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Background and Purpose: A majority of adults in the United States support the use of spanking despite a substantial body of evidence demonstrating that corporal punishment is linked with negative child outcomes. Parents turn to social media to obtain parenting information and to receive support from their social networks. Nevertheless, little is known about how parents think about spanking as a disciplinary practice, and how they express their beliefs on social media. Further, isolating a group of social media users who identify as parents is inherently challenging. The current study used Twitter to find a subgroup of parents who self-identify as stay-at-home parents and examined their tweets concerning discipline and spanking.
Methods: As part of a larger study, this study scraped Twitter for stay-at-home parents’ tweets. Regular expressions with the terms, “discipline,” “spanking,” and synonyms of spanking (e.g., “smack,” “beat”, “slap”) were used to extract discipline and spanking tweets from a larger corpus of tweets. Given the small number of final tweets (n = 648), a qualitative analysis was conducted to investigate similarities and differences between stay-at-home mothers’ and stay-at-home fathers’ discipline and spanking tweets. Two master’s level research assistants coded the tweets independently and compared results for agreement.
Results: Findings demonstrated that stay-at-home home parents use slightly different synonyms to refer to spanking. Stay-at-home mothers were more likely to use, “whoop” compared to stay-at-home fathers, whereas stay-at-home fathers were more likely to use, “smack” compared to stay-at-home mothers. For both genders, anti-spanking belief tweets were most common (20%), followed by spanking information tweets (10%). Although stay-at-home fathers were more likely than stay-at-home mothers to tweet about their pro-spanking beliefs and desires, stay-at-home mothers were more likely than stay-at-home fathers to tweet about actual pro-spanking behaviors. Stay-at-home mothers were also more likely than stay-at-home fathers to tweet about parenting advice from people and blog posts. Stay-at-home fathers were more likely than stay-at-home mothers to tweet about being unsure about spanking.
Conclusion and Implications: Stay-at-home mothers and stay-at-home fathers expressed their spanking tweets in both similar and different ways. The existence of parents discussing spanking on Twitter suggests that this form of social media may be amenable to norm setting interventions. It is important that researchers consider social media data as a potential way to understand how parents seek information and express their parenting beliefs. Social media data is a form of existing data that can be used for research purposes.