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Deater-Deckard, K., Dodge, K. A., Bates, J. E., & Pettit, G. S. (1996). Physical discipline among African American and European American mothers: Links to children's externalizing behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 32, 1065-1072
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Do Child Outcomes of All Disciplinary Enforcements Vary By Ethnicity?
Robert E. Larzelere, Ron Cox, Ketevan Danelia, and Jelani Mandara
Oklahoma State University and Northwestern University
The association of spanking with externalizing behavior problems varies by ethnicity in many studies comparing Black and White Americans. This study investigates whether the outcomes of other disciplinary enforcements also varies by ethnicity in 7- to 11-year-olds. Ethnic interactions were found for spanking, privilege removal, grounding, and, marginally, for sending children to their room. The significant simple effects were never detrimental for Hispanics or Blacks and never beneficial for Whites. At these ages, privilege removal appeared effective except for Whites and grounding was effective for Hispanics. Spanking and sending children to their room showed opposite effects for Blacks and Whites.
Paper presented at the annual conference of the National Council on Family Relations, November 5, 2008, Little Rock, AR.
Contact first author at Dept. of Human Development and Family Science, 233 HES Bldg., Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK [email protected]
Do Child Outcomes of All Disciplinary Enforcements Vary By Ethnicity?
Numerous studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between physical discipline and child externalizing behavior problems concurrently or later in life (Gershoff, 2002). At least ten longitudinal studies have found that corporal punishment remains positively associated with subsequent antisocial behavior even after controlling statistically for initial differences on the outcome (e.g., M. A. Straus, 2001), although the only such study known to use latent variables and distinct data sources yielded beneficial effects for younger children and African-Americans (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997). Others have argued that there are several methodological and conceptual flaws in this literature that render absolutist positions premature (Larzelere & Kuhn, 2005), such as the problem of lumping appropriate and severe corporal punishment together and inadequate causal evidence. One important exception to the usual associations of physical discipline is that its correlation with externalizing problems often differs by ethnicity.
Several studies have found the usual positive association for European-Americans (EAs), but not for African-Americans (AAs). To our knowledge, every study that has used distinct data sources has found significant EA vs. AA differences in the association of corporal punishment with externalizing behavior problems. Some of these have found that physical discipline is associated with significantly
less externalizing problems in AA children (Gunnoe & Mariner, 1997; Lansford, Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 2004; Polaha, Larzelere, Shapiro, & Pettit, 2004), whereas others have found non-significant associations for AA children (Kirby Deater-Deckard & Dodge, 1997; K. Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1996). Two studies of only AA families found positive associations between corporal punishment of 10- to 12-year-olds and externalizing problems (McCabe, Clark, & Barnett, 1999; Simons et al., 2002).
Studies that rely solely on maternal report have sometimes found ethnic differences between EA and AA families (e.g., K. Deater-Deckard, Dodge, & Sorbring, 2005; McLeod, Kruttschnitt, & Dornfeld, 1994; Murray A. Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997) and sometimes not (e.g., Eamon, 2001; Grogan-Kaylor, 2004; McLoyd & Smith, 2002).
Except for these ethnic interactions, there is little doubt that physical discipline is correlated with higher externalizing behavior problems. The debate is about the causal influences underlying this pattern. Although controlling statistically for pre-existing differences improves the causal evidence compared to correlations, such analyses of residualized change scores remain biased against any corrective action, as shown by simulation studies (e.g., Campbell & Boruch, 1975). Almost all corrective interventions are correlated with subsequent detrimental outcomes. Whether the intervention is parental discipline, psychotherapeutic, or medical, simple correlations with outcomes will make recipients appear worse than the general population because of a selection bias (Larzelere, Kuhn, & Johnson, 2004). For example, adolescents who receive mental health treatment are 14 times more likely to commit suicide subsequently than those not receiving such treatment (Larzelere et al., 2004). Presumably these results are not due to detrimental effects of psychotherapy but due to a selection bias, because a higher percentage of individuals with suicidal ideations go to therapy than the baseline percentage in the general population. A longitudinal correlation will therefore superficially indicate a detrimental outcome, even if the corrective intervention is effective in reducing that problem. Statistical controls reduce that selection bias, but fail to eliminate it. For example, the original summer Head Start program was linked to detrimental academic outcomes in a major initial evaluation, even with matching and statistical controls for SES (Westinghouse Learning Corporation & Ohio University, 1969). A series of later analyses showed that standard
regression analyses with statistical controls (i.e., residual change scores) are biased against corrective interventions such as Head Start (Campbell & Boruch, 1975; Magidson, 2000), which Campbell called and epidemiologists refer to as
residual confounding (Rothman & Greenland, 1998).
