A Look at Corporal Punishment

Last week we talked about how consistent discipline builds trust. This week we asked Dr. Carl Weems PhD, Professor and Chair of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University about the effects of corporal punishment and its impact on youth’s ability to regulate their emotions.

In the study, Parenting Behaviors, Parent Heart Rate Variability and their Associations with Adolescent Heart Rate Variability, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Dr. Weems and colleagues looked at the associations between parenting behaviors and emotion regulation.

Tell us a little about what your study looked at:

Emotion regulation is associated with positive social functioning and psychological adjustment among youth. Emotion regulation involves both the automatic and voluntary control of negative and positive emotions using physiological, cognitive, and behavioral means to achieve goals. Resting heart rate variability (i.e., the natural variability in the time between heart beats while an individual is at rest) is a physiological index of an individual’s emotion regulation. In our study we fund that certain parenting behaviors were related to this.

How did corporal punishment impact your findings?

Inconsistent discipline and corporal punishment were negatively associated with adolescent resting heart rate variability. Suggesting that corporal punishment is associated with diminished levels of emotion regulation. Theoretically, the extended use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary technique may be especially harmful for youth with low heart rate variability because it may cause youth to view their home environment as threatening and decrease their sense of control over their environment, which may exacerbate existing emotion dysregulation and maintain low heart rate variability levels.

Did you find impacts of positive parenting as well?

Positive parenting and parental involvement were positively associated with emotion regulation-suggesting these are associated with increased emotion regulation ability. Inconsistent discipline and parental involvement also influenced the relationship between parent and adolescent resting heart rate variability. Such that that in the context of low inconsistent discipline (i.e., consistent discipline), there was a positive association between parent and adolescent resting heart rate variability.

If you were to share one important message from this study what would that be?

This finding suggests that consistent discipline may entrain parent and adolescent heart rate variability (i.e., make parent and adolescent resting heart rate variability more similar). The findings provide evidence for a role of parenting behaviors in shaping the development of adolescent resting heart rate variability with inconsistent discipline and parental involvement potentially influencing the entrainment of resting heart rate variability in parents and their children.

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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