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Babies, Parenting, Preschool, School Years

What’s So Bad About Spanking?

Yesterday I was on a parenting forum and came across a piece of advice that sent chills through me. A parent was having problems with his young child who was hitting in school and this was one of the responses:

Newspaper ad. 1950s via imgsrc

Newspaper ad. 1950s via imgsrc

“…If that doesn’t work get on the corporal punishment bandwagon. You don’t have to like it for it to work, and if you have no other options you need to teach him that violence is returned in kind. Do NOT do this without holding him afterward and telling him you love him etc, and do NOT do it angrily. You have to be a cold executor of the sentence who is following precisely the rules as they have been laid down (you’ll have to lay them down first). This removes any personal emotional motivation from you as he sees you, and lets him see action=consequence. I suspect you’ll have trouble with this, but remember to use it as a teaching moment to help him use the pain to focus and discipline himself. You’re not there to mete out punishment and the will of god, you’re there to cause a positive change. Minimal spanking with essentially zero pain (other than showing your disappointment physically) can be effective for children much younger than yours.” 

Well, that brought back memories. I was spanked. So many people talk about how they were spanked and they turned out fine. I wonder if they remember their spankings. I know I do. I remember feeling frustrated and confused. I remember feeling overpowered and humiliated. I remember wanting to avoid what I had done to get myself into the situation. But I don’t ever recall thinking that they were right and I had learned a lesson in life.

I was spanked with a wooden rod on my bare bottom. My parents felt this was the godly method of discipline. They were avid followers of Dr. James Dobson, a well-known advocate of corporal punishment. When you read some of this man’s writings, he almost sounds loving and sincere. But he just doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s look at his principles of discipline, as listed on his website:

Be willing to let your child experience a reasonable amount of pain or inconvenience when he behaves irresponsibly. —The New Dare to Discipline, p. 116

I agree with this: “Be willing” – yes, but do not intentionally inflict. “…experience” – yes, this is about experiencing the consequences of actions. “…pain or inconvenience” – yes, but this should be relevant to the behavior. For instance, if your child is running around the pool and slips and skins her knee, that is her consequence, nothing further is needed. If your child is being rude at the dinner table, send her away – she is not behaving in a manner suitable for being around others, so she shouldn’t be allowed around others. These are natural consequences that are matched to the behaviors. To create a consequence of physical pain, such as a spanking for talking back, is illogical and teaches little to nothing.

Parental warmth after discipline is essential to demonstrate that it is the behavior–not the child himself–that the parent rejects. —The New Dare to Discipline, p. 36

I can’t help but wonder how confusing this message is. If someone just hit you and then hugged you and said they hoped you understood why they hurt you and how it was your fault, would you really feel good about that? Anyone who has experienced domestic violence will realize how this makes no sense whatsoever. When someone violates your body, you feel shame and confusion. When they subsequently tell you they are sorry for doing so and yet they love you, but you really need to shape up because you are the cause of it, that is not helpful and does not create a healthy feeling of trust or love.

Parents cannot require their children to treat them with dignity if they will not provide the same respect to them in return. —The New Dare to Discipline, pp. 25–26

Where is the dignity and respect in bending someone over and striking them on the rear end? Are the children allowed to do the same when the parents misbehave? This is humiliating to the child.

Give your child an exposure to responsibility and work, but also preserve time for play and fun. —The New Dare to Discipline, p. 155

I completely agree with this one.

If the strong-willed child is allowed by indulgence to develop “habits” of defiance and disrespect during his early childhood, those characteristics will haunt him and his parents for the next twenty years. —Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, p. 90

This is an over generalized statement. First of all, a strong will is an admirable quality that should be encouraged. A strong will leads to perseverance and resilience. Why wouldn’t you want your child to have this quality as an adult? You need a strong will to resist peer pressure, to survive difficult circumstance in life and to overcome obstacles. Using such negative words like “indulgence,” “defiance,” and “haunt” are scare tactics. Persistent children can be very challenging to raise. But they are not dangerous to themselves and they are not inherently defiant or disrespectful. We, as parents, need tools to manage them through childhood, without destroying their persistence. You can teach a child to negotiate with respect WITHOUT shaming him for having his own sense of self and direction.

