March 2005

Extent of physical punishment in New Zealand

What is the extent of physical punishment in New Zealand?  Recent and forthcoming research reports give a confused picture.Research by Gravitas Research and Strategy Limited, for the Government's Strategies with Kids - Information for Parents (SKIP) initiative.  Telephone interviews with 612 parents and 539 caregivers of children under five found that 49% of parents and 79% of caregivers reported never using physical discipline or not using it in the last three months (MSD, Strategies with Kids - Information for Parents (SKIP) Strategy Development Research; Final Research Report (in press).

In another study 1200 adults were contacted by telephone.  Those who were parents were asked about disciplining naughty children over the week prior to contact.  Fourteen and half percent reported having smacked a child with a hand, 5.3% reported pushing, shoving or grabbing, 3.7% reported hitting with a strap and only 0.1% reported giving a child a severe beating (personal communication, E Davies).

These two studies appear to indicate a decline in the use of physical punishment.  But we really don't know how many children in New Zealand are hit by their parents or carers.

A study by Terry Dobbs questioned children about their views on family discipline and found only seven out of the 80 children she interviewed had never been smacked.  Dobbs also found that the degree of physical punishment many children described was far more extensive than a mere smack on the bottom or hand and included blows to the face and head, punches and attacks with implements.  The children were interviewed with full parental consent (personal communication, T Dobbs, report forthcoming from Save the Children).