Glimpsing the Iceberg: Parent-Child Physical Aggression and Abuse

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-232
Number of pages14
JournalChild Maltreatment
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2024


  • child abuse
  • parent-child aggression
  • physical abuse
  • prevalence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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