25 SES 06 A, Children's right to protection from violence
Evidence from different parts of the world suggested that many parents frequently use corporal punishment to discipline their children (Gershoff, 2002). In terms of theoretical distinction about parental discipline practices, a dividing line was set between corrective (i.e., behaviors in response to a child's misconduct) and preventing discipline (i.e., actions to encourage desired children' conducts) (Van Leeuwen, Fauchier, & Straus, 2012). So far, most researches on parental responses to children's misconducts has focused on corporal punishment, whereas other forms of discipline seemed to be underrepresented in literature (Gershoff, 2010). If one look at the definition of corporal punishment (the use of physical force to cause a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the child's behavior; Donnely & Strauss, 2008, p.1), the focus on "pain, but not an injury" allows to distinguish between corporal punishment and a proper physical abuse. However, there are many other forms of parental corrective practice that lead to pain (mostly psychological) without the direct intention of causing an injury. With this regard, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) requires preserving children from all forms of physical, and mental violence (art. 19), including psychological maltreatment. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, specified that “There are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child” (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006, par. 11).
The definition of psychological aggression (a communication intended to cause the child to experience psychological pain in terms of active, passive, verbal, or nonverbal; Solomon & Serres 1999, p. 339) falls entirely within such line of protection. For instance, unpleasant remarks, smashing something, ignoring requests or an emotional rejection (Vissing, Straus, Gelles, & Harrop, 1991) can be considered as a psychological kind of aggression or maltreatment. Also, psychological aggression describes a pattern of adult-child interaction that led the child the experience feelings of being worthless, flawed, unloved or endangered (Chamberland et al. 2012).
Whatever the formulas in how we define and frame corporal punishment, scholars often suggested that, within the set of correcting practices, corporal punishment and physical abuse can be considered along a continuum of physical force where abuse may occur as an escalation beyond parental control (Straus & Yodanis 1994). The consequence of this line of thinking was that corporal punishment represents a risk factor for physical abuse (Fréchette, Zoratti, & Romano, 2015), however if we move forward in this chain of relationship, we need to identify what are the risk factors that are related to corporal punishment. Some researchers (see for instance Trickett et al., 2009) agreed that psychological violence represented the core (i.e, and the most underrepresented) of all forms of child abuse, perhaps the most damaging due to its developmental impact on different domains. Moreover, this kind of punishment remains an explicit violation of the UNCRC. Our proposal of inquiry is related to the need of expanding the starting point of this continuum also including early forms of corrective behavior related to psychological aggression as the beginning of the continuum of physical force. From this point of view, emotional rejection, smashing object or ignoring requests were all risk factors of corporal punishments that in turn may escalating in physical abuse.
The aim of the present study was to factorialized into a theoretical framework the complex system of parenting corrective practices by expanding (and overcoming) the concept of corporal punishment to other educational practices.
A sample of 319 parents (93% mothers) answered a semi-structured Computer Assisted Web Interview (CAWI; Cocco & Tuzzi, 2013). The mean age was 41.9 (SD=6.01), children mean age was 8.2. Two-parent households represented 81% of the sample. Most of them resided in Lombardy (91%, the epicenter of Italy's COVID-19 outbreak). The interview consisted of four central parts: (1) demographic background, (2) changes in daily routines and personal spaces, (3) parental practices in a time of COVID-19, and (4) psychological and emotional outcomes of living in lockdown during a pandemic outbreak. In each section, both closed-ended (e.g., Likert-type response scales and visual analog scales) and open-ended questions were combined with the grounds of triangulating data and cross-validate results (Denzin, 2012). Data were gathered anonymously, and all participants were informed about the contents of the research. A Likert-type response scale (from never to always) was used to evaluate the frequency of eight parental correcting practices about children's misbehaviors. The parental practices set was elected based on both literature review and grey materials (NGOs research reports). Data were investigated using Principal Component Analysis (Abdi, & Williams, 2010), Exploratory Factor Analysis (Fabrigar, & Wegener, 2011), and K1 (Zwick, & Velicer, 1982) as a factor retention method. Normality assumptions were checked, missing values (less than 1%) were deleted listwise, and multivariate outliers were not found. The local Ethical Review Board approved the research (prot. N. 0034537/20), and it was conducted according to the ethical principles defined by the Declaration of Helsinki (World Medical Association, 2001). The research protocol was part of an ERASMUS+ program (DepCip 2019-1-TR01-KA204-077577) devoted to the education for parents for children protection in the European Union.
The results of principal component and exploratory factor analysis (54% of explained variance) suggested that parental corrective practices can be organized according to three different domains, namely 1) denying access to the children world – coerce - (forcing to housework λ =.795, forcing to educational activities λ =.771, turnoff devices λ =.418), 2) aggression – hurt - (shouting λ =.782 and physical punishment λ =.765) and 3) rejecting access to the relation – control - (stop talking λ =.742, sending to bedroom λ =.646 and taking away toys λ =.478). The results of the present study have implications for policymakers and stakeholders working with families. Paying attention to corporal punishment and other forms of discipline will offer a more comprehensive assessment of parents’ reactions to children's misbehavior. Obtaining a detailed picture of the frequency of different corrective practices will increase our understanding of parental representations about parenthood and their potential of harming children. In terms of ecological validity, the present study's outcomes improve the ability to assess parental needs to build more targeted intervention programs about the prevention of violence on children.
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