The Academy on Violence & Abuse (AVA), a national organization working to address how violence impacts health across the lifespan, has published Guidelines for doctors, psychologists, social workers and other professionals working with parents or other caregivers who use physical discipline based on their religious convictions.
Although there is a growing body of research finding that corporal punishment is ineffective and elevates the risks for poorer medical and mental health outcomes, many parents employ physical discipline because of their religious beliefs. “With recent statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Psychological Association urging their members to discourage patients and clients from physical discipline, it’s critical to educate professionals about this issue and give them tools to address the topic in a culturally sensitive manner,” said Victor Vieth, AVA president.
The AVA urges professionals to be culturally competent in working with religious parents on the issue of physical discipline. This includes gaining knowledge about religious beliefs and Bible passages often used to justify corporal punishment. The AVA also provides guidance in distinguishing between parents who may benefit from education on the risks of physical discipline and those who are abusive. The AVA urges professionals to seek a path within the religious framework to move parents away from corporal punishment. As one example, there are Bible commentaries and other theologically conservative scholarship which holds that corporal punishment is authorized but not required by scripture. When professionals are aware of nuances such as these, it may be easier to explore alternative methods of child discipline that research finds to be more effective in improving the behavior and health outcomes of children.
The AVA guidelines can be read and downloaded by visiting the publications section of our website.