Princeton, N.J., September 11 (RNS)--Conservative Protestant parents yell at their children less frequently than other parents and the image that they are physically or emotionally abusive simply isn't accurate, according to a new Princeton University study.

Brad Wilcox, a research fellow at Princeton's Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, said the new study hopes to "clear the air" about assertions that evangelical and fundamentalist parents are abusive and authoritarian.

Wilcox's new study, co-authored with John P. Bartkowski of Mississippi State University, found that evangelical parents combine elements of corporal punishment--spanking--with a strong sense of praise and affirmation for their children.

The study, using data from a 1987-1988 University of Wisconsin survey of 4,000 parents, found evangelical parents yell at their children less frequently than other parents. The study also found religious faith plays a greater role in parenting style than other factors, such as income or education.

"For almost a decade, a number of scholars have claimed that conservative Protestant parenting is abusive and authoritarian," Wilcox said. "Our findings call into question those assertions and suggest that conservative Protestant parents have a neo-traditional style of parenting that may well be perfectly fine."

Wilcox and Bartkowski used "conservative Protestant" to encompass members of traditionally conservative churches, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, Assemblies of God, and other Pentecostal or independent churches.

While previous studies show evangelical parents are more likely to spank their children, Wilcox said the new study showed that they are more likely to praise or otherwise show affection to their children. Those two elements make up a distinctive evangelical method of parenting, he said.

While spanking does not necessarily translate into abusive parenting, Wilcox said yelling is just as important, because parents who yell more are more likely to be physically abusive.

"There is a lot of affirmative parenting going on, and less yelling, and it suggests that this is not an abusive parenting style, and some of the accusations made against this subculture are, quite frankly, inaccurate," Wilcox said.

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