Note: for now, comments are open on this post. Any trollish or truly nasty comments will be drop-kicked into the spam oubliette. Let’s aim for reasonable discussion only this time around.
So, my last — and admittedly ragey — post about spanking garnered more attention than I perhaps expected for a post on Christmas Eve. It went… I believe the word is “viral,” particularly over Facebook. Like a norovirus on a cruise ship, it spread very fast in a very short amount of time.
It inspired a great many views and a whole lotta comments.
Some comments were great. Thoughtful, whether for or against. Some people told stories about themselves as parents or about themselves as children. Some of these stories were honestly heartbreaking (and I suggest you read through the comments on that post).
And then there were those comments that got a good bit toxic. I had to dump so many people in the spam oubliette they were probably corded like firewood down there. Comments that invoked “Obama’s America,” that made eye-popping assertions about school shootings, or that just plain insulted me or threatened me (had quite a few people tell me they were going to spank me, which, you know, thanks, but we’re not that intimate).
Regardless, some folks took me to task — fairly or not, I dunno — for not offering data or solutions up front in the post. I didn’t necessarily think I needed to offer solutions to “don’t spank your children” in the same way that I don’t need to offer solutions for “don’t steal stuff” or “don’t chase rat poison with bleach,” I thought the proscription against spanking in my, erm, unique and fist-shaking way was enough.
But I’d like to address some of that stuff now. In a decidedly less ragey way — some puritanical folk took exception to my use of profanity, and as they are not regular readers of this vulgarity-smeared blog-box, I will happily take all the “fucks” and “shits” and for now put them in a box.
Let’s answer some of the questions or comments about spanking, shall we?
Spanking doesn’t have any negative consequences.
Science would seem to disagree with you. If you Google “effects of spanking,” you are likely to receive a page full of articles and information suggesting that spanking children can have a number of negative effects: it can increase aggression, it can increase depression, it can limit cognitive ability overall, and it can specifically hinder language abilities. Time Magazines’s “Long-Term Effects of Spanking” is maybe worth a read, if only for quotes like: “…spanking sets up a loop of bad behavior. Corporal punishment instills fear rather than understanding. Even if children stop tantrums when spanked, that doesn’t mean they get why they shouldn’t have been acting up in the first place. What’s more, spanking sets a bad example, teaching children that aggressive behavior is a solution to their parents’ problems.”
Or, the American Psychological Association’s assessment (spoiler warning: don’t do it).
Or, “What’s the Problem With Spanking?” a post that details the effects of spanking in the child (how it affects their limbic system) and how it also affects the parent doing the spanking.
And on, and on.
I want real data, not interpretations of data.
A reasonable request, given how articles on the Internet can make all kinds of assertions based on flimsy data. Data can be cherry-picked to tell different stories; you ain’t wrong there.
Money quote: “The evidence is clear and compelling — physical punishment of children and youth plays no useful role in their upbringing and poses only risks to their development. The conclusion is equally compelling — parents should be strongly encouraged to develop alternative and positive approaches to discipline.”
Ah, wary of those dubious Canadians, eh? With their maple syrup and their Tim Bits.
There you’ll find:
“Conclusion: These results represent a strong test of the links between spanking and a child’s aggressive behavior and vocabulary, using prospective longitudinal models controlling for a number of family, child, and parent variables and earlier child aggression and vocabulary. We add novel information about the role of fathers’ spanking and add to an emerging literature on the effect of spanking on cognitive outcomes.
Future work should focus on providing families a clearer picture of the outcomes associated with spanking and more information about what discipline practices may have the desired effect on improving functioning, so that they can move beyond punishment practices to the incorporation of positive parenting behaviors with the potential to encourage healthy child trajectories.”
But what about the Gunnoe study?
Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe did a study that suggests that spanking your children at a certain age leads to an improvement in performance (school, specifically) and happiness.
If you feel that’s justification enough to spank your kids, so be it.
I might suggest looking at some considerations, though, first. (In brief: it’s a small, unpublished study that acts as an outlier to a far larger body of evidence.)
I don’t trust studies.
Be that as it may, if there exists a body of evidence that suggests that spanking your kids could be harming your kids psychologically, is it worth the risk? Given that spanking is not the only — nor even the best — way to impart lessons or teach respect.
