Is It EVER 'OK' to Spank Your Child?
Hitting your child is not necessary or in the child's best interest.

By Joel Waldron
ManchesterPatch, December 6, 2011

Spanking is unnecessary and abusive. I’m not going to try and hide the fact that the purpose of this article is to convince parents that hitting their children is just not necessary or in the child's best interest. I’m aware that this statement is going to tick a lot of people off, but I don’t care. I care about the children that are subjected to physical abuse everyday – and, no, it doesn’t matter what you call it.

I have been working over the last few years to put a stop to bullying. Not just in our schools, but everywhere. Most people (sadly not all) have come to see bullying as a problem that needs to be addressed. There are now laws on the books to deter bullying in its many forms. But getting people to change their ingrained ideas about what bullying is and what it’s effects were, now that was a daunting task. People would say:

“Bullying was just a part of growing up” - that somehow it was a normal part or life so leave it alone;
“I was bullied and turned out OK” - so it must not be that big a deal, or that all bullying looks like what was done to me, and it wasn’t so bad;
“People need to stop being babies and just toughen up” - compassion, always compassion;
“Schools and the government should mind their own business and don’t tell us how to parent” - this always seemed to turn into an argument about morals and values, and that schools and government had no business sticking their heads in those areas.

Some people fought very hard to maintain that bullying wasn’t a problem that needed to be addressed. Many are still fighting hard not to let go of the conventions of their times. And so it was with slavery, women getting the right to vote, Civil Rights, interracial marriage, equality between the sexes, etc. Fortunately, despite the anger and attacks on their character, there were those that didn’t give up and society eventually noticed the problem and did something about it. Social change happened.

So when Susan Schaeffer tried to mention the subject of spanking in a recent Patch column, that maybe “Spanking Is Not the Solution”, it was no surprise to me at the anger and attacks to her character that followed. I also wasn’t surprised to see the same old arguments pop up that always pop up around issues of social change. So in an effort to save time, let’s dispel some of the more "popular" arguments for corporal punishment (read that as smacking our kids) up front and not wait for the onslaught of "public outrage" to follow.

Let me start out by doing the same thing with spanking that I did with bullying - drop the euphemism. Let’s start out by calling “spanking” for what it is: striking another human being. Spanking involves one person, usually bigger and stronger and “in charge,” hitting another person, usually smaller, weaker and subordinate. Sounds a lot like bullying to me. Bullying is abuse and spanking is abuse.

And there’s the problem. To me, hitting another human being is abusive, pure and simple. Some think that’s a pretty odd statement coming from a martial arts instructor who teaches people how to hit other people for a living. But it’s exactly because I do what I do for a living that gives me this perspective. I know the damage that is done - both physical and psychological - to a person that gets hit. Whether you call it spanking, discipline or abuse, the resultant down sides are always still there. They are inescapable.

At my martial arts school, we teach that if you have to use your physical martial art skills to protect yourself, you’ve failed as a martial artist. This is because we teach so many other ways to deescalate or otherwise handle confrontational situations. Physical contact is always a last resort - and always to be considered a failure. I would suggest that people think the same way about spanking, it’s always a last resort, and it’s always a failure in parenting.

So let’s get into some of the "typical" arguments that come up when discussing how spanking:

“Spanking just means a light swat on the butt.” Unfortunately, if you ask 10 different people what spanking is, you’re likely to get 10 different answers. No matter your personal definition or feeling about the issue, spanking runs a spectrum from a light swat on the butt to beatings with an object like a paddle or belt. To open up the possibility to the least of it, you open up the possibility to the worst of it. The only clear way to deal with the issue, is to say that it’s never okay. While that approach does happen to take away “the least of it,” it also takes away “the most of it,” which I hope a majority of people would be all for.

“Sometimes spanking a child is absolutely necessary.” Absolutely not. While I’ll concede that spanking is expedient sometimes, it is never the best method to use to get your child to modify their behaviors. There is just too much research available that overwhelmingly shows that corporal punishment is both ineffective and in the long run harmful to the child. People can and will ignore this research, but that doesn’t change the facts.

“It worked for my parents/my parents used it, so it must be OK.” Our parents didn’t have the resources nor the research available to them to learn about more effective ways to parent children. They did the best they could with what they had. You don’t have the same excuse. Our parents learned how to parent from their parents. It doesn’t seem reasonable to me to leave something as important as parenting our children up to “the way it’s always been done.”

