In my last post, I wrote about the slippery slope between spanking and child abuse, the slippery slope which appears to have pulled Adrian Peterson and much of the public discussion about spanking over the edge of the precipice. Today, I want to address the reasons we use to rationalize spanking, and talk a little about setting broken tools aside.
“That’s How I Was Raised”
One of the repeating themes in Adrian Peterson’s defense — at least his PR defense — is that “whuppings” were just part of the way he was raised. In fact, in a public statement he said, “I have always believed that the way my parents disciplined me has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man.” Many adults use this line of reasoning when trying to justify spanking (or in this specific case, whipping with a “switch”) as a reasonable form of punishment.
“I was spanked and I turned out just fine.”
“I was whupped and it made me a better man.”
“I was paddled and I turned out better than my friends who weren’t.”
It’s true that the way we were raised is one of the strongest factors in determining our own parenting script. We tend to default to parenting the way we were parented, particularly in times of stress. (Think: misbehaving kids.) But we have to be responsible for consciously choosing whether or not we should continue to live by a default script or turn the page.
My parents were raised in a time when seat belts were optional and smoking didn’t cause cancer. Yet, they taught me to always buckle up and to just say, “No thanks” to lighting up.
We are each raised with the best our parents have. But when more information becomes available, it seems we are morally obligated as parents to use it. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best that you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Like me, many parents today were raised in a time when spanking was still widely accepted as a discipline method. But today isn’t that day. We know better. We have to do better.
(More on changing your parenting script.)
“The Bible Tells Me So”
I don’t often write directly about my faith here. But when I read a few years back about the Bible being cited by the parents who had beaten their seven year-old daughter to death, I finally had to write this post.
In that post, I address an oft-cited scripture, Proverbs 13:24, which states that “He who spareth his rod, hateth his son…” and talk about how the term “rod” has taken on more scriptural meanings than simply a stick used for hitting children.
But I also cite other biblical references, such as Ephesians 4:31-32 for example, where we are extolled to put away anger and wrath and rather be kind and tenderhearted. Or First Corinthians 13:4-7, defining charity, which “suffereth long and is kind”. This seems to epitomize parenthood as it encourages patience and pure love in spite of frustration and even provocation. And I rely on the exemplary life of Christ, who, when encouraged by a mob to stone a woman caught in adultery, refused, inviting those who were perfect to cast the first stone. He corrected her with words and with love, rather than punishing her with pain.
If we’re going to use scripture as a basis for our parenting, let’s do more than single out one verse.
I don’t address this line of argument lightly. I don’t intend to belittle or create contention. I write it because every now and then, someone tells me something like: “I didn’t feel right about spanking, but someone told me I couldn’t be a good parent and a good Christian if I didn’t. Thanks for helping me to see it in another light.”
It only takes one of those comments to make it worth it for me.
“I Don’t Know What Else to Do”
Perhaps the most common reason for parents to continue to spank their children is that they don’t know what else to do instead. People are reluctant to set down their tools, even the broken ones, if they believe they’ll be left with no tools at all. So they cling to these broken tools.
But the idea that giving up spanking means becoming a passive parent presents a false choice. Setting aside corporal punishment is not synonymous with parental abdication. It simply means choosing to use new tools.
As Maslow said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
Those clinging to corporal punishment as their only tool will see any serious misbehavior as worthy of punishment by pain. It’s like a repairman trying to fix your AC, your dishwasher, and your leaky roof with a single hammer. In reality, the work of teaching children is a precision job. It requires precise tools and careful work.
In the Adrian Peterson case and in other corporal-punishment-turned-child-abuse cases, abdicating spanking is usually mentioned along with “using time out instead”. That’s one tool. It’s a good trade, but still a one for one. (And a broken tool for another broken tool if it’s not used correctly.)
Effective parenting and child guidance requires a well-stocked tool box, a variety of techniques with different purposes for different situations. Once parents have confidence in the tools around them, they find it much easier to set their broken tools aside.
Learn more about the tools for positive parenting here.
What reasons do you hear in defense of spanking?
Hammer and Screw Image Source:
I think one of the biggest issues most parents have with parenting (if not all parents) is making the shift from punishment to discipline. Most people believe that kids have to suffer in order to change, when in fact, causing children to suffer only urges them to “get even”. I love the Positive Discipline books by Jane Nelsen where she says something like, “children act good when they feel good.”
