Spanking: The Debate, Sadly, Continues


According to a recent article in the Washington Post (thanks to Cyrel Gable at Parenting Success Network for bringing it to my attention), “Millennials – the most recent generation to have been children – aren’t leading any attitudes change [sic] on the issue of spanking… If anything, they are slightly more supportive than their elders.” The article goes on to explain that the age of parents does not seem to have a strong influence on this attitude, but the fact remains that spanking continues to be seen as an effective form of discipline in spite of well-known and widespread research that indicates otherwise.

Because of the continued prevalence of spanking as a practice—and especially the fact that the younger generation of parents is even more likely to find it acceptable than their parents did—I would like to briefly address it here.

There are several generalized reasons given for the effectiveness of spanking children.

  • Some of them are based on personal rationalization, along the lines of “I was spanked as a child, and I turned out okay.” It is difficult to respond to this justification other than to point out that a major effect of being spanked as a child is that it leads to a likelihood of spanking one’s own children. One could argue that this counts as having “turned out okay.” It is okay, if spanking is a good practice, and, well, not so much if it is not.
  • According to the study cited above, religious beliefs play a part in the acceptance of spanking as well, in particular the Biblical passage regarding “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” As a practicing Christian I do not find this to hold water; neither do I wish to get into it here. Suffice it to say that spanking is a prevalent cultural practice among certain religious communities.
  • What is left, then, is the attitude that spanking is, in itself, an effective tool of discipline. And this has been discounted by decades of parenting research. We could apply any of a variety of models to question this attitude. I go to the “4 Questions” formulated by the organization Parenting Now!, because they’re easy to remember and apply to a variety of situations:
  1. What do I want my child to learn?
  2. Is what I’m doing teaching that?
  3. Are there any negative results from it?
  4. If so, what can I do differently?

I think you will agree that the answers are pretty clear. If we are wanting our child to learn any number of things—whether it be a skill, respect for authority, self-control, decision-making, what have you—then spanking does not lead to acquisition of the skill. As adults, do we learn better when faced with the threat of physical pain? Do we respect those we fear, or who hurt us and violate our personal boundaries? Does causing pain teach a skill? Other than that force is an acceptable way to exercise our power?

As for the negative results: are they not obvious?

That leaves the question of what our other options may be. And that is why organizations like Parenting Success Network are here. There are numerous blog entries, articles and resources dedicated to providing positive, nurturing and non-violent tools for disciplining our children. A quick online search for “positive parenting” or “positive discipline” will bring up a wealth of information, most of which is more likely to be useful than not.

I want to add that all parents, and I must include myself, have done things they regret because they feel they have run out of options. This is not the same as working from the assumption that physical discipline is a desirable or effective practice. But knowing the options can help in either case.