A national survey of thousands of families highlights the disruptions and financial stress experienced during the pandemic that may have affected parenting practices and relationships in the home. Spanking has been on the decline in the U.S. and the new study results align with that trend, although about half of parents reported yelling at or threatening their children in the week prior to the survey.
The “family snapshots” survey also found that one in five adult respondents reported experiencing intimate partner violence during the pandemic and that financial worries and other stressors were associated with higher rates of domestic abuse.
The family snapshot conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America), and Tufts Medical Center surveyed 3,000 parents and caregivers of children under the age of 18 years. This was part of a 7-month project in which 9,000 parents responded to questions on the effect of the pandemic on family life. Find the studies here:
Results from the first survey conducted in November 2020 with 3,000 respondents, including reports covering financial and other changes during the pandemic, can be found here: Family Snapshots: Life During the Pandemic (aap.org).
“This past year was extraordinarily stressful for many families and navigating these stressors has been a challenge for so many,” said AAP President Lee Savio Beers, MD, FAAP. “We know that intimate partner violence is devastating for the person being abused and also adversely affects any children in the house who witness it. And in families where children are spanked, it is likelier that a parent or caregiver is experiencing violence, so screening is vital.”
There have been concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shelter-in-place orders increased the risk for intimate partner violence. One in five adult survey respondents reported experiencing partner violence, including 11% who reported experiencing physical violence. Both men and women reported partner violence. In addition, 61% of parents who spanked their children also experienced partner violence, compared with 13% of those who did not spank their children.
Health care professional should ask male and female parents about partner violence in a private setting away from children, family members, and friends, the project team recommend.
Survey questions asked how often parents used a variety of strategies to teach their children good behavior. Positive strategies included explaining to children that their actions were wrong, placing them in timeout, sending them to their room, or distracting them with new activities. Harsh strategies included yelling, threatening, or spanking. Parents were asked how often they had used the techniques in the past week.
Five of six parents in the survey reported they did not spank their children in the past week, although about half of parents reported yelling at or threatening their children.
The survey included standard questions about partner violence sourced from the CDC’s Violence Against Children Surveys (VACS). Items on physical violence included slapping, pushing, kicking, punching, beating, choking, burning, and threatening with or using a weapon. Psychological violence included insulting, humiliating, withholding access to money, restricting access to family/friends, tracking activities and whereabouts, and threatening to harm the person. The survey did not include stalking or sexual violence.
Families who are experiencing economic or psychological distress reported higher rates of psychological and physical partner violence, according to the study. Resources offered to families experiencing distress might include community-based partner violence resources, allowing adults to access these resources as needed.
More findings and messages from the survey:
The stress of the pandemic has been widespread, and families should remember that staying in touch with their pediatrician is more important than ever. Parents should watch for signs of stress in their children and remember that it's important to not forget about their own stress and to seek help when experiencing violence in the home.
About the American Academy of Pediatrics
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org.
About Prevent Child Abuse America
Prevent Child Abuse America is a leading champion for all children in the United States. Founded in 1972 and headquartered in Chicago, we are the nation’s oldest and largest organization dedicated to the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect, working to actively prevent all forms of child abuse and neglect before they occur. Our success is founded on a nationwide network of state chapters and nearly 600 Healthy Families America home visiting sites, which directly provide parents and caregivers a wide variety of services and resources that help children grow up to be productive, contributing members of their communities and society. Our comprehensive approach is informed by science—we translate and disseminate innovative research to promote proven solutions that our vast network then puts into action. And we raise public awareness and advocate for family friendly policies at the national, state and local levels to support transformative programs and promote the conditions and contexts that help children, families and communities across the country thrive.
About Tufts Medical Center and Tufts Children’s Hospital
Tufts Medical Center is an exceptional, not-for-profit, 415-bed academic medical center that is home to both a full-service hospital for adults and Tufts Children’s Hospital. Conveniently located in downtown Boston, the Medical Center is the principal teaching hospital for Tufts University School of Medicine. The Medical Center features a level one trauma center with rooftop helipad, the largest heart transplant center in New England and a renowned research program, ranking among the top 10 percent of independent hospitals to receive federal research funding. Tufts Medical Center is a founding member of Wellforce. For more information, visit www.tuftsmedicalcenter.org.