THE BIG ISSUE: TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK


Okay, brace yourselves, Good Enough Mother is about to venture right into ground zero on one of the most incendiary parenting debates, spanking.

Yesterday I posted about Jerry Lewis and his incendiary comments regarding Lindsay Lohan. Lewis said he’s ‘smack her in the mouth’ if he saw her – completely inappropriate in my mind… but it got me thinking about how many old school parents differ from the younger generation in their parenting tactics. Jerry is 87 years old, a smack in the mouth is a long way from a spank, and Lindsay is a grown woman now… but you get where I’m going with this!

I was spanked as a child and you can rest assured whatever I got my tail swatted for I deserved.  Now, as a mother of two children, I too, believe in spanking.

It helps, when you discipline a child, to have a variety of tools to be able to call upon. Spanking is just one of the tools I used. Of course, I no longer spank my kids as they are 12 and 14 and different forms of discipline, like grounding and taking away items and privileges works for this age group. But when they were younger, I did not spare the rod.

The American Academy of Pediatrics official position is that spanking should not be used on children but it is a perplexing issue for parents. An estimated 90% of parents have spanked their children at one time or another yet 85% wished they hadn’t.

There are also interesting breakdowns between race and gender. According to a survey done in 2008  77% of men were likely to agree that kids needed (what the survey called) a “good hard spanking” compared to 65% of women. Among race, African American women appear to the be group most in agreement with spanking as a disciplinary tool (80%) as opposed to 63% of white women and 61% of Hispanic women.

But there are questions on the long-term effects of spanking on kids. Researchers studied more than 3,000 American women and toddlers and found that the kids spanked several times a month were 40% more likely to display aggressive behaviors. And what of the cognitive impact? A recent study out of the University of New Hampshire showed lower IQ’s among kids who were spanked versus those whose parents used other methods of discipline .

I cannot speak for everyone else and those of you who follow me and this site know I do not purport to be an expert, just one mom feeling her way through this life with kids and hoping I don’t screw them up too badly. But my take on spanking is this:

  • Use only when necessary: When Casey and Cole were toddlers, what I typically did was warn once and explain what was coming if they did not obey. The second time I had to say something (meaning they were being deliberately disobedient) they got a swift smack on their padded bottom. It is also the fastest way to get a toddler’s attention. Are they reaching for a hot stove and you don’t have time to explain what might happen if they continue? Are they about to run through a crowded parking lot? I believe there are instances when it’s the most effective way to extinguish a potentially dangerous behavior.
  • Consider the amount of force: A swat on the butt is very different from a beating with a belt. Having been on the receiving end of a few of those as a child, that is something I cannot condone. But I see nothing wrong with a swat on the bottom with an open hand.
  • Control emotion: We are physically larger than kids so we need to keep emotions in check so we don’t inadvertently use too much force. I think this is much easier said than done but it is critical.
  • Age: I honestly cannot remember when I stopped spanking Casey and Cole but if I had to guess I would say it was probably somewhere in early grade school. At that point they understood what behaviors would result in time out of having things taken away.
  • Lastly, I think spanking needs to be used in conjunction with talking. After the spanking I would sit Casey or Cole down and explain why they got a spanking. I would ask if they understood, if they had any questions and then let them know mommy still loved them.

Casey and Cole appear no worse for wear from the bit the spankings they received when they were younger. I guess I would add my husband and me in that group and we got far worse than anything our own children received. I can only go by the anecdotal evidence in my own life and that is that spanking worked for us.

So what are your thoughts? Did you or do you spank your children? Were you spanked as a child and did that impact your view of it as a way to discipline?  As I said before, this is one of those really hot topics that people have strong opinions on. I would love to hear yours but please be respectful of other people’s positions.  Fire away!

Rene Syler is a wife, mother, breast cancer advocate and television personality whose burning desire to tell the truth about modern motherhood led her to create GoodEnoughMother.com. When not spending time with her family or burning something for dinner, Rene travels the country as host of Sweet Retreats on The Live Well Network and Exhale on Aspire.

