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Physical punishment, physical abuse, and child behavior problems in South Korea

Julie Ma | University of Michigan-Flint

Yoonsun Han | Seoul National University

Hae Rin Kang | Seoul National University


Background : Prior literature has demonstrated the associations of parental physical punishment with child behavior problems and increased risk of physical abuse. In South Korea, physical punishment is a common parenting practice. In 2021, legislative reforms eliminated legal grounds for parental physical punishment in South Korea. However, research on physical punishment, physical abuse, and child behavior problems in the Korean context is scarce.

Objective : This study examined whether physical punishment and physical abuse have unique associations with child behavior problems and whether physical punishment is associated with increased exposure to physical abuse.Participants and setting Data came from the 2010 Korean Child and Youth Panel Survey (KCYPS), a nationally representative sample of South Korean children who attended 1st grade in 2010. Our analyses were based on three waves of the KCYPS (N = 2,180).

Methods: We employed fixed-effects regression to examine the associations of physical punishment and physical abuse with child behavior problems and the association of physical punishment with physical abuse after controlling for time-invariant characteristics.

Results: Exposure to physical punishment and physical abuse was associated with higher levels of aggression, depression, and lower levels of academic behavior regulation. Physical punishment was associated with increased risk of physical abuse.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that physical punishment is a risk for child behavior problems and physical abuse in South Korea. Child maltreatment prevention efforts should focus on shifting favorable social norms around physical punishment and promoting non-physical disciplinary practices.


key words: Physical punishment, Physical abuse, Child behavior problems, South Korea,

Fixed effects regression


Child Abuse and neglect, 2021, vol.123, DOI : 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105385.