[Insert anti-science rhetoric here]
Then we are at an impass. I like science because it tries to show me the various causes and effects in this universe. But you are eschewing science, which is your right. I hope your denial of gravity allows you to fly, and your ignorance of entropy lets you live forever.
Shine on, you crazy anti-science diamond.
But please don’t hit your kids just the same.
I was spanked, and I’m fine.
And that’s great. But first, that’s an example of an anecdote, or “artisinal data.” Which is to say, it’s evidence of precisely nothing. Some people live through horrific things and actually turn out okay — but that doesn’t make those horrific things laudable, or worth recommending. People who survive cancer don’t say, “Everybody should have cancer because it teaches you to respect life.”
I was spanked, and it taught me respect, and [insert insult or threat here].
I would argue spanking taught you no respect at all, then. Irony, it seems, is alive and well.
My kids were spanked, and they’re just fine.
Again: “artisinal data.”
And also: you don’t actually know that.
Parents are notoriously out-of-touch with their children’s feelings. I bet a great many parents feel a great many things about their children that are a thousand miles from accurate.
But how are my kids going to learn their lessons?
Presumably the same way they do elsewhere: through teaching, compassion, and through consequence and discipline. A lack of spanking does not equate to a lack of discipline any more than a lack of war equates to a lack of diplomacy or a lack of feeding your kids candy equates to them starving. Point is, parents have a plethora of tools in the ol’ parenting toolbox that they can reach for. And that can mean leaving this old, ugly tool in the box.
Not spanking does not mean freedom from consequence or discipline.
Not spanking does not mean appeasement or spoiling.
But how are my kids going to learn to avoid dangerous behaviors?
Again, I might recommend looking in your toolbox for other parenting methods. Children — particularly young children, who are the ones most often the ones trying to lick light sockets or run into traffic — respond to a variety of negative stimuli, and spending any time with said child will teach you these things before long. Spanking needn’t be one of those negative stimuli.
A whack on the ass is better than a dead kid.
Yes, that’s true. Though that’s a bit of a false dichotomy and an appeal to absurd logic. You could also break the kid’s ankles so he doesn’t run into traffic. What? A kid with two broken ankles is better than a dead kid, isn’t it?
The disciplinary spectrum is broad and multifarious. Try something else.
You spank the dog to teach it not to run out onto the street.
That’s actually not true.
That is in fact a very good way to ensure your dog runs out into the street, away from the guy who’s trying to smack it. Why would the dog come to someone who wants to beat it?
It’s not abuse.
For now, let’s assume that “abuse” is a legal definition. And you’re right. It’s not. Spanking is — in this country, at least — legal. I cannot dispute your right to do it, but I can question why you feel it’s necessary. The point for me isn’t that it’s abuse — it’s that spanking your child is hitting your child. Literally. It’s you hitting your child. It’s you undertaking a hostile, humiliating action that would be illegal if delivered to another adult, or in many cases, even an animal. It may not be abuse, but it is you — a big adult-sized person — grabbing a tiny human and raising your hand to them in the guise of teaching them a lesson. Which is not what spanking does, by the way. Spanking delivers punishment, not information. It imparts castigation, not wisdom.
It’s a punitive measure, not an instructive one.
It’s just a tap on the butt (or thigh or wrist or or or). It’s harmless.
If that’s all it is, it’s probably harmless. It’s also probably not particularly effective. The thing that makes spanking work is that it’s a) at least somewhat painful and/or b) humiliating.
That’s how you make spanking effective. At least in the short term, for a certain age range (3-8). Spanking is a quick fix, not a real solution. As noted, while it may correct behavior, it may introduce other worse behaviors as a result.
Consider (here an admittedly anecdotal story, so do with this as you see fit) — when I was a kid, I was yelled at a lot for spilling my drink at the table. (I was, and still am, clumsy.) Being yelled at didn’t stop me from spilling — it made it worse. Because I was so anxious about that singular act I was likelier to knock over a drink than I was to keep the damn thing upright. Spanking works because it instills fear of being hurt or embarrassed — those are not clear-headed ways to actually teach a lesson. It’s a Skinner Box style of parenting — deliver an electric shock so that the kid doesn’t push the wrong button. But your children are not rats or monkeys in a lab. They’re little people. With enthusiasm and intelligence in a great big endless well — a well you can poison.