15 Comments

  1. Irene

    September 5, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Oh, yes a controversial subject. I don’t know I had a relative that had 17 kids when I was growing up. Well, she always said, “Be a strict parent or be liberal but don’t be both.” She had a wooden spoon on her wall next to her stove. All she had to do was reach for it and announce through the microphone & all of us did what we were told. Funny, I don’t think to this day she ever had to use it but the amount of times that amounted to the fingers on my hands.

    My parents spanked us but I don’t see any difference in me for and/or against it. I don’t spank my kids because I was part of the Time Our era of parenting in the 90s.

    I do know this…you better have a fool proof plan of some sort & stick too it. Our children are a little on the spoiled side, but when their feet hit the door they have always been respectful in front of others at school, church, jobs and around the community so that is all I can really ask for.

    Cannot wait to hear what others think….

  2. kim

    September 5, 2010 at 11:31 am

    spanking is violence, period. think of what a great world this would be if no one ever hit another person, ever, knowing just how wrong it is. i was not only spanked as a child but punched and beaten. the violence stops with me. i would rather remove my hand than raise it against one of my children. there are other ways to discipline kids and show them right from wrong. but really, it comes right back down to the golden rule, as is the case with so many other issues: do you want to be hit? no? then don’t be a hitter.

  3. Dave Jordan

    September 5, 2010 at 11:38 am

    My mom spanked us but not before giving us a long rambling speech as to WHY she was doing it. And the spankings usually came after a warning.I think if more parents dsciplined in that fashion, it would be more effective.

  4. pattyrowland

    September 5, 2010 at 11:55 am

    as a product of the 60′s and 70′s – i had my @ss whooped many, many times…we’re talking bare butt with a belt…that was my dad’s doing and my mom kept a 1 1/2 foot wooden ruler handy until my dad came home…i guess i deserved them though i don’t remember using a belt or a wooden ruler on my kids…i did swat them and put a wooden spoon to their hands when they were young and couldn’t understand reasoning…once they get older and understand, other punishments are more hurtful (taking away phones, tv, computer, etc.)…they’d ask for spankings just to get it over with vs. a 2 week long punishment…these days i have no idea what’s going on but i hope that when i have grandkids they won’t be out of control all of their lives.

  5. Barbara

    September 5, 2010 at 12:33 pm

    This is a tough one for me.
    Not to veer off course of the conversation at hand, but I’d like to offer a different perspective.
    My almost-teenage son was diagnosed late last year with Asperger’s. The fact that he’d been an A student, displayed a brilliant vocabulary and had managed to keep up with a cadre of Catholic schoolmates who’ve been with him since they were all four years old disguised a huge challenge he faced every day. Lots of times he just didn’t “get it” — and my husband and I were so frustrated by his lack of responsiveness that we often didn’t know what to do.
    So, sometimes, we spanked.
    Our son had been diagnosed with ADHD when he was 6, but Asperger’s is something very different. Over the years, he’d developed some amazing strategies for coping. But, in the last two years he start falling further and further socially behind. He went from being the class leader to being the victim of class bullies. Not until he took a battery of very sophisticated tests administered by one of the most respected experts in this area did we –and everyone else — see the truth. We are learning — all of us — a whole new way of communicating: different ways of setting expectations and delivering consequences — good and bad–for his actions.
    Our family life in the past six months is better than it’s been in — well, forever. It’s hard work unlearning 12 years of habits. But, we’re doing it.
    And, if I had to do it all over again, I would have spanked less and listened, observed and affirmed more. A lot more.

  6. Rene Syler

    September 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Great responses.. and then there’s this..

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,581882,00.html

  7. Michael Jones

    September 5, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    I believe if i warned them and they still did it i would pull them across my knee, pull down their pants and slap their bottom 20 times.

