Spanking Teaches Wrong Lessons
By Marlene Resnick
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, July 16, 2001

In reality, spanking only teaches a child how to be abusive The arrest of Paul King, an administrator at a private school in Charlotte County, on charges of abusing a student, has focused attention on the practice of spanking as a means of school discipline.

It is unfortunate, however, that corporal punishment is used to punish children in any situation. We can argue the intricate details of spanking vs. abuse, however, it is a rather pointless exercise if you look at the results of both actions.

Many adults today grew up in households where they were hit, and strongly defend that style of punishment as a measure of loyalty to their parents. Most may say that they deserved it and therefore children deserve to be spanked when they misbehave. Let us take a look at what the most extensive studies tell us about this behavior.

Based on studies of over 9,000 families in America, Dr. Murray Straus, in his book titled "Beating the Devil Out of Them, Corporal Punishment in American Families," has found that: "Children who are spanked quickly learn that love and violence can go hand in hand." In the 20 years of research compiled in this book, the findings indicate that children who are spanked are from two to six times more likely to be physically aggressive, to become juvenile delinquents, and later, as adults, to use physical violence against their spouses, to have sadomasochistic tendencies and to suffer from depression.

We are not talking about physical abuse here, we are talking about "spanking."

In my own experience of working with more than 1,500 families over a period of many years, hitting comes from a lack of understanding of how children actually learn. If adults actually understood how children learn, they would realize that what they teach when they hit is that when you are upset with someone, you should hit them.

We are facing a crisis in the rise of violence in younger and younger children. Discipline has nothing to do with punishment. Discipline is about teaching children what they need to know for them to become self-disciplined and responsible. It is about helping children to do it better the next time.

The fact that so many parents and even some school personnel use hitting of any kind is an indication of a crisis in creativity in developing constructive relationships with children. Firm discipline is a critical element in helping children to become capable and responsible human beings, but it is the antithesis of hurtful punishment. Assault is assault is assault, whether it is called child abuse or whether it is called spanking.

Most adults resort to corporal punishment because they haven't learned to control their own emotions, they don't understand how children actually learn, and they may carry a combination of anger and loyalty in regard to their own parents.

There are a multitude of disciplinary strategies which are far more effective and more long term in their outcomes. What is needed is a willingness to learn to deal effectively with emotions, to have an understanding of how children actually learn, to set appropriate limits and to teach children to solve problems.

When someone hits you, does it make you more open to listening and learning? Or does it make you want to hit and hurt, as well? Why would anyone think that children feel differently?

Recent brain research also indicates that when children feel threatened, the higher-level thinking skills close down. The limbic system, which is responsible for the fight or flight response, takes over. When this happens, chemicals in the brain are released that actually affect the developing architecture of the brain. This type of high stress on a regular basis has been proven to produce a brain which is impulsive, hyper-reactive and which does not have the ability to think before acting.

This means that this type of experience does not help a child to do better the next time. In fact, it increases impulsivity and violent tendencies.

Paul King is a good example of the poor practices from which it will take generations to recover.

Marlene Resnick is the president of Parenting U International, a Sarasota-based company specializing in parent education.

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