Type of physical punishment

2.1 Introduction

The survey asked people to respond to a series of four statements regarding different types of physical discipline of children. Before each statement the respondent was asked 'Do you agree or disagree with the following viewpoint?'

Q3a "A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to smack the child with an open hand if the child is naughty."

Q3b "A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to use things like a wooden spoon or a belt to punish the child if it is naughty."

Q3c "A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to use something heavier like a piece of wood or an electric cord to punish the child if the child is naughty."

Q3d "A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to smack the child on the head or the neck if the child is naughty." [17]

The questions were framed around how section 59 operates currently. The parameters used in this instance were that only a person parenting a child can use this clause as a defence and only if they are physically punishing a child in their care for the purposes of correction. The adjective naughty was used in all four statements to signal that the purpose of physical punishment was for disciplining or correcting the child's behaviour.

The questions were also designed to typify different forms of punishment that have been used to discipline children. The first three statements can be seen to increase in severity. Smacking with an open hand denotes less force than a closed fist or the use of an implement.

There are two questions on implements as we wanted to find out if the public perceived a difference between traditional objects used for physical punishment such as a wooden spoon or belt, and other implements that denote a more severe level of physical punishment. Thus an electric cord and the heavier adjective with wood imply other 'non-traditional' objects that could cause more pain and injury.

The fourth statement on smacking a child in the head or neck area also denotes a severe level of physical punishment, as this is a very sensitive area of the body.

2.2 Findings

The total percentage of people who agreed with each statement is shown in Figure 2.1 below.

Figure 2.1 Percentage of people who agreed that each of the four types of physical 
discipline should be legally allowable to discipline a child

The second and third statements in question three related to whether the use of implements should be legally allowable or not. The results clearly demonstrate that they are not considered acceptable, with heavier and more damaging implements drawing a response of 99.3% who disagree that the use of such objects should be legally allowable. The difference between the two questions on implements lends weight to the idea that certain implements like the wooden spoon or belt are more acceptable than other types of objects because they have cultural currency among some respondents as traditional objects used for physical punishment.

Analysis of responses to the following statement:
"A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to smack the child with an open hand if the child is naughty."

Smacking with an open hand received the highest agreement, 80%, with 18% disagreeing.[18]

Similar proportions of women (81%) and men (78%) agreed that smacking with an open hand should be allowed by law. However, a significantly[19] higher percentage of those in the NZ European/Other ethnic grouping (82%) agreed with the statement on smacking than Maori (73%) or Pacific peoples (69%).

Figure 2.2 Percentage of people who agreed with the statement on smacking with 
an open hand, by ethnicity

With regards to parental status, Figure 2.3 clearly shows that those who have never parented were significantly[20] less likely to agree than current or previous parents that smacking a child with an open hand for the purposes of discipline should be legally allowable. Furthermore, there was a 10% difference[21] in agreement between those who were current parents (78%) and those who had previously parented (88%).

Figure 2.3 Percentage of respondents who agreed with the statement on smacking 
with an open hand, by parental status

Figure 2.4 illustrates the response to the statement by age groups, and shows the youngest age group is less likely to agree[22] than any of the other age groups with the statement on smacking with an open hand.

Figure 2.4 The percentage of respondents who agreed with the statement on 
smacking with an open hand, by age group

Responses according to age group broadly equate with responses according to parental status. That is, those in the younger age group of 18-29 years are more likely to have never parented (47%), and both these demographic categories were the least likely to view smacking with an open hand as acceptable. Those in the older age groups, 50-59 years and 60 plus years, were more likely to be previous parents (57% and 73% respectively). Current parents are most likely to be in the 30-39 years (78%) and 40-49 years groups (80%), although it should be noted that 44% of 18-29 year olds in the sample were currently parenting.

Figure 2.5 shows that there was no consistent pattern with regard to occupational categories with high or low NZSEI scores. Respondents in the Agricultural, Forestry and Fishery Workers category had the highest level of agreement with smacking with an open hand. This result was significant[23] when compared to those respondents in households whose main income earner was in the following categories: Professional; Technicians and Associate Professionals; and Service and Sales Workers. Furthermore, the result was also significant when compared to those in the Trades and Elementary occupations.

Figure 2.5 Percentage of respondents who agreed with the statement on smacking 
with an open hand, by occupational category

Analysis of responses to the following statement:
"A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to use things like a wooden spoon or a belt to punish the child if it is naughty."

The total proportion of people who agreed with this statement is 15%, which is a dramatic drop from the 80% of respondents who agreed with the viewpoint on smacking with an open hand. The substantial majority of respondents (85%) disagreed with this statement. The following analysis looks at demographic differentiation that is statistically significant.