In contrast, simulation studies predicting simple change scores have demonstrated bias
in favor of a corrective intervention (Lambert & Bickman, 2001), due to regression toward the mean. Because analyses of residualized changes vs. simple gain scores are biased in opposite directions, they can bracket the actual unbiased causal effect. When statistical controls correct fully for all potential confounding variables, analyses of the two types of change scores agree with each other substantively (Haviland, Nagin, & Rosenbaum, 2007).
This study investigates whether the effects of five discipline enforcements on externalizing behavior vary by ethnicity in a sample of 7 to 11 year-olds. We hypothesize that 1) the beneficial or detrimental effects of differing disciplinary tactics will vary by ethnicity, and 2) the simple effects of disciplinary enforcements within ethnic groups will vary depending on whether simple change scores or residual change scores are used. Parallel results for psychotherapy are also reported for comparison.
This study uses data from two waves (1996 & 1998) of the well-known National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). The children were 7.5 to 11.4 years olds in 1996 and included 53% boys. The NLSY oversampled ethnic minorities, yielding 22% Hispanic-Americans (HAs), 27% African-Americans (AAs), and 51% European-Americans (EAs). The sample size was 868 for most analyses after dropping cases with missing data.
Mothers were asked the number of times they had used each of 5 disciplinary enforcements in the past week: spanking, grounding, taking away TV or other privileges, sending the child to his or her room, and taking away his or her allowance. Frequencies of more than 4 were recoded as 4 for all disciplinary enforcements. Mothers also indicated whether the child had seen a psychiatrist during the previous year, yielding a dichotomous measure. We used the 16-item Externalizing scale from the Behavior Problems Index rather than the its 6-item Antisocial scale, because the broader scale had better reliability. We recalculated the Externalizing scale to distinguish among all 3 possible responses from the items, with mean-item-value substitution for missing values on up to 33% of the items. A square-root transformation reduced its skewness. Gain scores from 1996 to 1998 were calculated by subtracting the transformed 1996 score from the equivalent 1998 score. Cognitive Stimulation (alpha = .67) was a NLSY subscale of the HOME scale.
All analyses controlled for gender, age, and Cognitive Stimulation, because they had predicted Antisocial behavior in similar NLSY analyses previously. A one-tailed test was used for the overall interaction, because European-Americans usually show more detrimental effects of spanking on externalizing problems than African-Americans. A second reason was to overcome the inherently weak statistical power in testing interactions with naturally occurring data (McClelland & Judd, 1993).
Controlling for the three background variables above and 1996 Externalizing Problems, Externalizing Problems in 1998 was predicted by significant interactions between ethnicity and spanking, privilege removal, and grounding,
p < .05, plus a marginally significant interaction for sending children to their room, p < .10. Simple effects showed that no disciplinary enforcement predicted 1998 Externalizing 4
Problems in either ethnic minority group. In contrast, spanking, sending children to their room, and (marginally) taking children to a psychiatrist predicted more externalizing problems in 1998 in Whites.
Consistent with the simulation studies of the two types of change scores, the direction of all significant effects reversed when predicting simple gain scores in Externalizing from 1996 to 1998. Then no disciplinary enforcement predicted significant increases in Externalizing, but all four alternatives to spanking predicted greater decreases in Externalizing Problems, for either the total sample or at least one ethnic minority. Spanking also predicted marginally greater decreases in Externalizing Problems for African-Americans,
= -.13, p < .06. The comparative results for psychotherapy support the simulation studies’ conclusions that predictions of residualized change scores are biased against corrective interventions (such as disciplinary enforcements and psychotherapy), whereas predictions of simple change scores are biased in favor of such interventions. The true causal effect is probably somewhere between the coefficients for the two types of change scores. Similar analyses of the Canadian NLSCY data suggest that the overadjustment bias is 82% as large as the regression-to-the-mean bias. This yields the following unbiased estimates of the causal effects of the predictors in Table 1, listed in order of most to least effective disciplinary responses: Privilege removal: -14 (H=Hispanics), -.11 (A=African-Americans), -.07 (T=Total sample); Grounding: -.11 (H); Sending to room: -.08 (A), +.06 (E=European-Americans); Spanking: -.07 (A), +.07 (E). This list includes all the estimated unbiased causal effects with a standardized > .045. Note that psychotherapy is neither effective nor counterproductive for the total sample or for any ethnic group, according to this criterion.