But the Bible says —
No. Nope. Mm-mm. Sorry.
It says “Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child” and —
No. Seriously. No. Don’t bring that here.
But I’m a Christian and you need to respect me and my beliefs.
I respect that you have beliefs, but I don’t need to respect those beliefs or you for holding them. Listen, here’s the thing, if you’re a Christian, and you cleave toward the kinder, more reasonable side of that spectrum, you have my respect. If you use the Bible like a VCR instruction manual and believe that every line of text is 100% literal and must be adhered to, then we are not going to find a great deal of common ground. The Bible is an agglomeration of stories broken into two larger books — the Old Testament and the New Testament, with the “sequel” book challenging some of the ways of the OT. This is not a book that well-agrees with itself (nor should it): hell, it tells four somewhat contradictory-yet-canonical tales of the dude whose name is titular to the religion.
The Bible says a lot of things and I bet you don’t do them all. It’s got suggestions on how to sell your children into slavery or why you shouldn’t eat shellfish or get tattoos.
And you’re going to take one line from Proverbs as a reason to spank your kids?
Let’s look at more from Proverbs.
“When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.” — Proverbs 23:1-2.
Do you do that if you feel gluttonous? The thing with the knife and the throat?
Did you know that in Proverbs it’s noted that wine will bite like a viper, and riches will grow wings and fly away like an eagle? That your love and faithfulness must be tied around your neck? Apparently these things could not possibly be metaphor and must literally be true!
When Proverbs speaks about an overflowing cistern whose waters you should not share with your neighbors, do you believe that to be an admonishment against sharing water with your jerky neighbors? Or, in the context of the surrounding text, do you (correctly) see that it’s a metaphor for not sharing your love in an act of adultery?
Proverbs is a man’s instruction to his son, and it is poetic. Complicated and fascinating and sometimes beautiful in its metaphor and in its language (language that is, to be clear, translated through various steps — and language that is often favorable toward men but not toward women).
It was also written a very, very long time ago.
Plenty of Christians do not hit their children, and here are some reasons why.
My parents spanked me and you’re insulting them.
I’m not interested in condemning those who came before us. People did a lot of things 2000 years ago, 200 years ago, even 20 years ago, that we don’t do today because we have things like new information to help guide us. Women used to smoke while pregnant. They didn’t know any better. We used to have asbestos all up in our house. Again: now we know better. Condemning those who came before isn’t the point.
The point is, we have new, better information now. And that new and better information suggests very strongly that spanking ain’t the best course of action for your kids and may have a high cost with too small a payoff.
This is about looking and moving forward with intelligence and wisdom.
Spanking is okay, as long as it’s done with explanation and love.
I’m afraid I don’t believe that, and it sounds awfully close to the same reasons used for husbands to beat their wives and would further seem to help confirm that pattern — that violence is okay as long as they know “I hit you because I love you.” Or “I hit you to teach you a very important lesson.” That’s the lesson you teach a spanked child: that hitting someone is a tool of control and a demonstration of love. What kind of spouse will they be? What kind of spouse will they seek?
Something-something kids today with their hair and their clothes and this is why they’re disrespectful because we can’t spank them anymore. Also something-something school shootings.
Well, first, you probably can still spank them. Legally, I mean.
Also, click this link.
Therein you’ll find that states with schools that allow corporal punishment have more school shootings, not fewer school shootings. You’ll also find that the number of students being spanked or paddled in school every year has gone down — and so has the threat of violence (and to a lesser extent actual violence) against teachers in school. States with spanking in schools also reveal below average test scores and below average graduation rates. And eight of the top ten paddling/spanking states are also in the top ten states of incarceration rates.
You’re judging me by my parenting choices.
Let’s take judgment out of the equation. You are presently free to discipline your children as you see fit and I can’t stop you. And it falls within the rigors of the law, so you have that going for you.
But I’d hope that you take a moment to read through all of this and before you decide to spank your child again you consider the wealth of information available to you on this great big knowledge-fed beast called “the Internet.” I’d hope that you recognize that spanking may work and may not have any negative effects but it damn well might. And once you’ve done it, you can’t undo it. Those snakes do not go back into the can.
As I said before: your children look to you for a hand to help, not a hand to strike them. And spanking them is striking them. That’s the nature of the act, I’m afraid to say.