple dozen mothers had quit and I asked them why and what the circumstances were. Some said they got scared when it did escalate too far and were too angry, hitting too much or too hard. Some said they had kind of an epiphany when their child did something or said something that challenged the practice, or the child spanked their doll and the mother then said that wasn’t a practice they wanted to see their child continue doing. Some took a parenting class and heard the issue raised for perhaps the first time that it may not be a great idea."

"I’m not sure it’s a quick fix, but most researchers and child advocates and parent education people say it takes more work not to than to go ahead and spank. Other things, like reasoning, take more time."

"When parents do try to quite it looks like it’s not easy, that it’s a hard habit to kick. I don’t think it’s addictive, but it’s a custom – and not just an individual custom or habit, but a cultural trait."

“I don’t argue for national legislation that would ban the practice at home or criminalize the practice. I think people need to be given a whole lot of information and support, parental support, paid family leave – not just unpaid family leave – the U.S. is behind the times there. Childcare needs to be more highly paid instead of one of the worst paid jobs and needs to be recognized as a crucial and critic job. It’s something that needs the support of everyone.”

How is the meaning of spanking changing?

"I think social movement activity and media coverage of controversies elsewhere has a lot to do with it. People sometimes get the mistaken idea that it’s been criminalized because they get mistaken information."

"Comparing early 20th century and late 20th century, spanking has, for some, come to mean violence, for some it’s come to mean a bad habit, for some it’s come to mean abuse. These are very non-traditional meanings associated with this practice that has an ancient history."

"Child advocates and parent educators need to remember that it’s probably going to polarize and push parents the other way if we call it violence, pre-abuse or potential abusive and so on. That’s too derogatory, I think, for something well-intended parents often do."

"So a small fire of controversy in one county, or one state, or one school district can get national attention. People can ridicule the controversy and think that’s a stupid or unimportant issue, but overtime those seeds of doubt about the practice can be planted. Most people have heard that there’s something controversial about it."

What role does spanking or corporal punishment play, if any, in the development of deviant social behaviors later in life? Is there a link between physically disciplined children and larger social problems, or criminal activity/predisposition?

“Retrospective studies looking back in time based on surveys and interviews with kids in trouble with the courts, as well as with adults in trouble with the courts and in the correctional system, uniformly find those adolescence and those adults ... got plenty of corporal discipline at home."

"It’s too simple to say cause-and-effect and that’s why they got in trouble, but it’s not the absence of spanking that people contend [contributes to wild behavior later in life (abridged for clarity)]. That is not the case."

“I would say social marginalization and social oppression in its many forms has more to do with who ends up in prison than the harsh punishment they received as children.”

What advice would you give to parents today?

"It’s not being disloyal to ones own parents to raise kids in your own way or to not do everything that they did. A lot of times, people will say my faith demands it, or my community demands it, or my family demands it, or my own parents demand it, but there are ways of getting around that. Doing non-traditional child rearing, especially if the kids are getting all kinds of guidance and nurturing and discipline in other ways, [then] they don’t need to be hit."

"There’s no research that shows some children need to be hit.”

“Just think about the reasons, justifications and rationals that we often use to carry on our old ways. They may need to be reconsidered."

"I don’t tell people not to do it. There are certainly worst things to do, but there is no research that shows kids need it, or that some kids need it, or that if they don’t get it they’ll turn out bad. There’s good reason to suspect their chances of getting in trouble increase, especially if it’s frequent or severe."

“No one knows how frequent too frequent is, but in all likelihood it’s not contributing to the child’s well-being or prospects for living a high-quality adult life.”


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Photo credits: Clay Duda/JJIE Staff