Similar proportions of men (16%) and women (13%) agreed with this viewpoint. Figure 2.6 shows that Pacific peoples were significantly[24] more likely to think that disciplining with a wooden spoon or belt should be legally allowable than the other groups. This result is the opposite to the pattern expressed in the previous statement on smacking with an open hand.

Figure 2.6 Percentage of people who agreed with the statement on using 
implements such as a wooden spoon and belt, by ethnicity

In regards to parental status there was no statistically significant difference between the groups, with 14% of the never parented and 15% of the previous parented and currently parenting groups agreeing that disciplining with a wooden spoon or belt should be legally allowable.

The response pattern by age group to the smacking statement is not reflected in the responses for this statement (see Figure 2.7). Although the younger age group was the least likely to agree that disciplining with a wooden spoon or belt should be legally allowable, they share this result with the 50-59 year olds.

Figure 2.7 Percentage of people who agreed with the statement regarding the use 
of implements such as wooden spoons and belts, by age group

There was no consistent pattern with regard to occupational categories with high or low NZSEI scores. Persons in households from the Technicians and Associate Professionals group had the highest level of agreement that the use of implements such as a wooden spoon should be legally allowable. They were more likely to agree than Service and Sales Workers,[25] who had the lowest level of agreement (8%), or those in the Professionals households (12%).

Figure 2.8 Percentage of people who agreed with the statement regarding the use 
of implements such as wooden spoons and belts, by occupational category

Analysis of responses to the following statement:
"A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to use something heavier like a piece of wood or an electric cord to punish the child if the child is naughty."

The response to this statement was almost unanimous disagreement at 99%. The total percentage of people who agreed with this statement was only 0.4%. Therefore no demographic analysis was undertaken.

Analysis of responses to the following statement:
"A person parenting a child should be allowed, by law, to smack the child on the head or the neck if the child is naughty."

The total response to this statement was again a nearly unanimous disagreement at 98%. Those in agreement totalled only 1.3%. As with the above statement, no demographic analysis was undertaken.

2.3 Summary

The results clearly indicate the public does not consider using implements or smacking on the head and neck area to be an acceptable form of punishment for children and should not be 'allowed by law'. However, there is a high level of support for smacking with an open hand for the purposes of discipline to be legally allowable. The demographic analysis showed that:

Gender

  • There was no discernible difference between the female and male responses to these questions.

Ethnicity

  • Those in the NZ European/Other ethnic grouping were significantly more likely to agree that open hand smacking should be legally allowed as a form of punishment for children when compared to Maori or Pacific peoples[26].
  • Pacific peoples were the least likely to agree that open hand smacking should be legally allowed.
  • Of the low percentage of people who found using implements such as wooden spoons acceptable to discipline children, Pacific peoples were more likely[27] to agree to this statement than NZ European/Others or Maori.
  • Maori were the least likely to agree that using objects such as wooden spoons to physically discipline children should be legally allowed.

Figure 2.9 Percentage of respondents who agreed with the four viewpoints on the 
type of physical punishment of children that should be legally allowable, by 
ethnicity

Parental status

Those who had never parented were significantly less likely[28] to agree that smacking with an open hand should be legally allowed than those who were current parents and particularly those who were previous parents. Previous parents were more likely[29] to agree that smacking with an open hand should be legally allowed than those who were current parents and those who had never parented.

Figure 2.10 Percentage of respondents who agreed with each of the four types of 
physical punishment of children that should be legally allowable, by parental 
status

Age groups

  • In response to the statement on smacking with an open hand, the youngest age group (18-29 years) are less likely to agree[30] than the other age groups.
  • The results of the statement on using objects such as a wooden spoon, showed the youngest age group less likely to agree with this statement than those in the 40-49 year old and 60 plus age groups.

Figure 2.11 Percentage of respondents who agreed with the four viewpoints on the 
type of physical punishment of children that should be legally allowable, by age 
group

NZSEI occupational categories

  • The analysis did not show any consistent differences between occupations with high NZSEI scores and those with low scores. For example persons from households in the Professional and Elementary Occupations categories were each as likely to agree that the use of objects such as a wooden spoon should be legally allowable (12% agreed).

Footnotes

17 The four statements are identified in the graphs as Smack for Q3a; Spoon for Q3b; Wood for Q3c and Head for Q3d.

18 The remaining 2% opted for the don't know and prefer not to answer options.

19 (p<0.01)

20 (p<0.01)

21 (p<0.01)

22 (p<0.01)

23 (p<0.01)

24 (p<0.01)

25 (p<0.01)

26 (p<0.01)

27 (p<0.01)

28 (p<0.01)

29 (p<0.01)

30 (p<0.01)