Great point. That is definitely a shift in perspective for some people. Discipline is about teaching, not punishing. That’s not to say there aren’t consequences, but pain is not the most effective teacher. In fact, I think trying to teach with pain distracts from the teaching and the real, connected consequences. Like you said, it turns the conflict toward you and your choice to cause pain, rather than focusing on the child’s choice and letting him/her own the consequences.
I am not a parent myself, but I am a nanny. I have been watching kids for 6 years. I have definitely seen firsthand, how spanking is a necessity when raising a child. Children understand A LOT more than most people give them credit for. Children will always test the limits you set for them. There is a way to spank children LOVINGLY, and with KINDNESS. I have seen it done before. Yes, we are all human, and sometimes our anger gets the better of us. There is no such thing as PERFECT parenting (which I’m sure you already know). I have taken care of children whose parents don’t believe in corporal punishment, and let me tell you—there kids were out of control! They did time-outs and other punishments (like early bedtime, no dessert, etc.), but obviously, that didn’t cut it. I have also taken care of children whose parents do believe in corporal punishment, and IT WORKS! The children obey, because they know that there are consequences if they don’t. They know that they need to respect the limits that have been set for them. It just helps build a better character in a child. It teaches them respect for their elders, and that there are always consequences for their actions. I’m not saying that you should spank your child after every slip-up. Of course not! They are human too, and they constantly need to be reminded of what’s right and wrong. Yes, kids are all different. They each have different types of personalities, and it is parent’s job to discern when the rod needs to be used. It breaks my heart that so many people see what’s on the news, think “Oh my goodness, spanking is child abuse!” and turn away from it. No. What’s on the news IS child abuse. It’s NOT spanking. Those people are clearly overdoing what we call spanking. There is no love behind what they’re doing, and yes, it disgusts me to see those type of stories on the news! If I am ever blessed with children of my own. I will use corporal punishment, but I will do it with love and explain to my children each time, why they are receiving a spanking.
Hannah, Thank you for sharing your opinion respectfully, but it seems we will have to agree to disagree on some points. I’ve expressed my views in both this post and the one prior to it (linked at the beginning of this one). I hope you’ll read them both.
I did read both if your posts 🙂 and while I do see where you’re coming from, I still believe it is an effective use of discipline. Not just because I was raised that way, or because the bible says so, or because it’s better than doing nothing, but because it is effective.
“Effective” is something that must first be defined. If by effective, you mean it stops the behavior, I can see how you would come to that conclusion. But by that same standard of effectiveness, severe abuse is also effective. I believe effective discipline teaches appropriate behaviors, supports social and emotional health, and fosters healthy relationships. Research shows that spanking is associated with increases in aggression, mental health issues, and unhealthy relationships. It has been shown to be no more effective in the short term than other methods, while at the same time, being associated with lower compliance over time. I don’t consider that to be effective as a tool for discipline or for teaching whole and healthy kids. Consider the research compiled here: http://www.human.cornell.edu/pam/outreach/parenting/research/upload/Spanking-Research-Brief.pdf
I read a really poignant vignette this morning. A mother had been switched with a branch as a child but never found the need to use one on her children, until, one day her 5 year old boy did something really terrible and she told him to go out and get a switch. He went out and came back in crying, with a rock and he said “I couldn’t find a switch but if you want to hurt me, here is a rock, you can throw that at me.” The mother was stunned to find that in his mind, and in reality, that is what she wanted to do – hurt him. So she didn’t…but she kept the rock as a reminder that sometimes all we want to accomplish is hurting our child and how that doesn’t help them. That really clicked for me as to what it is.
Wow, Nina. That is powerful. Thank you so much for sharing!
Wow. That IS powerful. I don’t understand spanking/beating/hitting/getting even/teaching a lesson through physical harm. Makes ZERO sense to me.
This almost made me cry. I was already a parent very much against spanking but this post just drive home my reasons for me in a clear, concise, and meaningful way that doesn’t leave any room for argument. Plain and simple I don’t want to hurt my children and I never want them to think I do.
Thank you Lisa, for your comment, and for making the hard choices that matter!
My parents used corporal punishment with me, and as a result they raised an aggressive/out of control teenager. Now I am a mother, and I can’t just even think of use this method with my daughter…I needed so many years of hard work on myself for “detox” from all of that…
Thank you for tackling an important topic and for providing the research to support your views. My breath stops when I realize there are adults who think it’s ok to hit kids. I imagine if an adult spanked another adult during a disagreement that would not be acceptable. For some reason the acceptability of spanking–hitting kids on their bottoms–is still debated.
