To Spank or Not To Spank...

Reports and psychological studies are coming out now saying that spanking ultimately does more damage than good when used as a tool for discipline.

I don’t know if I believe that. I, like most of my peers, was spanked as a child, and I had a healthy respect for my parents. I personally think that kids today are much more disrespectful and mindless of the consequences of their actions or unacceptable behavior than the kids growing up 30 years ago. While I don’t think the automatic or universal reaction for a misbehaving child should start with a spanking, I do think that there are times where a light spanking is an appropriate form of discipline. I know I have seen those kids in Wal Mart (or wherever) and thought “That child could benefit from a swat on the butt”.

I want to make it clear I don’t condone child abuse, but I personally don’t think a swat on the rear end is a reason to call the authorities and protective services.

So I would like to hear your thoughts…is spanking an acceptable and effective form of discipline? Or will a spanking lead to damaging psychological issues that should render spankings an obsolete form of discipline?

I was spanked as a child, and most of my friends weren’t. Most of my friends are okay. I’m screwed up in the head.

Though I wonder if my being screwed up was maybe a result of other factors as well, such as my mother smoking throughout her pregnancy, or the high instance of mental illness in my family.

Arguments will be made that hitting your kid only shows that the parent has lost control of themsleves and the child. I disagree. A swat on the butt after you’ve exhausted all other reasonable options does not constitute a parent’s loss of control. In some situations it’s the correct disciplinary action. However, if it’s the only disciplinary tool or if it’s done in haste or anger or clearly out of proportion with the transgression, then it’s being mis-applied and therefore can lead to very negative consequences (short and long term).

The problem with this form of discipline is that it’s application is entirely subjective and since we can’t clearly draw the margins around when it’s okay and when it isn’t (too many variables), it’s easier to err on the side of caution and simply go with “never okay”.

If respect is a matter of “I’m bigger than you and can hit you whenever you want and you can do nothing about it,” then as a parent I have absolutely failed.

There are lots of ways to damage a child. Hitting them is one of them.

When I see a child creating a ruckus in a public place, you know what I think? I think that there is a child who has learned a really crappy strategy for trying to get what they need, who almost certainly has parents who have inadvertently taught them to behave that way. What most parents try: pandering, capitulation, or emotional and verbal threats, emotional and verbal violence. No wonder you think kids need violence in order to behave – that’s how you were treated. Violence begets violence.

Giving someone what they are whining for in order to shut them up is not empathy. Why adults can’t empathize with children is that when they were children no one empathized with them.

If you want someone to behave with affectionate respect toward you, then you must behave with affectionate respect toward them. Whether they are a child, a stranger, a cow, or your wife. If you, Tequila Party, affectionately respect your own parents, it was despite their occasional violence, not because of it.

As for the decline of respect for parents, it’s been a complaint from ancient times.

This isn’t something that’s just started happening “now”. Psychologists and pediatricians have been saying for years that spanking is not a very effective method of changing a child’s behavior. Here’s a 2006 Time story that cites a 1998 statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said “Spanking is only effective when used in selective, infrequent situations.”

The original AAP statement doesn’t seem to be online anymore, but a search on “spanking” on their website indicates they’re even more strongly against it now. Here’s their advice on how to discipline children, which includes an explanation for why spanking is not the best choice.

And yet the crime rate in the US has been dropping for the past 20 years. I’m not saying this is because of less spanking – there must be a lot of factors involved, and even the experts don’t agree on what they are – but if less spanking caused young people to grow up to disrespect authority and act without thinking about the consequences then I’d expect to see crime rates going up rather than down.

Ulfreida, thank you for your deep insight into my family and someone you have never met. Truly enlightening that you so clearly understand the my personal family dynamic of so called violence.

But that’s part of the debate. Some people look at an occasional spanking as violence, and only violence, or only see it as a case of bullying…I’m bigger and therefore I can hit you. I see it as a form of physical discipline, one that is sometimes necessary when words and other attempts at discipline have failed. If my child continues to display repeated inappropriate behavior and a stern lecture or a timeout doesn’t stop the behavior, I’m not going to worry about how my efforts to discipline my child figure into building his self esteem or empathy for his situation. There are plenty of opportunities to show empathy or build self esteem that don’t interfere with discipline. My child was 18 months old and he decided biting was an appropriate way to express frustration or anger. All the verbal admonishment in the world didn’t stop his behavior, which was becoming a real problem. Not that at 18 months he had a lot of verbal communication skills or the capacity to understand reason. I wasn’t going to reinforce his behavior by showing empathy with his frustration, not in the moment when he was biting me or somebody else. The way I got him to stop biting was to pinch his cheek until he let go. It caused a mild to moderate amount of pain, and he quickly learned that biting was unacceptable behavior.

My son knows that I love him more than anything, and if he has a problem I will always be there to listen to him or show him empathy and support, but he also knows he can’t expect to be coddled if he’s misbehaving. I am his mother, first and foremost, not his friend.

One of the values I’ve tried to instill in my kids is non-violence. Therefore, I never spanked them and never will.

That being said, I don’t think that all parents who spank their kids are child abusers or that a good parent would never spank. Nor do I agree that kids today are really worse behaved or in need of being hit by grownups.