  8. DawnKA

    September 5, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    There are times when speaking is good enough but then there are times when a little more intervention may send a strong message. I have spanked my children and I can say although they are not perfect, they are respectful and considerate young adults/teenagers. I have seen parents who give their child all the access to decide what they want to do or how they want to handle things only to have the child curse and speak to them in such a disrespectful manner without regard to their parent as the one who loves them and wants only the best for them.

  9. Mary

    September 5, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    From my own experience, as a child that was spanked and as a parent that spanked her children, I completely agree with you. My father used his belt and my mother used the paddle from the paddle ball toy, I’m sure you remember those! Oh yes, play with the toy outside and as soon as the ball came off, mom would take care of it, right into her special drawer that had a certain sound when opened. (I hated that sound).
    I could probably count on both hands the times I’ve been spanked by my parents and all were before school age. Everyone of them deserved. They were never done in anger. We were sent to our rooms to prepare for what was coming and yes, I have heard “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it will hurt you”. I truly understand that now.
    I spanked my children when they were young. Personally, I think there is a very small time frame when spanking is effective. I don’t recall ever spanking mine before they were 3 or after they turned 5.
    Two things you said I think go hand in hand; force and emotion. If the parent can step away and get their own emotions under control before the spanking, then the amount of force will take care of itself.
    My folks always talked to us afterward to make sure we understood why our conduct warranted the spanking.
    The only area I disagree is spanking with an open hand. A little swat on the behind or hand is fine with me and a “pop in the mouth” is never acceptable, but when it comes to the bending over the knee for a good paddling, the bare hand should not be used. My feeling is that a parent’s hands should always be used for comforting, holding, tickling, you can add any good feeling that hands can produce. I never wanted my children to fear my hands…if that makes sense.
    BTW, mine are now 22 & 19, very respectful and polite to everyone. I’m white, agree with spanking and do not regret being spanked or spanking my own.
    I would also like to add, from my perspective, there is a very big difference between spanking as discipline and the beating of a child, which is NEVER ok.

  10. David Freeman

    September 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I have to Agree with, Rene, Mr. Jordan, and some of the fine ladies on here today. I was hit when I deserved it as a kid and it was a quick and effective way to establish boundaries on my behavior when I redfused to heed my mpther’s wishes. And a s single mom for many years, she needed to be effective for my brother and I to learn some semblance of right and wrong, especially when we were acting out over the loss of our father and Mom had enough on her hands as it was. I agree that it is just another tool in an arsenal. Used with a strong background of love and with an effective but powerful open hand, it is not going to leave our children scarred for life.
    Sure you talk and explain first. I might even be inclined to do it again, when at home. But out when your kids behavior is affecting other’s lives or ruining things even for you as a parent, they need to learn proper behavior somehow. Minds that young and small do not have the objective reasoning older minds do. The tap on the butt works on my cats and dogs, and it works on children because it is a clear way to communicate in a straightforward manner to a mind that has few other intellectual lines to a real sense of understanding. And kids , from my reading, actually LIKE feeling boundaries. It makes them feel safer. I knew my Mom still loved me. And I am not “scarred” now because I am wise enough to understand she DID do it out of love, to teach me to be a better human being when I grew into an adult.
    And sure, our kids today are spoiled. It’s also fine that they learn to behave when they go out the door. But there’s even more to life than that. Learning safety, learning not to hurt others, and spanking can be an effective teacher when parsed out with common sense and backed up with unconditional love, the greatest teacher of all.

  11. Donna Nash Williams

    September 7, 2010 at 11:26 am

    I have two children 12 and 15 my daughter got maybe 1 spanking in her life…just never had too my son got hit with a flip flop yesterday…refused to get out of the car becaus he wanted to go where he wanted to go…he is the most stubborn…I believe in it…I believe it works…and if you do it in the beginning you don’t really have to keep doing it…..it is part of training…I see many children that I personally want to spank myself…

  12. Renee Jones-Lee

    April 25, 2011 at 5:39 am

    The bible clearly states “spare the rod spoil the child”. Being a woman of a particular age, I can remember vividly some of the spankings that I received and the poor choices I made to receive said spankings. From those experiences I learned about boundaries and consequences of ones actions. Having said that, I am a firm believer of spanking. I’ve raised four well balanced, respectful and law abiding citizens that I am proud to say they’re mine. I’m sure this will continue to be a debate for the ages but for me it worked….Happy Parenting!!