Two distinct messages must be conveyed to every child during his first forty-eight months: (1) “I love you more than you can possibly understand,” and (2) “Because I love you I must teach you to obey me.” —Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions about Raising Children, p. 16

I agree with the first message. I think the second one is far less important. Obedience is really overrated. What about teaching a child to think for himself? What about teaching him skills and language to effectively communicate and engage with his world? What about teaching him to trust me, his parent, so that he cooperates with me? I do believe I am in charge and I have no problem with giving consequences, but I don’t want to raise robots who follow with blind obedience. Someday it won’t be me they are blindly obeying. And then what?

The proper programming of the conscience is one of the most difficult jobs associated with parenthood, and the one that requires the greatest wisdom. —Emotions: Can You Trust Them? p. 44

This really bothers me. “Proper programming”? Again, are we raising robots or teaching and guiding human beings?

The strong-willed adolescent simply must not be given large quantities of unstructured time. He or she will find destructive ways to use such opportunities. Get that youngster involved in the very best church youth program and other healthy activities you can find. —Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, p. 150

Every adolescent, not just the much-aligned “strong-willed” teen, should be kept busy and involved in healthy activities. And not just church. They should be active in sports, arts, work, community service, etc. A strong will in adolescence is a protective factor. A strong will helps a child resist peer pressure, one of the most influential factors during that period of development. However, if you have spent your child’s entire life battling her, she may finally exert her will against YOU. That could, in fact, become an issue. Really think about that.

A child’s will is a powerful force in the human personality. It is one of the few intellectual components which arrives full strength at the moment of birth. Whereas the self-concept is delicate and wobbly, the will is made of steel. —The Strong-Willed Child, p. 76

This is just bizarre. It seems that the doctor is determined to teach parents that a child’s will is really to be feared and certainly to be bent, if not broken. What happens when she grows up? When she faces difficulty, peer pressure or her life doesn’t go as planned? Will she just do as she’s told or fall apart? A child’s will is her gift. Not only that, but a child has a spirit and a soul at birth as well. This is a human being we are talking about, not a lump of clay or a pet. Again, wouldn’t it be better to teach our children with love and compassion, rather than force?

Children naturally look to their fathers for authority. —Straight Talk to Men, p. 65

This is just a biased opinion. It certainly isn’t true for my family or many of my friends and relatives.

The parent who is willing to bail his child out of every difficulty may be doing him or her a devastating disservice. —Dare to Discipline, p. 103

This is very true. So shouldn’t you be teaching your child how to think through decisions early in life? How to make choices? Coloring on the wall means you lose your crayons and clean the wall. Doesn’t that make more sense than getting hit on the bottom? The child has the opportunity here to actually think and learn. Do I really want to draw on the wall? I like having my crayons and I don’t especially like cleaning up my mess. Maybe that is a bad idea. How does spanking teach a child there are consequences to actions other than pain? How many adults are getting physically struck for their daily mistakes?

Love in the absence of discipline will not produce a child with selfdiscipline, self-control and respect for his fellow man. —Dare to Discipline, p. 10

This is true. When you understand that the original meaning of the word “discipline” means “to teach” then you can understand that you do not HAVE to strike a child to discipline a child.

Discipline and love are not antithetical; one is a function of the other. —Dare to Discipline, p. 18

Yes, you must teach and correct your children. However, hitting and discipline are not the same thing.

The parent must be convinced that loving discipline is not something he or she does to the child; it is something done for the child. —Dare to Discipline, p. 18

This is a difficult concept to sell. Parents do know, intuitively, that striking their child isn’t quite right. That’s why many feel so badly doing it. But teaching a child, whether through correction or allowing her to experience the natural consequences of her actions, is an absolute must of growing up.

When a parent loses the early confrontations with the child, the later conflicts become harder to win. —Dare to Discipline, p. 21

Well, this is certainly true. This is why you want to choose your battles very carefully. And avoid conflict as much as possible. You are not engaging in a war. You are raising a child. Big difference. When you have full control of your child’s world, why resort to inflicting physical pain? Is that really the only way to win?

One of your most important responsibilities as parents is to establish an equitable system of justice and a balance of power between siblings. —The Strong-Willed Child, p. 132

I disagree. The more you interfere between siblings, the more resentment you create. Now I realize why I had such hatred for my little brother growing up. My parents were constantly trying to interfere and “balance the power” even when we were just playing. Rule #1 says to allow kids to experience their consequences. Why not just allow them to experience their relationship with their siblings as much as is reasonably possible?

To a power-hungry tyrant of any age, appeasement only inflames his or her lust for more power. —Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, p. 168

This is appalling. These are little humans. To encourage parents to view their precious little children in such a negative way is entirely unfair. Children aren’t “tyrants” and they aren’t “power-hungry.” They are little people trying to do their best with little experience and few skills. Our job is to love them, teach them and help them grow.

