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Glimpsing the iceberg: Parent-child physical aggression and abuse

APA Citation:

Slep, A. M. S., Rhoades, K. A., Lorber, M. F., & Heyman, R. E. (2024). Glimpsing the iceberg: Parent-child physical aggression and abuse. Child Maltreatment, 29(2), 219-232. https://doi.org/10.1177/10775595221112921

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study examined the prevalence of parent-to-child aggression (i.e., parental aggression) in 2006. Specifically, rates of corporal punishment (i.e., physical discipline) and physical abuse (i.e., physical aggression likely to cause harm) were examined in addition to how rates of parental aggression varied based on the number of children in the home and child age. 1 parent in each household, either an active-duty Airman (n = 27,021) or their spouse (n = 12,608), reported on their use of a variety of physically aggressive acts; separate reports were made for each child in the home. Overall, 38.7% of children experienced corporal punishment, and 6.7% experienced physical abuse. Infants and children 6 years old and under generally experienced more parental aggression than adolescents.


Child maltreatment

Branch of Service:

Air Force

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member
Spouse of service member or veteran


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Slep, Amy M. Smith, Rhoades, Kimberly A., Lorber, Michael F., Heyman, Richard E.


Despite evidence that parents? physical aggression abuse has long-lasting negative consequences, information about the true population prevalence of aggression and physical abuse is limited. We have even less information about how parental aggression and abuse vary by child age, parent gender, and how that aggression and abuse might be clustered within families. To address these gaps, an anonymous, computer-based assessment was administered to nearly 40,000 parents of more than 60,000 children in the United States Air Force, which included a detailed assessment on up to four minor children of aggression and its impact. The survey was the largest of its type ever conducted in the United States, allowing for stable, crossvalidated estimation of rates of both corporal punishment and physical abuse. Approximately 39% of children experienced corporal punishment, peaking at three years of age, and 7% experienced physical abuse, peaking at age six. About 45% of parents reported perpetrating corporal punishment and 8% abuse; these rates were higher in multi-child families and most often involved more than one child. Parent gender was not associated with physical aggression or abuse.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


physical aggression, abuse, corporal punishment

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REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  April 2023

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