When Philip and I were new parents, the subject of spanking never came up between us. We considered ourselves attachment parents when Aidan was a baby, but we never thought much about the significance of our parenting style after that stage had passed. We certainly had no clear plan about how to handle “problem” behavior.
As Aidan grew into a toddler, we unconsciously (in other words, we acted without giving it any thought, discussion, or consideration) became what I’d call “light spankers”. We rarely spanked and when we did it was a light swat on the behind. We did, however, slap a “naughty hand” (as we called it) when Aidan touched something after he had been warned about it — or something of that nature.
As more children came along, we became non-spankers not because we made a conscious choice not to spank but because we became more effective and competent parents. We didn’t need to spank. We discovered that we were firmly in the attachment parenting camp philosophically as we studied the significance of a strong rapport between a child and his parents well into childhood and the teen years. As we matured as parents and as a family, we focused increasingly on the quality of connection between all family members and less on performing behavior triage.
Just in strengthening our family bonds and in demonstrating respect and kindness toward our children at all times, spanking phased out of our parenting toolbox quite naturally (as did the naughty hand thing). Again, it wasn’t because we had some epiphany that was spanking was undesirable. It became unnecessary for our family, but we never thought it was wrong in some way.
Gone are the days of our unconscious non-spanking. My own opinion on spanking has in recent years become very clear. After reading the research on outcomes for children who are spanked and the strained arguments presented by pro-spankers, I think it’s not only unwise to spank, but it’s wrong. You might gain compliance with spanking in the short term, but it does far more harm than good — period. It hurts the both you and your child, and even the larger society.
SPANKING HURTS MORE THAN YOU KNOW:
When a child is physically assaulted by somebody she trusts and loves, she has no choice but to create defenses against her anger and sense of betrayal. In his book, Spare the Child, Philip Greven discusses the effects of corporal punishment on children, which include anxiety, apathy, depression, obsessiveness, and aggressiveness. See Spare the Child, Part 4. Murray A. Strauss also discusses the painful effects of legal forms of violence against children in his book Beating the Devil Out of Them. He points out that the damage done to children isn’t always apparent until much later, often not until the child enters adulthood.
SPANKING DOESN’T WORK:
Spanking doesn’t work to change behavior in the long run because fear doesn’t change the heart. Empirical evidence shows that children who are subjected to physical punishment have more behavioral issues not fewer, and they exhibit greater aggression toward their parents and peers. The Center for Effective Discipline, Spanking Myths. Most chilling, few children of parents who use corporal punishment regularly have a well-developed conscience. Strauss, 154.
SPANKING IS NOTHING MORE THAN LEGALIZED ASSAULT AGAINST SMALL, VULNERABLE CITIZENS:
At law, you can strike a child if it doesn’t result in “abuse”. Abuse occurs if the hitting results in demonstrable injury, either physical or psychological. Corporal punishment is the use of legal, socially acceptable violence. Why is physically punishing a child – so much smaller and more vulnerable in every way than an adult victim – still legally and socially acceptable? Hitting a child seems to be socially acceptable partly because it’s legal, but physically chastising one’s wife was once legal, as was physically punishing an employee or apprentice. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it a morally appropriate choice. We know that hitting your spouse is wrong whether or not it results in injury. Hitting your employee seems preposterous to us, no matter the injury equation. I also wonder how the law can evaluate “injury” when much of the psychological damage of corporal punishment isn’t apparent until adulthood.
Murray A. Strauss is concerned that legal corporal punishment can damage the larger society because it legitimizes other forms of violence:
Used by authority figures who tend to be loved or respected as a way to achieve a morally correct end, it carries a powerful message aside from the immediate effect intended. The message is that if someone is doing something outrageous and other methods of getting the person to listen to reason have failed, it’s ok to use physical violence. This message tends to carry over into adulthood. The socially approved and legal violence in the parent-child relationship may spill over to other relationships in which hitting is not legal. This is because sooner or later, in almost all interpersonal relationships, someone will persist in doing something wrong and won’t listen to reason . . . The more a person was spanked as a child, the greater the likelihood of that person later hitting his or her spouse. Beating the Devil Out of Them, 9.
Strauss is spot on. Socially approved violence leads to further violence. It deprives people of the skills and qualities they need to enjoy deeply, loving, connected relationships. Even it didn’t result in the damage outlined by Greven, Strauss and others, why would we condone violence in any form when it clearly contradicts humanitarian values? Why is it more socially acceptable to hit a child than to hit a dog? Our culture trivializes violence against children, but at a great price.
Let’s spare the rod so we don’t ruin our children. Let us remember that the shepherd’s rod is not a tool of punishment and pain, but of protection and guidance. Let us look to Christ and His Mother for guidance in shepherding our children to heaven. Christ ushered in a new era of history: love and gentle leadership is our new model for society as a whole and certainly for our homes.
- Dr. Sears on 10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Children.
- Dr. Popcak’s Parenting With Grace in which he outlines “Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Spank” in Appendix 2.
- Empirical evidence about the harmful impact of physical punishment on children presented in this report , this article , and this report. The last report, published in the professional journal Pediatrics and explained by an L.A. Times reporter, found that “a child who is spanked, slapped, grabbed or shoved as a form of punishment runs a higher risk of becoming an adult who suffers from a wide range of mental and personality disorders, even when that harsh physical punishment was occasional and when the child experienced no more extreme form of violence or abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver”.
- The websites for The Center for Effective Discipline and Project NoSpank.