Smack In The Middle:
Spanking Is Lazy Parenting..A Follow-Up
Recently, I wrote an article that appeared here on Good Enough Mother, in which I explained my views on spanking. What a firestorm! It was the second-most viewed article on the site and it created some interesting and healthy debate across social media.
I’m writing this follow-up because after the article appeared, two women sent personal messages to me on Facebook about it. I do enjoy a spirited and intelligent debate, but I was a little dismayed that both of them took me to task for not spanking my children and assured me that they will be completely wild in a few years. They both implied that I should start spanking them now.
They seemed pretty angry with me, but based on our discussions, my assumption is that at least some part of them feels guilty about spanking and the article brought that inherent guilt to the forefront. Both women said they spanked, but they didn’t really like it.
I get that the topic of spanking raises a lot of strong opinions and no matter where you stand on it, someone is judging you for it. We are all raising our children the way we see fit. I’ll be the first to say I’m not a parenting expert, but I stand by my opinion that spanking is lazy parenting. I actually took the term from my father. Once my sisters and I were adults, he admitted that he wished he and my mother had used other forms of discipline. In retrospect, he felt that spanking was an expedient means that allowed them to get back to whatever they were doing, whereas alternative discipline took a lot of effort and time. I understood his point that much of discipline–and parenting in general–is inconvenient. We’re human, so it’s natural to look for the quick and easy way to get things done.
These are some of the arguments the women who corresponded with me gave in favor of spanking and my thoughts on why they don’t stand up:
1. “SPARE THE ROD,
SPOIL THE CHILD.”
As a lifelong Nichiren Buddhist, my knowledge base is extremely limited on scripture and biblical interpretation, so for an informed perspective, I defer to my friend, “Lisa.” She is a Christian and does not spank her children. She has a 14-year-old son, and two daughters, 11 and 9.
I asked Lisa how she reconciles Proverbs 13:24 with not spanking. She said, “I think this passage is one of the most misunderstood in the Bible. I’m no Bible expert, but in the NIV, it says, Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Think about the words careful to discipline. I don’t think it means we should be careful to hit them; it means we should be careful to guide them. My opinion is that the word rod shouldn’t be taken literally. The rod represents a tool of discipline and, just as the Bible says, I am careful to discipline my children. My rod is not my hand; my rod is my authority over my children.”
Lisa went on to explain that she did spank her son fairly often until he was about 7 or 8, and her daughters less so. She explained why she stopped spanking. “At that time, I was going through a divorce from their father and [my son] was really acting up. Believe me, I whipped his little behind good! But God put it on my heart that I was breaking his spirit. I don’t want to do that. I pray for guidance and He orders my steps so that I find other ways to discipline him and my daughters. …I think my children would turn out okay if I had continued to whip them, but my vision for them says that they need to be better than ‘just okay.’”
Lisa uses these Bible passages for parenting inspiration: Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged (Colossians 3:21) and What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit? (1 Corinthians 4:21).
2. “SOME CHILDREN NEED
TO BE WHIPPED.”
Some wives need an open-handed slap in the mouth.
Some suspects need to be beaten to get a confession.
Some slaves need to be whipped to stay in line.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Violence against women, police brutality, and slavery were all accepted practices and submission was enforced with physical discipline. Yet, we still accept violence as a way to discipline children, the most defenseless of our population. Spanking is a socially acceptable form of domestic violence.
If a child has done something so bad that they “need” to be spanked, perhaps there is a deeper problem that needs attention and spanking is just a bandage on an already gaping wound. One woman said that her friend’s 13-year-old daughter had hit her mother. Mom went old school and whipped the girl with a switch. Some people would say that she was justified in doing that. But, I think if a child even thinks about hitting her mother, much less actually doing it, the problems with her didn’t start that day. It leads one to wonder how she was acting out before and what discipline and parental guidance she received for 13 years. Of course, the girl had been spanked many times before. Extreme bad behaviors have many minor precursors and it doesn’t require hitting to address them.
Read more: THE BIG ISSUE: TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK
3. “IF YOU’RE BLACK AND YOU DON’T
SPANK YOUR KIDS,
THEY’LL BE HEADED FOR JAIL.”
Both of the women who wrote to me are black and they brought up the race issue (a recent study showed that 89% of African American mothers spank their children). They touched on too many aspects of spanking in the black community to get into here, so I’m addressing only one of their comments. In the black community, we believe in administering epic spankings and whippings. I understand why whippings were perceived as necessary 30, 50, or 70 years ago. For many black children, it meant the difference between life and death. For me, learning the origins of spanking for African-Americans and how it derives from our history as slaves, informed my decision not to spank my children. For more information about this, I urge anyone, especially black parents, to check out the work of Dr. Stacey Patton at Spare The Kids.
