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Spanking: Useful or Harmful?
The question of spanking has become quite controversial in recent years. Is it an effective method if discipline? Is it ineffective and harmful to the child? Does it border on child abuse? Statistics tell us that over 80% of parents continue to use spanking as a disciplinary measure (Epstein), but “experts” would tell us that spanking is not a viable or useful way to correct children and can even have adverse effects on the child’s development and psychological well-being.
I believe that spanking, while perhaps not the most desirable form of discipline, can be used successfully and is sometimes necessary.
THE ARGUMENTS AGAINST SPANKING
One of the most pervasive arguments against spanking is that if you hit a child, all he will learn is that he can take care of his problems by hitting other people. A related argument is that since parents only resort to spanking when they come to the end of their rope and are frustrated and angry—thus equating angry with spanking in the child’s mind. Many claim that spanking is not effective as discipline, being merely a punishment with no thought for correcting behaviour. There have been studies on the psychological state of adults who had been spanked as adolescents and teenagers showing that teens who are spanked have a greater tendency toward suicide and depression than those who are not. Finally, it is thought that repeated spankings will made a child immune to their effect.
To sum up, the basic argument against spanking is that it is punishment with no view to correct, often causing psychological trauma and increased aggression.
SOLUTIONS TO THE ARGUMENTS
Certainly, any or all of these things could happen if spanking is used improperly. However, I could argue that other disciplines could have the same effects if used improperly. The most important thing with any sort of discipline is not whether to use it, but how to use it (Family, 1996). For discipline to be effective, there must be a loving bond between parent and child, and the child must know that the punishment is for his own good.
Most of the arguments seem to be based on a reactive type of spanking—the parent has become frustrated and is lashing out at his child in anger. However, this is not the case with proper and effective discipline. A proper use of discipline involves the parents setting out precise guidelines with definite punishments if the rules are disobeyed. Now the child has no excuse: He knew what was expected of him, and what would happen if he willfully did not fulfill the expectations. After a spanking, he ought to be able to tell his parents what he did to be punished, and how to avoid such punishment in the future. This does not necessarily mean that he will understand why the action was wrong.
Spanking is effective mainly in younger children who do not yet have the reasoning ability to understand why a certain action is wrong or dangerous. For example, the whining child in the toy store does not understand that there is a limited money supply, that the toy he wants is inferior to other toys, and cannot reason through the pros and cons of why he should or should not get the toy. He only knows he wants it, and whines. Often the only way to get this child’s attention is to swat him lightly on the rear. He will then understand that whining is undesirable, even if he does not understand all the implications of why it is undesirable. As soon as a child is able to make reasonable moral and situational decisions, spanking should cease.
Children can become immune to nearly every form of punishment, not just spanking. Parents will probably get the best results from using a variety of disciplinary tactics, and using them sparingly. There are many times that no real discipline is needed, just distraction or redirection. Spanking, in particular, should be reserved for the most willful and defiant of actions, when the child is knowingly and purposefully disobeying previously stated rules (such as no whining).
If used properly, spanking can be instructive. A spanking immediately administered to a specific disobedience, along with discussion, explanation, and love will tell a child that “Mommy really, really does not want you to do that, and will go to great costs to you and herself to keep you from harm.” Spanking should be followed by a hug and expressions of love. The phrase “this hurts me more than it hurts you” has been overused and trivialized to the point that we do not hardly believe it anymore, but this is what should be conveyed to a child undergoing discipline.
Ultimately, discipline should be used to “train up a child in the way he should go,” not to increase a parent’s sense of his own power. The point of discipline is to keep children from physical harm and to teach him character traits that will help him make his way in the world. Some children are naturally submissive and learn quickly what is expected of them and comply. However, others are naturally rebellious and look for any opportunity to flout instructions. It is a lot easier to train children at these young ages, and whatever they learn about authority at this age is likely to influence them for their entire lives.
I would describe my mom as a permissive parent, my dad as an authoritative parent, and myself as fairly compliant child. I always knew what they wanted me to do, but I also knew that I could get around mom if I wanted. Nothing got past my dad. He is very loving, and not demanding, but when he wants something done, you had better do it. His credo has always been that “The first time disobedience happens, it’s your fault [speaking to a child]. The second time, it’s my fault.” I do not think the second time ever happened.
I can only remember being spanked by him once, but it made a great impression on me. We had been in church, and I had repeatedly ignored and even purposefully flouted his requests for me to behave properly. It was not so much that I had done something bad, but that I was flouting his authority over me. If this authority of parent over child is not established in early ages, it will never be established, and this can cause problems for the child when he grows up and begins to work and establish relationships with other people. The argument that spanking decreases respect for the parent is baloney. I respect, and love, my father much more than I would have if he had allowed me to do whatever I wanted. And I do not think that I am the only one. I am certain that most people would tell you the same thing about their parents.
IN CONCLUSION (ALMOST)
I agree that there can be problems with spanking. But I would argue, if I had the time, that all forms of discipline could be problematic if taken to extremes. Spanking is a viable method of correction, if used properly. I respect my parents for being willing to spank me when I needed it, and I feel that my character is stronger because I was occasionally forced to obey through spanking. I intend to use spanking when I have children if it becomes necessary, though I do not condone the overuse of it. Again, some children will not need it at all, and if some parents would rather not spank, that is all right with me. It should be up to the discretion of the parent whether his child needs a spanking. Do not take away my right to bring my child up “in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
THE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
I have already quoted Proverbs 22:6, and Proverbs 13:24 tells us that “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” Probably “rod” is meant to refer to any disciplinary tactic, but it is unavoidable that the word “rod” literally means a stick. This is specifically some sort of beating or spanking which is commanded by God as a means of discipline. God is the ultimate parent, and He is no wimp when it comes to discipline. He is merciful, as parents should be, and allows us great freedom; but He does chastise us His children when nothing else will work. However, He cannot be doing it to punish us, for Christ has already taken the punishment by dying on the cross. The only explanation is that God’s loving discipline of His children, though often quite harsh, is done not to punish but to correct us and teach us to be obedient children. If we should not imitate God, whom should we imitate?
Family Research Council. (1996). "Spare the Rod? New Research Challenges Spanking Critics". Family Policy. Retrieved April 10, 2000 from the World Wide Web: <www.frc.org/fampol/fp96/jpa.html> [page no longer available]
Epstein, Bruce A., M.D. "Let’s Stop Spanking Our Children". St Petersburg Times. Retrieved April 10, 2000 from the World Wide Web: <http://www.allkids.org/Epstein/Articles/Spanking.html> [page no longer available]
Griffith, Linda Lewis. (1996). "Why You Should Say ‘No’
To Corporal Punishment: It Doesn’t Work". The Standard-Times.
Retrieved April 10, 2000 from the World Wide Web: <www.s-t.com/daily/05-96/05-27/96/c02li091.htm>
[page no longer available]
This paper originated as a paper for General Psychology, Missouri Baptist College, Spring, 2000.
©2000 by Jandy Stone