  13. dianthe

    April 25, 2011 at 8:45 am

    the controversial spanking conversation …

    let me preface this by saying, i was spanked as a child and i don’t think it ruined me – and my entire life, i always thought i would spank – now that i’m a mom, i think spanking is stupid – allow me to explain …

    1. we constantly teach our children not to hit but as soon as they do something we don’t like, we hit them – oh sure, we call it spanking and claim that it’s for discipline – and we justify it because they’re kids, which brings me to my second point

    2. when did kids become second class citizens? why is it okay to hit kids just because they’re kids? if you hit an adult it’s considered assault but if it’s a child it’s okay because they’re kids? and at what age are they no longer kids? i’ve heard spankers say “until they’re too old to spank” – well what age is that? when they’re 10 they’re still spankable but the day they turn 11 they’re too old?

    3. “spare the rod blah-blah-blah …” – the proverbial “rod” was actually the staff that shepherds used to guide their sheep – they would never beat their sheep but instead would use their staffs/rods to guide their herd to keep them on the right course – no one is questioning that children need guidance and discipline – but is spanking them really the best/only way to do that? and is hitting a child *really* what Jesus would do?

    4. this is the one that gets me – more than any other group, i hear black folks talk about “beating that ass” – when asked why they spank, i’ve often heard “you have to spank to keep them under control, so they’ll act right, it’s the only way they’ll learn, etc.” – funny, that’s the same rationale that slave owners used to justify beating slaves – just sayin’ …

    5. it’s my theory that 99% of parents who spank do so because they were spanked – looking at the previous comments the “i turned out fine” or “i deserved it” – to that i have a big ol’ side eye – we didn’t ride in car seats or wear seat belts and turned out just fine – we stayed in the streets and didn’t come home til the streetlights came on and we turned out fine – just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean we should continue doing it

    i will admit that i’ve given my 3 year old a quick pop on the butt a couple of times – i immediately felt like crap afterward and while it got her attention, it also did nothing more than piss her off – plus i got the response “don’t hit me” – i’ve also apologized to her because she’s right – i shouldn’t hit her – just like she shouldn’t hit her brother – taking the time to truly discipline her takes a lot more effort on my part but it also elicits a much better reaction from her in the long run

  14. Tiffany

    April 25, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    @dianthe – You said it all! :)

    I only have a 5 month old son, so I’m not at the point in my parenthood where the issue of “to spank or not to spank” has come up, so I often think about what I’ll end up doing. I can’t say I’ll *never* spank, but I agree that hitting is hitting & it’s my goal to not have to use that sort of punishment with my children.

  15. Dr. Bisa

    April 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Rene, you offer great pointers for parents who choose to use spanking as a method of discipline. As a modern-day early learning authority, I would first like to remind parents that discipline means “to teach”. So, no form of discipline should be implemented without discussion before and after any consequence. Secondly, and finally, parents should not spank when they are upset. At that point, you are reacting emotionally without mentally thinking and, as a result, are merely punishing, not disciplining. Like you, Rene, I did not spare the rod, but only used spanking as a final option. My sons are 13 and 9 now. My 9 year-old saw my 13 year-old get spanked when they were younger and didn’t want any parts of that, so I rarely have to resort to spanking him and don’t recall the last time I spanked my 13 year-old. I say, if you make your expectations clear early, you won’t have to spank in the teen years. Again, spanking should be done mentally, not emotionally. Emotions get in the way, which can leave lasting impressions and lead to aggression. I must say that, everywhere we go, my sons are told how “well-behaved” they are. I’M JUST SAYIN’!

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