Study: Report cards may lead to child beatings

A lot of parents are beating their children for their grades, a new study suggests.

The New York Times says when report cards are handed out on Friday, child abuse reports go up on Saturday.

The study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, comes from a team headed by a researcher at the University of Florida who studied reports of child abuse in ages 5 to 11 during the 2015-16 academic year.

It confirms was a lot of pediatricians had been saying: there’s a relationship between report cards and violence against children.

“When you say, ‘How did you get it?,’ they say it’s because of their report card,” Dr. Alexander, an author of the study, tells the Times.

The doctors asked the parents why they hit their kids and, according to Alexander, they respond that it’s because they got a “B” or a “C” on their report card.

What’s particularly interesting is the relationship between violence and report cards mostly appears when the grades are sent home on Friday, the study said.

One possibility for this unique finding is that when report cards are released earlier in the week, caregivers are distracted by other activities such as work and caring for other children.

Thus, caregivers may not have the same opportunities to react negatively to a child’s report card when released on a Monday through Thursday.

Another possibility is that caregivers may avoid harsh punishment when children will have guaranteed exposure to mandated reporters (eg, teachers) the following day.

Given that this study, to our knowledge, is one of the first of its kind and that our findings do not indicate causality, ideas about the mechanisms linking report card release day and physical abuse are still largely speculative, and additional studies are needed to elucidate this possibility.

Subsequent studies wherein additional, potentially influential, factors are measured (eg, days missed from school for children with verified cases of physical abuse after report card release; quality of report cards; parental beliefs about corporal punishment) would be helpful.

In addition, randomization of the report card release day would create steps toward understanding pathways of causality.

A solution might be to issue report cards earlier in the week.

Or just stop hitting your kids.

“The answer is not spanking or hitting or whipping them,” Dr. Antoinette L. Laskey, the chief of the child protection and family health division of the University of Utah, said in a JAMA editorial “It’s a healthier approach. It’s talking with them. ‘Why are you having trouble in school? How can we do better?’”

In its editorial, JAMA pointed that “no studies have shown that the use of harsh physical discipline or corporal punishment had the desired effect of positive behavioral changes in children.”

  • Al

    While correlation is not causation, the results of this study are still heartbreaking.

    The public health-er in me wonders what first prompted this research question. Who wondered this in the first place, and knew to ask the right person?

    • Apparently, if I understand the Times correctly, this was a well known phenomenon among pediatricians — at least anecdotally — and the researchers decided to test it.

      • Al

        Got it! I skipped the Times (my free articles are up) and went straight to JAMA. Not something one traditionally includes in study methodology. 🙂

  • Kassie

    Not handing out report cards on Friday reminds me of what I learned in Supervisor training a long time ago, never fire someone on a Friday. When you fire someone on a Friday, it gives them all weekend to stew about it, which can lead to violence. If you fire someone on a Monday, they can immediately start looking for work and being productive, and violence is less likely to follow.

  • jon

    //it’s because they got a “B” or a “C”

    Damn grade inflation….
    When I was a boy a “C” would either be a “I’m disappointed in you” or perhaps a “So long as you tired your hardest.” depending on the subject, and kid. (I never tried my hardest in school…)
    A “B” was a decent grade…

  • Ralphy

    One of my best friends would get a beating if his report card was too good. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and if “Paul” brought home a report card filled with A’s, his dad would rage that he “was trying to show me up”, and physically assault him. He spent more than one night hiding in our attic.

    • Barton

      ugh. I’m glad you were there for him.

  • fromthesidelines21

    In our district we have something called Parent View so we can look at their progress daily if we want to. The students also have access (Student View). No idea how that would correlate with abuse due to grades. Reduce it because or less surprises with grades? Or make it a more regular occurrence?

    • Barton

      I’m going to be judgmental and say the potentially abusive parents wouldn’t care if they could see progress throughout the year – it would just be their “excuse” more often. Or, the potentially abusive parents wouldn’t take advantage of the monitoring access and still the kids’ would get beaten up.

      • fromthesidelines21

        You are probably right. Ralphy’s comment shows it pretty clearly that an abuser may just be waiting for the next “excuse.”

  • wjc

    //In its editorial, JAMA pointed that “no studies have shown that the use of harsh physical discipline or corporal punishment had the desired effect of positive behavioral changes in children.”

    The lesson learned is that you are bigger and stronger than me, so you are going to beat me for not doing what you want. So when I am bigger and stronger, I’ll employ that same technique to get what I want. Yeah, that works, eh?

  • 212944

    “Or just stop hitting your kids.”

    Or ever start. Seriously.

  • Jack

    I vote for pass/fail. An A in one district could be a C somewhere else.