1999 Message to WAVE
Another year has passed on our path to a world without violence. For the past 3 years we have been making an in-depth study of international research on the root causes of violent behaviour. We have now reached some preliminary conclusions, summarised in the article "Digging up the roots of violence", published earlier this year in "The Therapist" magazine. These conclusions have been presented at conferences, seminars and in writing, as we have moved away from research alone to communicating our insights to both public and interested professionals.
Our provisional conclusion is that violent behaviour is learned very young, mainly through harsh and power-assertive punishment by parents. Improving parenting skills may be the way to prevent it. A great deal of severe child abuse is described as a slap or a tap by abusing parents. Child abuse is usually the end of a continuum that began with "punishment". NSPCC reports show that frequent punishments by parents include shaking, throwing, freezing baths, pulling hair, biting, scalding and the Chinese burn. Three quarters of babies are hit before they are one year old.
One striking piece of research to emerge has been a meta-analysis* of 84 international studies on the effects of corporal punishment, involving nearly 40,000 subjects. 96% of the studies found harmful correlations with corporal punishment. Those statistically significant included greater probability of suffering child abuse; greater childhood and adult aggressiveness; increased criminal and anti-social behaviour in childhood and adulthood; decreases in children’s inner morality; impaired mental health; and increased abuse of their children or spouses when the punished individuals become adults.
While these analyses show correlations, the researcher’s work proceeds via theory, logic and long-term evidence to argue that the relationships are causal. This is borne out by WAVE’s research also. The answer is not to be soft on children – no discipline is also harmful – but to use firm, non-violent discipline.
WAVE calls for national campaigns to improve parenting skills. Parent training should be made available to all teenagers, before they become parents, to all pregnant women and their partners, and then for all parents (especially those with children under three), not just those whose children are most at risk. Such a programme would be both an investment in the quality of life of tomorrow's children and a major contribution to creating a world with less violence. It still leaves all the other causes, such as poverty and poor housing, to be dealt with: these need not be alternatives in a caring, loving society.
* A meta- analysis combines all the data of many separate studies into one overall analysis, allowing the data to be used with greatly increased statistical power.
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