If one wishes to rely on anecdote, I grew up in a family fo six kids and we were all spanked. We may have been sedate while our parents were watching, but we were all pretty wild when the spankers were not around, far more so than my kids frankly.

And I have a set of five cousins who were psanked, with a belt, hard and often. Every one of them has had multiple problems involving substance abuse, serial divorcem neglgecting their own kids, or a mixture.

Spanking doesn’t guarantee good behavior or better-adjusted adults, nor does refraining from hitting your kids result in the opposite. So I choose to be consistent, i.le. I don’t hit my kids and they don’t hit me.

I don’t believe that spanking should be the automatic response any time your child misbehaves. I think it should be an infrequent and last resort measure only to be used when non-corporal forms of punishment have been exhausted. Contrary to what some may have inferred from my statement that I was spanked as a child, I wasn’t beaten with a belt on a daily basis, invoking a cycle of violence begetting violence.

And while it’s great that crime rates, especially among juviniles, are down, it’s true we don’t know empirically if that’s due to the decline of spanking being acceptable. But there are also studies out there showing other effects of spanking vs not spanking, as outlined, for example, in the article below.

I would argue that disciplining a preverbal child that is big enough to injure you, but not smart enough to know it, is more like disciplining a dog or a horse, and as such, a physical reprimand applied promptly, proportionately, consistently and without anger is appropriate. Such discipline should be applied within 3 seconds of the infraction, and ceases to be appropriate when the cognitive level of the child exceeds that of a dog.

However, a rap on the wrist for scratching, or a pinch on the cheek for biting, applied to a preverbal child who lacks reasoning power, are not what most people mean when they talk about “spanking.” Spanking normally means hitting a child, usually on the ass, with considerable force, after the fact, as a punishment. In my experience, people hit in this manner do not do so dispassionately, and do not do so proprtionately. They are furious, frustrated, and emotionally out of control, and vent it physically on a child because it is the weakest thing they can find. That is my personal experience.

Better parents spank you then life does so.

There are a lot of adults who will tell you that they were spanked as children and they grew up fine. What separates them from alcoholics, high school dropouts, and serial killers is consistency of punishment.

Consistent parenting is more important than whether you hit your child or not. If you don’t punish consistently, then you are teaching your child that the rules are arbitrary. That the rules are set by whoever has the power to punish. That results in the child only following the rules to avoid punishment, and growing up without an internal set of rules to guide his behavior. He will grow up without being able to decide what is right or wrong without relying on what authority figures tell him. And if he grows to distrust authority, then what’s right or wrong will become whatever benefits him.

If you do punish consistently, then you are teaching your child that the rules matter more than whoever is enforcing them. The child will learn to obey the rule because the rule itself is important and not because someone will punish him if he disobeys it. He will also be able to rely on himself to determine what is right and wrong, and not look to authority figures to set those rules for him. Hence, no future serial killer.

Lakai, I agree completely. I think consistency is key for a child to behave according to his/her super-ego instead of just the ego.

Tequila Party and Lakai, a question–if all that matters is consistency, then why would a parent ever choose to hit a child?

I agree with this statement.

The question in my mind is, if you do not spank your kids, what are you replacing it with? I’m pretty sure our problems are not caused by a lack of spanking but because the adults have completely abdicated any responsibility for disciplining their children.

I would guess because it’s easier. Nonviolent punishment takes more creativity and a deeper understanding of what motivates your child.

Consistency is the approach you use when setting rules and the expectation that you create when you implement them. So there are rules and expectations, which should be consistent so the child is never confused about what’s expected of him, and there is a reward system for obeying the rules and there is punishment system for disobeying. Spanking is a punishment for disobeying the rules. It should be treated as a last resort punishment.

A lot of it is fairly contextual. Like all humans there are children who are dominant, impulsive and aggressive and some of these have poor impulse control. Physical discipline up to spanking, applied in appropriate circumstances in appropriate ways is not going to psychically damage the vast majority of children. Irrational and arbitrary physical punishment applied often enough can and will cause problems.

The context of a just and loving parent delivering a spanking to a willfully disobedient child if other corrections fail is not likely to cause problems. The context of a frustrated or rageaholic parent using hitting or spanking as the go to for even minor disobedience is likely to cause problems.

It’s not a one size fits all. Sometimes physical discipline and punishment is required. Where, when and how is the difficult part and it’s where people screw up.

But there are also plenty of adults who were punished inconsistently who will tell you that they grew up fine. “That happened to me and I grew up fine” isn’t evidence. It’s just an anecdote, and not a particularly compelling one. If someone didn’t grow up fine they might be the last person to admit it, and there are also people who really do manage to grow up fine despite suffering all kinds of hardships and abuse as children.

Just as a data point what’s considered an acceptable way to punish a child nowdays, if anything? As in something that won’t cause the child to report you to CPS for punishing them. A friend’s kid is bratty and out of control, and the kid threatens to report her to CPS if she tries to punish her.

Child protective services will (or should) take action when a parent or other caregiver abuses or neglects a child.I’m not sure why a parent contemplating a reasonable (i.e. non-abusive) punishment for a child would be worried about CPS.

As an aside, I’d also venture that a parent/child in this situation have problems that spanking is not likely to solve.