Spanking is in the news again. Why write about it? Because of the inconsistency between the facts that most experts agree spanking is harmful while most parents believe it is helpful. The arguments against spanking are hardly new. Shortly after Christ, Plutarch taught, “Children ought to be lead to honorable practices by encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment.”
Many of the court cases dealing with spanking involve Christians demanding the right to practice corporal punishment. They claim they are directed to do so by the Bible (Prov. 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13, 23:14, and 29:15). Why do followers of Christ turn to the Old Testament (The Book of Proverbs) for child rearing advice?
Do they base their adult relationships on the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:20, Exodus 21:24, and Deuteronomy 19:21)? Or do they follow the new law of Christ, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
Do they turn to the teachings of Christ for their adult relationships and the proverbs of King Solomon for rearing their children? If so, isn’t this inconsistent? Also, didn’t Christ teach that children are close to God and we should be like them? And how effective was King Solomon’s advice not to spare the rod? Not very. His own son, Rehoboam, became a ruthless dictator who narrowly escaped being stoned to death for his brutality. So, maybe the experts are right, after all. At any rate, let’s consider what they have to say.
The worst aspect of spanking is the message it sends to children. With each slap they receive, we are telling them, “See how it is okay for big people to hit little people? If you don’t get your way, you can always get violent!” Where did schoolyard bullies come from? Did they appear out of nowhere? Or is it possible that when we bully our children into submission they too become bullies? The more we hit our kids, the more they hit other kids. And what do we do when the teacher tells us our child hit another child? We hit them some more to “teach them a lesson,” thereby perpetuating the problem! If we have to rear children in a violent world, does it make sense to treat them violently? Do we really want to add to the violence? Don ’t we have enough commonsense to realize that violence begets violence?
Experts report that spanking is the least effective form of discipline. So, when we discover it isn’t working, what do some of us do? Escalate the brutality! After all, if it isn’t working, it must be because we have been too soft on them! And where does this behavior lead to? The graveyard. Each year about 44 Canadian children are killed by family members. The ‘lucky’ children aren’t killed; they’re ‘just’ physically abused. “Eighty-five percent of all cases of physical abuse result from some form of over-discipline through the use of corporal punishment,” reports the Institute for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
Yes, experts have established causal links between spanking and bullying, cheating, lying, vandalism, disobedience, aggression, anger, seething resentment, violence, spousal abuse, a lower IQ, and criminality. This is a heavy toll for society to pay. But worst of all is the needless suffering of innocent children who are brutalized by those entrusted with their care. When children turn out bad, it is because they have been carefully trained by us. They learn their values not from the pious words we espouse, but from the actions we take.
Grave Psychological Harm
Irvin Wolkoff ‘s article, “Spanked child can become self-loathing adult,” was published in the November 26, 1999 edition of The Toronto Star (page F4). In it he wrote, “The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That’s terrifying to a little kid...However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can’t yet resolve or manage.”
The anger that children are not allowed to express is repressed. Once they grow big and strong enough to resist authority, their rage emerges in explosive outbursts. Of course, we then blame them for the misbehavior we have caused. Spanking and scolding children causes great confusion in their minds. How can immature children understand ideas such as “I hurt you because I don’t want you to get hurt”?
One of the main reasons children get spanked is because they act “disrespectful” toward their parents. Yet, as Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, founder of the Child Development Unit at the Boston Children’s Hospital Medical Center, points out, “When you spank, you are not respectful of the child.” No wonder children are confused, perplexed, and bewildered.
Ignores the Causes of the Problem
Spanking ignores the causes of the problem. For example, a child is taken to an amusement park for a day’s enjoyment. Instead of being grateful (so the parents think), the child acts up, embarrassing the parents in public. Result? The child is quickly escorted to the washroom, where it receives a spanking. But the child was “acting up” because of normal needs it had. It may have been hungry, tired, or bored. So, we punish children for being children!
Look at how loving parents would have behaved in the same circumstances. “What’s the matter, honey? What’s bothering you?”
“I’m hungry!” or “I’m sleepy!” or “I don’t want to go there; I want to run and play in the grass!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Let’s do what you want to do. Do you know why?”
“Because we love you! Ha! Ha! Let’s go!”
Sometimes it takes a little work to find the cause of a child’s “misbehavior.” If the parents are impatient, they may turn to spanking, which provides a quick, easy fix. Let’s not pretend spanking is for the child’s own good. It is not. It’s for our convenience. If spanked, the child is shortchanged, robbed of important quality time with their parent. Ironically, the more quality time is denied, the more the child will misbehave, as that is the only way it knows to get attention. I guess the moral is, we cannot correct a child’s misbehavior unless we know the cause. So, instead of hitting, let’s talk. Instead of displaying anger, let’s shower our child with love.
Finally, although I love the Book of Proverbs, I admit I disagree with King Solomon’s child-rearing techniques. I prefer to listen to the admonition of Christ, who said, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (Luke 17:2)
© Chuck Gallozzi
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