But, this is one argument that I simply don’t understand. The vast majority of our prison population—adults and juveniles—were spanked as children, no matter the race. (Many were violently beaten, but that’s another issue.) This argument would leave one to believe that the problem with black criminals is that none or few of them were spanked, and this simply isn’t true. If spanking was really necessary to keep kids out of trouble, then it should follow that kids in the black community—where spanking is the preferred form of behavior modification—would be exceptionally well-behaved. That’s not true, either. We pride ourselves on our kids not throwing public tantrums, but we don’t acknowledge the other ways our children misbehave outside of our domains like fighting or defiance at school, for example. Not spanking isn’t the cause of what ails the black community, but clearly, spanking isn’t the cure.
I’m including a comment from a reader on Good Enough Mother’s Facebook page. I couldn’t stop thinking about this one:
…We had a joint Sunday School with a class of senior sisters in their mid-to-late 80s. The recent topic was the regret they wanted to share with us younger women to help us on our journeys. I was stunned by the number of those sisters who said they regretted spanking their children as frequently and as vigorously as they had. They all felt their children and grandchildren had “turned out fine,” but they still regretted all the hitting. As one 80-plus-year-old sister said, “My children turned out fine, but I sometimes wonder how much better they might have been if I hadn’t been so quick to hit, slap, and yell.” As this is a sanctified church group, I found the discussion quite surprising.
4. “I WAS SPANKED AND
I TURNED OUT FINE.”
I have no doubt that that’s true. I was spanked and I feel the same way. I also rode in cars without car seats or seat belts for much of my childhood. In fact, when I was three months old, my parents drove from Indiana to Alabama with me in a laundry basket in the backseat. As you can see, I turned out fine. Doing something like that now is unthinkable to parents, even though it happened to many of us.
But what does “turning out fine” really mean? Perhaps there are no physical scars, but what about the emotional and psychological ones? They can be far more debilitating, longer lasting, and harder to see than physical scars. Does one really look back on spankings as a time of pleasure? I don’t have the heart to inflict that kind of physical and emotional pain on my children. Life and other people will knock them down enough. They will know that our home is a haven—the one place where they are truly safe from the ills of the world.
In both of my Facebook discussions, the women differentiated between a smack to get a kid’s attention, a spanking, and physical abuse. I acknowledge that there is a difference between the three, but a single smack is the mother of physical abuse. Please don’t misunderstand—I am not saying that all spanking leads to physical abuse. I’m saying that deciding to spank means that one has to have a conversation about the degree of spanking. What are spankable offenses? How much force should be used? Should a parent use only her hand, or are certain objects okay? At what age should the parent stop spanking? If I had decided to spank, I could give answers to those questions. But here is the one question I considered the most important, but impossible to answer: How do I know which spanking, whether it’s the fifth or the fiftieth, will leave my children scarred?
5. “YOU CAN’T TRAIN YOUR KIDS
RIGHT IF YOU DON’T SPANK THEM.”
I suppose this is all in how one defines, “training your kids up right.” If all parents want is for a child to behave in the moment, spanking might ensure that. But, if a child is going to do something wrong and there’s a reasonable chance he won’t get caught, there is no motivation to modulate his bad behavior.
If parents want to ensure that their child behaves appropriately—whether he will be found out or not—it would be prudent to teach beforehand why certain behaviors are wrong, the consequences for the child and the people he might affect, and punish appropriately afterward, including making amends for the behavior. After all, isn’t a measure of character how one behaves when no one is watching? Consistent and creative discipline is far more likely to build ethical and moral fiber than spanking.
A friend once told me a story about the worst spanking of his life. His mother caught him throwing rocks at cars. Interestingly, he didn’t stop doing it; he just hid it better. I have to wonder if he would have kept throwing rocks if his mother had taken other actions, including—but not limited to—things like removing valued privileges for a certain amount of time, performing community service, and paying for damages he might have caused.
Kids who take their bad behavior underground because they fear a spanking trouble me far more than kids who do a terrible thing and don’t do it again because they understand the effects of their behavior. How can a child develop a moral conscience if his slate is “wiped clean” with a spanking? I believe a child should feel guilty about his bad behavior—that guilt motivates change so that he doesn’t repeat it. As in my friend’s case, when he got a spanking, he had done his time and was free to reoffend until he was caught again.
Read more: Ask Rene: I Despise My Husband’s Stepson!
I just don’t believe that spanking produces long-term results, and there is science to back that up. If you’d rather listen to experts instead of me spouting off my opinions, please read Plain Talk About Spanking. What I read there further solidified my determination not to spank my children. I would urge parents who might consider no longer spanking their children to visit Proactive Parenting. This is but one of many websites that address alternate ways of discipline. There are 60 different categories of articles that cover discipline concerns about kids of all ages.
Individual families on the micro level and society and the world on the macro level would benefit from children who are not physically disciplined as a matter of course.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and respectful comments.
Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is a writer, a work at home mother, and a new business owner. Read more about Alexis on her blog www.lilliebelle.org, email her at email@example.com, or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5.