While yielding to the loving leadership of their parents, children are also learning to yield to the benevolent leadership of God himself. —The Strong-Willed Child, p. 171

Does god bend you over and cause you pain to teach you a lesson? Or does god simply ask you to say sorry and try to do better while you fumble along and learn from your mistakes? I don’t see god forcing people to yield. God seems to allow people to figure things out for themselves. How does spanking even come close to the way god treats people?

We should make it clear to our children that the merciful God of love whom we serve is also a God of justice.–The New Dare to Discipline, p. 228

This is just simply not true. I am not a Christian but I know the doctrine. The Christian faith states that if you ask for forgiveness, you are forgiven. It’s that simple. God does not insist on retribution or punishment of any kind. That is old testament philosophy and was tossed out with the teachings of Christ. God only threatens to punish people who do NOT ask for forgiveness. So how does this fit in? The parents are allowed to make mistakes and simply say sorry and be forgiven but the children must experience pain in order to receive same? It’s not consistent with the faith being taught.

I see a lot of spanking advocates who are adamant that spanking is NECESSARY for children to grow up properly disciplined. I might have grown up to believe that, too, since I really didn’t know the difference. But I worked as a live-in nanny for two years, caring for two toddlers and I learned a valuable lesson.

When you are raising somebody else’s children, five days a week, 12 hours a day, you don’t have the choice to spank them. You are required to find alternative methods of discipline. I realized that I was able to teach these toddlers to be polite, gentle and well-behaved using positive discipline methods and no spanking whatsoever. So if spanking is NOT required to get children to cooperate and behave, then WHY DO IT?

Who knows if spanking really causes harm to kids? I don’t know. I do know that it is not necessary and it makes no sense. When my kids make a mistake, I want their consequences to be relevant to their mistake. If my son is being antisocial, then he doesn’t get to socialize. If he doesn’t do his chores, he loses his privileges. When my kids were little, if they were fighting over a toy, the toy went to time-out, because it “was causing so many problems.” When my son was 4 and took something of mine, I took something of his. Don’t you think feeling the pain of losing something you care about is more relevant to understanding stealing than getting hit on the rear end?

I can assure you that not only did spanking NOT teach me right from wrong, it failed to teach me how to think or how to make decisions. While it taught me to obey my parents (which I already wanted to do anyway) that is a useless skill in the real world. My goal as a parent is to teach my children to be high-functioning, successful adults. Obedience has no part in the adult world. That’s a convenience of childhood. I want my kids to follow my guidance and instructions, but I also want them to know how to make decisions and to think for themselves. Since I know I can teach these skills without striking them, why do it?

I think the real questions to ask about spanking are: what lessons are we REALLY teaching? And, is that truly what we want to teach?

©UnnecessaryWisdom.wordpress.com 2013

Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!

 

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Discussion

17 thoughts on “What’s So Bad About Spanking?

  1. I saw this on the funny post partum mom thread today. I love it. I feel the same way as you do in a lot of areas. I do think there is a time for spanking (dangerous situations like a child running into the street) but for the most part, I do not like it at all. I was never spanked as a child, but my husband was.Ironically, he feels that we should spank our children and I dont. I am planning on writing a post about this topic sometime soon and I plan on referencing this post. I hope that’s okay!

    Markell Corpus
    http://www.amouseinmykitchen.com

    Posted by Markell Corpus | May 17, 2013, 4:56 pm
  2. I’ve started thinking that obedience–even less than being unimportant–is actually a vice.

    I can think of tons of reasons to do something you’ve been told to:
    * You’re convinced it’s a good idea–that’s not obedience. It’s being persuaded.
    * You trust the other person’s judgement–is trust.
    * You recognize that a system will function best if people follow the directions–this is like following a traffic light, prescribed dance steps or the office rules. It’s pretty close to “obedience” but I don’t think it really is. It involves actively embracing and owning the desire to make something work.
    *It’s a decision you don’t much care about, and the other person does, but for whatever reason, you’re the final word.–“Stop up here for lunch! That’s my favorite restaurant!” That’s delegating.