I was sometimes, not often, spanked as a kid. I vividly remember the hot burning shame I felt and knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do as a parent. Yes, it may be an effective way to control behavior in the short term but behavioral control is not my long-term objective as a parent. I knew what I didn’t want to do yet struggled for many years to build a “parental toolbox”. I took your class a couple of years ago and it helped! It was an important step in my journey. In previous posts above, I’ve seen people mention punishment and discipline. In my mind, I had confused the two terms and equated “positive guidance” as a synonymous for “positive discipline” which, in my mind, was “positive punishment” (Not spanking, but “positive” ways to let kids know when they messed up.) Convoluted, I know. My parenting script, as you talk about scripts in your class, took a long time to re-write.
A year ago last summer I listened to an audio book of Bringing Up Bebe. I enjoyed the book very much. An aha light bulb moment for me was the constant reference to the French definition of “education.” French parents don’t talk about discipline but they do talk about education–teaching their kids appropriate social manners, how to enjoy a variety of foods, how to sleep at night, etc. etc. My view and perspective of myself as a parent shifted and broadened from someone who disciplines in the moment to someone who educates over a lifetime. As a parent, I am a teacher.
That means even it takes ten months to teach my pre-schooler to put her toys away in the evening, that’s ok. If the process takes more than one day I haven’t failed as a parent and don’t need to find yet another way to discipline or punish. Each day is a practice and with consistency on my part, my kids get better and better at learning the skills they need to grow into mature, competent adults. This is a vast array of skills and includes learning how to treat others, learning how to work, learning academic skills, and so on. It is my job to teach over, and over and over again. It takes alot, at least 18 years worth, of practice for kids. Teaching is how I tend, nurture, raise and parent my children.
Hopefully that all makes sense. It is a small word change from discipline to education. Viewing myself in a different role enabled me to put into practice what I learned in your class and from Heather Shumaker’s wonderful book. Thank you!!!!
I love that perspective, Tina! Thanks so much for sharing!
I have a parenting book by a Christian author, and he says that “spare the rod, spoil the child” does not mean to hit the child. He said that shepherds used the rod to guide the sheep, they did not use the rod to beat the sheep. So, the bible does not advocate hitting children. Also, discipline is taken from the word disciple, which means to train one in which way to go. I do not believe in spanking either, although I was spanked as a child. Humiliation, shame, fear, hatred, all these things I do not want my child to feel.
Thank you for this post!
Gretchen Kelly says
This may be the best piece I’ve read on the subject. After the Adrian Peterson story broke my FaceBook feed was filled with people defending spanking because it’s “how they were raised.” I know all kids are different and present different challenges, but I have a hard time believing that in this day and age and with all of our knowledge and tools at our fingertips, that we can’t come up with better tactics. I wrote a post about the one time I hit my son (he’s now 13). I received quite a few responses from people who were hit as children and who say that it bordered on abuse or that they never understood the reason for it. The part of the Peterson story that really got to me was when he said “I didn’t stop hitting him because he didn’t cry.” That comment chilled me. Obviously that child had shut down in the face of abuse.
I think it is weak, lazy parents that spank.
My parents were violent and unstable substance abusers (I would say drug addicts but they were hooked to every drug and drink out there). My father would beat me when he was drunk. In his sober days he was a devout Christian. He quoted the Bible to me as he spanked me.
I hated my father and I didn’t shed a tear when he died.
My husband was spanked with ‘love’. He said he felt a lot of things went unresolved and weren’t talked about before or after his spnaking. It left a lot of hostility and often made a problem worse.
I am so anti-spanking. My four kids are awesome and they aren’t spanked. Thank God for that.
Thank you for this. I’m an early educator and have been for more than 30 years. During that time I also raised my own 5 children. The comment, “My parents spanked me and I turned out okay,” is always one that sets my teeth on edge. I can understand the need to think you turned out okay and the need to believe that your parents did right by you. Unfortunately, what they did was turn you into someone that hits people that are smaller than you. That’s not okay.
Teaching children to self-regulate is what we’re talking about here. The idea of using shame and pain to teach doesn’t make sense to most people. I’m always surprised when otherwise thoughtful folks think that it would work in helping children gain or regain control of their behavior or emotions. Giving children language, trusting them to be problem-solvers, and doing the hard work of building their skills to be able to navigate difficult social and academic situation is what works. It’s not the short-sighted quick fix of snatching a misused toy away or hitting a child but it is a long term investment in children’s ability to behave in societally appropriate ways.
Well said, Susan!