Spanking: Where do Latino parents stand?

“To spank or not to spank?” That is an age-old question. And research varies on where Hispanic mothers stand on this trend.

“Evidence on Hispanic families is mixed, with studies reporting that Hispanic families are more likely, less likely, or as likely as non-Hispanic white families to use spanking,” according to a study led by Michael MacKenzie at Columbia University.

So where do Hispanic families really lie?

“I was never spanked,” says mommy blogger Yolanda Machado, editor and owner of SassyMamaInLA.com. “My sister, however, was spanked a lot. I would see my mom or step-dad spank her and it used to make me angry,” she adds.  Machado began her blog as a form of expression, and later realized she actually had a following and made a career out of it. She has a daughter that is about to start kindergarten, and she is certain spanking is not her form of discipline.

“Punishing a child with violence is just showing them if someone makes you mad, you hit them,” she says. “My husband and I opt to take a privilege or toy away as a consequence,” she adds.

While research varies on the true stance of Hispanics on spanking, most studies point to the fact that African American families use physical punishment most, while Hispanic and non-Hispanic white families balance the second and third positions.

According to a study led by Lisa Berlin at Duke University, at ages two and three, the children of Mexican-American mothers who  have conformed less to U.S. culture were spanked significantly less frequently than the children of both Caucasian and African-American mothers. The same was found for verbal punishment.

“Other studies have reported relatively less spanking among Latino parents,” says the study.

For Denise Cortes, mommy blogger from PearMama, spanking varies on what works for the child.

“I have six children and they are all unique in their ways and how I relate to them,” says the Mexican-American mami. “Some of my kids need to talk it out, some respond to a stern command and then there are those who require a spanking. I don’t ‘hit’ my kids, they understand why they are being spanked and we talk it out, too,” she adds.

The variation in the studies may come from how diverse the category “Hispanic” is on its own. In Berlin’s study, mothers who classified themselves as Hispanic also sub-classified themselves as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, or other.

“Culture plays a significant role for Hispanic families in how they raise children and the common parenting techniques they practice,” says Leny Bolivar, child and adolescent therapist for the Association to Benefit Children. “Spanking or physical violence is a way to demonstrate power which is typical in cultures where the ‘patriarchal’ and hierarchy form of relationship is practiced and attached to the everyday life,” she adds.

For Machado, a first generation Peruvian-Mexican, spanking was more common for her grandparents.

“Having grown up in a multi generation household, I saw lots of differences. I was told stories of how my grandfather was given ‘la correa’ (the belt) by his father, when he would so much as breathe the wrong way,” says Machado. “My grandfather never once spanked his children. However, my grandmother did spank her children, but not her grandchildren,” she adds.

“I can’ t remember being ‘spanked’ with a belt, but  I’ve always been the mouthy type and that caused its own sort of problems for me as a child,” says Cortes. “My mom was the type to grab whatever was closest to her and toss it my way. This meant a lot of ‘chanklas’ (sandals), hangers and brushes sent in my direction,” she adds.

Overall, the effects of spanking are the same among all ethnic groups.

According to a study led by Joan Durrant published in the Journal of Development and Behavioral Pediatrics, “even a low level of physical punishment was related to increased antisocial behavior among white, African-American and Latino children.”

Though some Latino parents might not know the negative consequences of spanking, it changes once they do, says Bolivar. “They don’t see it as a ‘good’ value once you explore it with them,” she adds.

For a list of alternative discipline strategies, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website HealthyChildren.org.

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