    Obedience, as far as I can tell, is doing what you’re told, either because you’re afraid of what the person will do to you if you don’t, or because it’s easier than learning to make decisions for yourself. It’s either laziness or survival tactics, but it’s never anything *good.*

    Posted by Rebecca | May 18, 2013, 11:14 am
    • I agree with you completely. I am against obedience and I don’t ever ask a child, or anyone, to obey. I am comfortable asking for compliance. But ultimately, I want my kids to able to think through a request and determine that it is a proper thing they’ve been asked to do. I really like how you broke down the different types of “going along with a request.” 🙂

      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 18, 2013, 11:22 am
      • The definition of obedience:
        o·be·di·ence
        /ōˈbēdēəns/
        Noun
        Compliance with someone’s wishes or orders or acknowledgment of their authority.
        Submission to a law or rule.

        Asking someone “to obey” is the same thing as asking them to comply with your wishes, whether persuading them to do so, bribing them to do so, or telling them. We obey our bosses, our government officials, our police officers – what is wrong with asking our children to acknowledge our authority?

        Posted by alyearp | July 6, 2013, 2:18 pm
        • I think this is wildly dangerous for children. Do you really want your kids trained to comply with people who can easily persuade them, bribe them or tell them, based on authority alone or the quality of the persuasion, bribery or coercion? Think: kidnapping, sexual abuse, rape, theft, etc. Don’t you want your children to be able to make qualified decisions about whether or not they will comply with a request? Don’t you want them to be able to say “no” to people after considering a demand, even someone in authority?

          “No, Teacher. I will not touch you there. I’m telling my mother.”
          “No, Mr. Neighbor. I will not help you find your lost puppy while we drive together around the neighborhood in your car. I’m going inside to tell my dad.”
          “No, Officer. I will not open the door for you. No one is home right now and my parents said not to. I’m calling them first.”

          Do you want these people to have the ability to persuade or bribe your kids because that’s what you’ve taught them? Or simply “tell” your kids what to do because your kids “know their place” and they “submit to authority”?

          There is nothing wrong with being a leader in the home, asking the children to follow the rules, and enforcing those rules. It’s all about how it’s done and what the goals are. If the goal is to get the children to learn their place and submit to the authority of the parents, not only will that not last long, but it doesn’t teach all of the skills they need in life. If the goal is to teach critical thinking, morality and cooperation, then the method for getting there will most certainly not involve hitting them.

          Posted by unnecessarywisdom | July 7, 2013, 5:38 am
  3. I totally agree with James Dobson. There are definitely times that a spanking is what they need. You are right that sometimes the consequences they receive (like the skinned knee from running around the pool) is the only consequence they need. But sometimes it is up to us as parents to provide the consequence. I was spanked growing up and would have to say I deserved the ones I got. I was never spanked out of anger and my parents always talked to me after the punishment. I knew I was loved and they were just training me. I must have done it correctly because both of my girls are also going to use spanking as a form of punishment…not the only form but a form for the more drastic behaviors.

    Posted by Mama Carmody | May 20, 2013, 7:33 pm
    • I understand that many people feel that spanking is effective. I did, too, for a long time. I agreed, at the time, that my parents were doing the right thing when I was growing up. I still know that they loved me. I probably would have spanked my children had I not had the experience of raising two kids that weren’t my own. It was only then that I realized I could effectively discipline children without spanking. At that point, I decided it wasn’t necessary, so why use it as a tool? Even the most drastic behaviors could be corrected without spanking. So, while I don’t agree that spanking is necessary, I can understand why you and your children would. I felt that way once, too.
      ❤ Zoe

      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 21, 2013, 8:07 am
  4. Parents who are authoritarian also believe that their word is law and do not
    tolerate disagreement. There is only one finer teacher than you are, and that is life experience itself.

    re done with that letter, you can read it to me and we.

    Posted by effective parenting | May 22, 2013, 4:35 am
  5. Something that needs to be understand about classical discipline methods is that they were invented for a different world. ‘Do what you’re told or be hit” is based on an antiquated master-servant relationship which now exists almost nowhere in the developed world. Instead of teaching children to fear punishment from a superior, parents should be encouraging motivated creative thinkers with methods like Love and Logic

    Posted by topher | May 24, 2013, 1:11 am
  6. While many of your points are well-written and obviously thought-out, I disagree with much of what has been said. First, it’s somewhat difficult to see what you agree with and what you do not, as you have picked apart mere phrases of Dobson, and not commented on the big picture at all.

    The statement I most disagree with in your post is that “Obedience has no part in the adult world.” Is it possible you could be equalizing obedience and “sheep-minded” mentality? Obedience to the law, constructs of society, and those in positions higher than you is what our society, and most other societies, are founded upon. Is there a reason you made such a strong statement directly contradicting our society’s ideals?

