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Childhood Development and Spanking: Discipline, Ethnicity, and Aggression

Updated on November 3, 2011

Childhood Development: Discipline, Ethnicity, and Aggression

Aggression is almost always present in all children to some degree during development. Cross-cultural study has shown that boys are likely to be more aggressive than girls. Studies have also suggested that there are many social factors that could contribute to a child developing an adaptive aggression or a hostile aggression. Adaptive aggression is constructive aggression that gives children the competence or self-motivation to participate on competition; interact with new social group; and ability to adjust in stressful situation. Hostile aggression, on the other hand is exactly the opposite—destructive behavior that causes physical harm to others, violent behavior that children can carry through their adult life[i].

Because it is through the development stage of a child that he/ she learns the various social concepts and mechanism for adapting to these social concepts, it is crucial to look at this stage of a person’s life to analyze as to what contributes to aggression—either adaptive or hostile. Because of the many social factors such as biological bases, family influences, peer relational factors, socialization, social-cognitive influence[ii] exposure to conflict, conflict resolution, cultural factors, economic status and authority, all could contribute to childhood development and his/her tendency towards aggression, the discussion here will focus at highlighting the social factors that could contribute to the development of aggression among children; in particular, how discipline and ethnicity have effects on child aggression in class and how discipline plays a role in suppressing or reinforcing aggression among children.[iii]

Discipline & Ethnicity

Disciplining a child throughout the growing up years is crucial for it is through childhood development that most children learn many social concepts and it is also through this stage that they are equipped with the right social skills that would helpfully make them productive citizens. One important factor that plays a role in child discipline and aggression is the concept of authority. The role authority is pivotal in training and disciplining boys and girls.

A recent study conducted by the National Opinion Research at the University of Chicago found out that parents today are more permissive and lax in terms of disciplining their children in comparison to parents a decade ago. The findings of the result were, in a nut shell, according to Tom W. Smith, Center Director: “People have become less traditional over time with a shift from emphasizing obedience and parent-centered families to valuing autonomy for children. Parents now expect their children to be self-discipline.[iv]” Parents now prioritize for children to become ‘hard-worker’ and ‘independent thinker’ all on their own with minimum supervision. The result, most children now are more likely to throw tantrums in public because there is little sense of appreciation in the concept of authorities. If not guided properly and this behavior is carried to later years, there is higher risks that a person could get in trouble with the law either with petty disobedience or developed to become social nuisance.

Another important social variable in terms of aggression is ethnicity. In a study participated by 466 whites and 100 black families in Tennessee, discipline through spanking among black children could lead to good behavior while spanking in white children could lead to behavioral problems. Black children tended to behave better when they have tougher parenting as this is interpreted as an expression of concern since being lax is perceived as abandonment of parental roles. But white children see harsh disciplining as a sign of hostility and tended to cultivate behavioral problems[v]


Despite ethnicity having a difference in the perception of discipline and thus creating a different social reaction and produce different forms of aggression, it is imperative to highlight that physical discipline must be done not out of anger but out of compassion. Cross-cultural studies among mothers who spank their children showed that most of the participants agree that spanking fosters discipline. Moreover, the study has also shown that those who discipline their children out of anger develop tendencies among children to react violently when angered as well[vi]. But if done out of compassion and love for children to correct misbehavior, then it foster an appreciation and respect to authority rather than viewing authority as a thing to be challenged.



[i]Connor, Daniel F. Aggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and Adolescents: Research and Treatment. New York: The Guildford Press, 2002, pp. 28-29.

[ii]Pepler, Debra J., and Rubin, Kenneth H., The Development and Treatment of ChildhoodAggression. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1991, p. xiii.

[iii]Connor, Daniel F. Aggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and Adolescents: Research and Treatment. New York: The Guildford Press, 2002, p. 29

[iv] Smith, Tom W. Ties that Bind: The Emerging 21st Century American Family. Public Perspective, 12:1, January 2001, p. 34.

[v] “Study reveals black and white children react differently to harsh discipline.” Jet 23 Dec. 1996: 32. General OneFile. Web. 13 Oct. 2010.

[vi] “Survey says some mothers still believe that spanking is good discipline.” Jet 30 Jan. 1995: 14+. General OneFile. Web. 13 Oct. 2010.


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