Jordan Riak's letter to several editors about the research of Drs. Baumrind & Owens
August 29, 2001


Dr. Diane Baumrind (with Dr. Elizabeth Owens), appears to be raising the same argument in defense of spankers that, in an earlier day, was raised in defense of husbands who hit their wives. Some will remember when "family squabble" was the euphemism of choice for what we now, more appropriately, call "domestic violence"

To bolster her assertion that spankers should be given a free hand to determine their own management style (like wife beaters of yore), Dr. Baumrind cites the results of her study comparing the parenting styles of fewer than 100 white middle-class families which excluded the heavy hitters and included only 3 families that didn't spank. Her analysis of this tiny sample shows that the spanked children fared no worse than the unspanked children. Similarly, an examination of a few carefully selected families from an earlier date in history, might show that wife beating in moderation is not such a bad thing. Compare current divorce rates to those of an earlier era. Marriages were far more stable in the days when husbands could reasonably, moderately physically "correct" their wives.

What did Dr. Baumrind and her colleague find? They found what they were looking for. They have proven that a known dangerous toxin, if sufficiently diluted, has no measurable ill effects. With this useless discovery they've made headlines, soothed, reassured and emboldened child abusers across the nation at the expense of countless defenseless children. This will not go down in the annals of science as a major breakthrough.

I don't doubt that any competent researcher, using the Baumrind/Owens study as a model, could design a study that would show that there is no statistically significant risk to health from "reasonable and moderate" smoking - say, the use of two or three cigarettes per week - combined with an otherwise healthy lifestyle. The same paucity of risk could be shown with regard to driving a vehicle after consuming a "reasonable and moderate" amount of alcohol - say, one glass of wine with dinner prior to driving home from the restaurant. But what's the point? Such "findings" would never be touted as legitimate basis for public policy. We know that those behaviors are always unwise and dangerous.

Dr. Baumrind told the Contra Costa Times, "The scientific case against the use of normative physical punishment is a leaky dike." However, when one impartially examines the more than a half century's accumulated research pointing to the risks associated with the practice, the impression one gets is that the dike to which the professor referred is indeed very large and the leaks, if any, are statistically insignificant.

Jordan Riak, Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education
Tel.: (925) 831-1661


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