    To delve deeper along the same lines, how can a person become a high-functioning adult without learning the lessons of obedience? Would you say a child is already a high-functioning adult? If not, then a child must not be put on the same level as a high functioning adult – a child must learn his or her place!

    While I disagree with your premise that spanking is useless, I’m not arguing with that. I simply feel some of your statements are far out in the field, and don’t seem to tie together well.

    Posted by alyearp | July 6, 2013, 2:14 pm
    • I find that most people who strive for obedience are expecting submission and as you put it, a “know your place” mentality. That is rarely useful, even in a military setting. Most employers prefer people who have the ability to use critical thinking within the workplace. Our society does not value strict adherence to the “rules” as, in fact, we are the ones who create the laws and we are responsible for determining if we like those laws, if they are fair, if they should be modified or revoked or if we need additional language to enhance them. If we just “obeyed” the laws, nothing would have ever changed in the past few hundred years. But because we are critical thinkers, every law is subject to change, if we decide we don’t like it anymore.

      A child who is taught just to obey a rule, rather than to think about how and why an action is appropriate might have difficulty figuring out when it’s okay to break a rule. For instance, you must obey your teacher. Know your place. What if your teacher tells you to touch his private parts? Do you still obey then?

      We must obey the laws of the land. But what if your spouse is about to give birth and the baby is stuck? Or you are driving your injured friend to the hospital and he is bleeding profusely. Can you speed then? Would you want your child to know how to think through these situations?

      Obedience only teaches authority and compliance. Critical thinking teaches how to make decisions and how to apply your morality to complex situations. You should most certainly NOT obey your boss. That’s a terrible idea. I worked for a very corrupt company and my boss asked me to do some things that were unethical. I refused. I have my own moral code that I live by. I will do what my boss asks me to do, but only if it’s ethical. If it’s not, I will not do it. If I get fired for that, I’m okay with that. I don’t have to obey anybody. But I do have to live a life I can be proud of.

      Of course a child is not a high-functioning adult. But the goal is get the child there. And just because the child doesn’t have all of the skills of an adult yet, doesn’t mean they deserve any less respect. That implies that low-functioning adults, say ones with an impairment, should also “learn their place.”

      How can a child become a high-functioning adult without learning the lessons of obedience? By teaching the child how and why we do what we do. It takes longer and it’s more complex but it’s the path to success. Instead of telling them what to do, we require them to figure it out for themselves. We require them to incorporate an internal moral code. We require them to problem-solve. We require them, in short, to think. If we truly believe in our principles, that they are correct, then we trust the child to arrive at the same conclusions we have. We won’t have to force it. Just teach.

      As to the overall article, this is Dr. Dobson’s selection of phrases for guidance on corporal punishment. I didn’t choose them. He did. I merely responded to his selection. I provided the link to his page in the article.

      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | July 7, 2013, 5:21 am
  7. I think kids should learn through discipline that’s effective enough – to me, it depends on the child and the way they learn.

    Posted by aperson | September 30, 2013, 11:06 am
  8. Brilliant article. I get so frustrated when certain others insist that “spanking never harmed me.” Most of these certain others are old, lonely, frustrated, angry, and live with the delusion that “spanking doesn’t hurt.” They steadfastly insist that the slaps, spankings, verbal criticisms they received in childhood molded them into the emotionally secure, loving, successful, creative beings that they were born to be. Yeah………RIGHT! You know who you are and so do we.

    These certain others, in their infinite wisdom, also seem to have conveniently forgotten that they have never had a functional, healthy, loving relationship free of the negative baggage of their childhoods. They insist that they are fine with their solitary life, that they sleep fine in the night in spite of having nobody to wrap loving arms around them as they drift off on a cloud of gold guilt dreams.

    What isn’t so clear, by now, is if I was spanked or not. For the record, I was. And I also spanked my own child. I have long since learned that children are pure, unadulterated joy in life, however, you get what you give and violence and negativity destroy all that wonderful potential. As a mother, it dawned on me one fine day that if what I put into my child was what I was going to get from him, I better re-think the ancient parental stand-by of spanking. It certainly didn’t take rocket science to figure out if it was only love and positive energy that I shared with my son, love and positivity was going to be my return.

    In summation, my new-found no-spank parenting philosophy proved fruitful. Unlike me and my baby daddy, our child has a high school diploma. Unlike me and my baby daddy, at nineteen years young my child looks forward to a bright future and endless possibilities.

    Posted by seagreen415 | December 10, 2013, 10:52 pm

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