Sharp decline in corporal punishment of children
Despite ban, one in ten parents approve of smacking children as punishment
Attitudes toward corporal punishment of children have changed significantly in the past three decades. Disciplining children by inflicting physical pain was made illegal in Finland in 1984.
In 1981 47 per cent of Finns approved of corporal punishment under some circumstances. This has declined to just 17 per cent.
Among parents, approval of physical punishment of children is just ten per cent. The figures are from a survey by the Central Union for Child Welfare.
Special researcher Heikki Sariola says that the shift in attitudes is largely the result of the new generation which takes a more negative view of corporal punishment than their parents. Among those over the age of 65, 23 per cent still approve of corporal punishment.
Sariola believes that the use of violence in raising children will decline in the future as well.
Although attitudes toward corporal punishment have become increasingly negative, moderate acts of violence still are used in disciplining children.
Many parents do not always feel that hair pulling or fillips constitute violence. In the survey, parents were asked if such actions were acceptable in exceptional situations, and 39 per cent answered in the affirmative.
However, Seppo Sauro, executive director of the Central Union for Child Welfare, emphasises that even such seemingly mild physical chastisements are illegal under Finnish law.
The change involves more than just a shift in attitudes.
A survey among secondary-school pupils revealed that children today face much less violence than before. In 2008 hair-pulling and slapping had decreased in families of ninth-graders by 50 per cent from 20 years earlier.
“A new generation of parents has emerged who no longer use violence. The baby boom generation has taken away something that we do not miss”, Sauro said.
Previous studies have also shown that women use violence against their children slightly more frequently than men do. On the other hand, the study indicates that women take a more negative view of corporal punishment than men do.
Sariola attributes the apparent contradiction to a tendency among women to answer questions in a way that they think they are expected to answer.
Women also tend to be present in the lives of their children more than their fathers, and therefore are more likely to confront situations in which they might lose their self control.
The Central Union for Child Welfare points out that parents need to set boundaries for children. It is all right to hold a child firmly, or to move a child having a tantrum somewhere else.
The survey was commissioned by the Central Union for Child Welfare and was conducted by the polling agency Taloustutkimus in April. Taking part in the survey were 1,026 people around Finland.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Survey: Many Finnish children approve of hair-pulling as punishment (22.4.2010)
Finnish women use physical discipline on children more often than men (27.9.2007)
Study: One in three Finns approve of corporal punishment of children (26.9.2006)