There are many child psychologists and experts who believe that spanking is not harmful to the child, if done “correctly.” I somehow can’t wrap my head around the concept of there being a correct way to hit my child. And of course, if you look hard enough you’ll always be able to find "experts" that will come down on either side of an issue. That doesn’t make them right. The appropriate approach is to look at the body of research as a whole to determine what the consensus is. And in the absence of a consensus, I would vote for the choice that does the least harm.

Parents that don’t spank their children are "liberal do-gooders" and end up with brats. Here’s where the character assassination comes in. You are either a liberal or a conservative, white or African-American, straight or gay, this or that. There is always some character trait to be attacked when the arguments start falling apart. And not spanking doesn’t equal not providing children with boundaries and letting them run wild. It equals an alternative method to raising children that does not require hitting them.

If spanking is done in a loving and reasonable way, and done without anger, then it’s OK. Again, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of “lovingly” striking my child. The problem with saying that hitting your child is acceptable in some circumstances, is that those who feel that way may have other definitions of spanking other than “a light swat on the butt." Taking the approach that striking our children is never okay solves this problem.

God told me to. That whole “spare the rod, spoil the child” thing. Throughout history, God and religion have been used to justify some pretty reprehensible acts. Citing a passage or two in one or another person’s particular Holy book proves nothing other than that passage happens to exist in that book. Things like stoning have fallen out of favor even though they are noted in the bible as being perfectly acceptable means of “discipline.” There’s a wonderful scene from the series “West Wing” that makes my point exactly - it can be found by clicking here.

If you don’t have children, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Of course not. Without actually having children, you couldn’t possibly go do the same research and come to the same conclusions as those that do have children. The real statement being said here is “if you had children, you’d see that you have to hit them to make them behave.” That’s just plain silly.

I raised my college-aged children with a combination of older and newer techniques, and they are happy, well-adjusted, responsible adults. I am glad for that. And based on that, I would guess that your definition of spanking doesn’t lean to the heavy-handed side, because it’s hard to have happy, well-adjusted adults that are beaten as children. Just ask some. While it’s possible that a “combination of older and newer techniques” does to some extent work, I would contend that you would’ve seen the same or better results only using the so called “newer techniques”.

Sometimes, a "timeout" isn’t enough to make the point, it’s too important that they learn... This pre-supposes that there are only two options open to a parent, either a timeout or spanking. Obviously this isn’t true. If you had to resort to spanking, then you’ve definitely missed many other options on the list.

The schools, the government and other people should mind their own business. I think that most of us will agree that the beating part isn’t OK - although some would. And if we’re to take the approach that everyone is entitled to raise their children as they see fit, then there are some children out there in major trouble. So that approach wouldn’t be in the best interest of the children. The protection of each of us is absolutely the responsibility of all of us. And the government is a necessary element in social change. All of society does not have a change of heart all at once.

Historically, society changes little by little until critical mass is reached at which point, social change begins to happen. But it’s never 100 percent, and for a long time, up to 49 percent of society still thinks in it’s "old," out dated terms. That’s where the government steps in and enacts new laws to prevent people from acting in accordance with their "old" beliefs.

Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, so we’re just going to have to “agree to disagree” on this one. This is where the discussion usually gets to when those against social change are in the minority and their arguments are shown to hold no water. And for the record, I don’t agree that everybody is entitled to their own opinion. I think that everybody is entitled to an informed opinion. If you’ve been told a lie, and you choose to believe in and act out on that lie, without checking it out, then you’re dangerous.

So, can corporal punishment produce some positive results in child rearing? Probably. Is it the most effective of strategies? Certainly not. The overwhelming body of research says no. Am I calling you a “bad parent” if you’ve slapped your kid on the butt once or twice? No, but let’s keep the focus where it belongs. This isn’t about the parent's self-esteem, it’s about the children. My goal here is not to call or make anyone feel like a “bad” parent. The goal here is to point out that there is a better way. A way that doesn’t rely on violence or intimidation. A way that is better for all children. Children that can’t defend themselves from their parents. Children that, I’m sure if you asked them, would ask that you to find another way - ANY other way, to teach them about life.

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