Whereas previous research has only investigated ethnic interactions of corporal punishment, this study found that a similar ethnic interaction occurs for most disciplinary enforcements. In all such interactions, disciplinary enforcements were more effective for the ethnic minority groups than for European-Americans. Moreover, no disciplinary enforcement is effective for European-Americans even in analyses biased in favor of such corrective interventions. In contrast, no disciplinary enforcement is ever significantly counterproductive for either ethnic minority, even in analyses biased against such corrective interventions.
For these 7- to 11-year-olds, privilege removal seems to be the most effective disciplinary enforcement, on average, but there is no evidence that it is effective for European-Americans. Grounding appears effective for Hispanics. Both spanking and sending children to their rooms are effective for African-Americans, counterproductive for European-Americans, and neutral for Hispanics.
Further research is needed to understand why disciplinary enforcements are generally more effective for ethnic minorities than they are for European-Americans. Possibilities include the importance of respect for parents in ethnic minorities, which initial studies have shown to be associated positively with both disciplinary enforcements and with reductions in parent-child conflict (Dixon, Graber, & Brooks-Gunn, 2008). Disciplinary enforcements may be seen as expressions of legitimate parental authority in ethnic minorities, but as parental rejection in European-Americans. Consistency with traditional disciplinary philosophies may be more important in ethnic minorities because extended family members are more likely to be involved in childrearing.
In sum, the strengths of ethnic minorities in using disciplinary enforcements effectively needs to be understood, rather than attempting to impose dominant-group disciplinary approaches on ethnic minorities, whether by absolutist recommendations or policies, such as New Zealand’s extreme anti-physical-force law of 2007.
Standardized Simple Effects Of Externalizing Behavior Problems Regressed on the Frequency Of Disciplinary Enforcements and Other Covariates Two Years Earlier
Total African- European-
F for 1996 Predictor Variables Sample Hispanics Americans Americans Interactiona
Predicting Externalizing Behavior Problems in 1998
1996 Covariates: Step 1
Gender (Male=1, Female=2) .00 -.09 -.01 .04 n/a
c .00 .06 .04 n/a Cognitive Stimulation -.07** -.08 -.09c -.06c n/a Externalizing Problems .67*** .58*** .68*** .73*** n/a
1996 Disciplinary Enforcement: Step 2 (one per analysis)
Spanking .03 .00
f -.02f .09** 3.83*
Privilege Removal -.02 -.08
f -.06 .03 2.43* Grounding .02 -.05f .05 .04 2.42* Sending to Room .05b .05 -.03f .09** 2.10d Docking Allowance -.01 -.04 .03 -.02 0.66
g .06* .03 .06 .06c 0.34
Predicting Gain Scores from 1996 to 1998
Gender (M=1, F=2) .05 -.05 .05 .10* n/a
Age .04 -.04 .09 .05 n/a Cognitive Stimulation .00 .04 -.03 .01 n/a
Spanking -.06 -.09 -.13
be .04 1.45
Privilege Removal -.12*** -.21**
e -.17* -.05 1.35 Grounding -.08* -.19* -.06 -.03 1.56 Sending to Room -.05 -.06 -.15*e .02 1.69d Docking Allowance -.07* -.09 -.08 -.06 0.12
g -.02 -.09 .02 -.01 0.62
Children’s age in 1996:
M = 9.5 years, range: 7.5 to 11.4 years. N = 879.
1-tailed overall interaction tests. All other tests in the table are 2-tailed. df’s = (2 & 858) for top half of table, (2 & 859) for bottom half, except for Docking Allowance, which has (2 & 854) and (2 & 855), respectively. bp < .06. cp < .10. dp < .10, 1-tailed (only for overall interaction in right-hand column). eMarginally different from European-Americans, p < .10. fSignificantly different from European-Americans, p < .05. gIncluded for comparative purposes.
p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
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