I don’t spank, and you shouldn’t!

People get angry when you talk about spanking children. On both sides of the issue. Parents who spank get angry, because they feel judged and condemned for their choices. Parents who don’t spank also get angry, sometimes because they feel condemned, and, sometimes, because they feel that spanking is morally wrong.

I actually find myself in that second group. I get mad because I feel judged for not spanking, especially when my daughter misbehaves, but I also get mad because I feel that spanking is wrong and it upsets me that there are children who are spanked by loving parents.

Like most people, I feel that if the other side just understood my reasons, they would agree with me. Fortunately, I’m aware that this isn’t the case and don’t usually argue with people about this on the Internet, or in real life, anymore. However, since this is my blog, it’s my pretty little soapbox, so I’m going to hop up on it for a little while.

So, here are the reasons why I not only don’t spank, but believe that it is morally wrong to spank children:

1. Spanking is not more effective than other methods of discipline.

No one is going to argue that spanking is effective in the short-term. In theory, it goes like this: the child misbehaves, the parent warns the child that this behavior is a spanking offense, the child continues the misbehavior, the parent removes the child to a neutral location where they explain the behavior, spank the child, and reassure the child that they love them and expect them to not continue that behavior. And, it works.

However, it doesn’t work more effectively than any other simple, immediate, consistent consequence. Time out is just as effective as spanking at creating compliant behaviors.(1)

2. Spanking does long-term harm.

Spanking at age three has been linked with increased aggressiveness and lowered self-esteem at age five (2), and  it increases the risk of psychological disorders including anxiety and alcohol abuse(3).

So, short-term, it’s not more effective and, long-term, it has negative consequences. That really should be enough. For many places it is; 32 countries have banned spanking.(4) Unfortunately, here in the states over 94% of parents have spanked their children and about a quarter of those admit to using an object other than their hand to spank.(5)

3. Spanking is bullying.

Spanking is causing physical pain for the purpose of making your child do what you want them to. It just is. Any attempt to sugar coat this is self-delusion at best.

If an adult suggested bringing back public caning for legal infractions, here in the states, everyone would look at them like they had two heads. For good reason. Our system is based on the idea that we don’t hurt people to get our way.

To my way of thinking, children are people, too.

In fact, because they are innately innocent, children are deserving of more protection than adults. So, I fail to see why anyone would advocate causing them pain for misbehavior. It would be akin to advocating that adults should have the right to hit one another for reasonable infractions.

Put more provocatively, saying it is okay to spank your child for running into the road (a commonly cited “good” reason for spanking) is analogous to saying that it’s okay to spank your spouse for driving while talking on the cell phone.  Both are dangerous.

The only difference is a power differential. Your spouse is your equal in power and your child is not. However, if you acknowledge that children are people, then they are deserving of the same respect and dignity as an adult and should simply be given a narrower, safer environment in which to practice their freedoms. If you wouldn’t hit your spouse because they are your equal, then you shouldn’t hit your children because they aren’t.

Causing pain, or threatening it, to increase compliance among people who are less powerful than you, is bullying.

Now, a lot of people will argue with the research that shows negative outcomes for spanking, and that’s a good thing. Debate is the heart of science. It’s your right to disagree with the science and to make your choices accordingly.  I, however, totally agree with the American Psychology Association’s position,

“Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehavior, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its use.” (6)

The long and short of this is that I don’t spank because it is bullying, it causes long-term issues, and it doesn’t have better short-term compliance than other non-harmful discipline methods. If you’ve read all this and the associated articles and still think it’s okay to spank your child, please try to explain it to me. I’d rather not believe that you would hurt your children without purpose.


(1)  Larzelere, Robert E. (2000) Child Outcomes of Nonabusive and Customary Physical Punishment by Parents: An Updated Literature Review, vol. 3, no. 4, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

(2) Taylor, Manganello, Lee, & Rice (2010) Mothers’ Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children’s Aggressive Behavior, April 12, 2010, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/04/12/peds.2009-2678.full.pdf+html, Pediatrics

(3) MacMillan, Boyle, Wong, Duku, Fleming, & Walsh, (1999) Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample, vol. 161, no. 7, Canadian Medical Association Journal

(4) Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (2012), States with Full Abolition, http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/progress/prohib_states.html

(5) Straus, Murray & Stewart, Julie, (1999), Corporal Punishment by American Parents: National Data on Prevalence, Chronicity, Severity, and Duration, in Relation to Child and Family Characteristics, vol. 2, no. 2, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review

(6)American Psychological Association Press Release, (2002), Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline?, June 26, 2002, http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2002/06/spanking.aspx, American Psychology Association


12 thoughts on “I don’t spank, and you shouldn’t!

  1. I don’t feel convicted in the least about my choice to spank. Except in extreme cases where children have been abused, I’ve never personally heard anyone speaking resentfully about their parents because they were spanked as a child. On the contrary, what you hear is “I deserved every spanking I got and I think I’m a better person for it.”

    I suppose these arguments might make a significant impact on me if I believed everything the American Psychology Association said, but I choose to make life choices based on the Bible, and based on how God wants me to live my life, not Psychology.

    I’ve heard before a few times that statistics are very, very hard to trust. And so are various psychological studies. If you pick the right group of people to study the results will say pretty much whatever you want.

    How many times in your life have you listened to someone gently telling you that something was bad for you? Maybe you’re a completely different breed of person but I know I almost always had to experience the negative consequences of my actions to make any real change. When I was a child, someone gently telling me 100 times not to stick my finger in a light socket would NOT have made a difference, at least not before I electrocuted myself! On the other hand, my mother swatting the top of my hand and telling me “No!” in a stern voice fixed the problem quickly. She tells me the first time I bit her, she bit me back. Not hard, but enough so I knew that it hurt and was a mean thing to do. Before I started spanking my kids, my daughter was in a biting phase. I gently told her no many times, I sternly told her no, I tried to physically prevent her from biting me, I tried time outs and helping her express her emotions in a better way, but NO, I still had bite marks all up and down my arms that would turn into bruises that would last for a week. When I began spanking for it, it took about 2 or 3 times and she STOPPED BITING ME.
    Pain is not always a bad thing. It teaches! Negative consequenses for negative acitons is a good teaching tool. And if the Bible agrees with me, that’s all the backup and information I need. I don’t need anyone’s agreement or approval.

    I wrongly assumed you were more of a ‘to each his own’ type of person that I am, but it sure sounds like you’re attacking people who’ve made a different choice than you. I don’t feel personally attacked because I refuse to allow it to happen and because I know you have a good heart. I can say the “tone” of the post surprised me though. Oh well.

    • See, this is where I need to put in my two cents, a the daughter of loving Christian parents who, following biblical pricniples taken out of context, also chose corporal punishment. I was spanked. It was mostly done by my mother. It was mostly done with her hand, and it was almost always preceded by my parents sending me to my room, which I later realized was so that they never spanked me with anger on their face or in their heart.

      However, what my parents taught me with their spanking was that “When one chooses to disobey the authority, and be rebelious, the consiquences of that rebellion are a spanking.” How my very bright 4 and 5 year old mind translated this basic logic was “If I don’t do what my mother says to do, because she’s in charge, I get a spanking.” This later led to the same logic of My brother needs to do what I say. I am in charge, so it’s ok to hit him if he doesn’t do what I say.

      That is bulleying. Children cannot understand this logic, which is touted as biblical, because it is illogical in our society. It doesn’t fit current societal norms which allow for individual thought and choice. Becoming who and what you want to be when you grow up instead of being whatever your father was and marrying whoever your parents pick for you. But we also live in a society that is not inheirently patriarchical. Our society is not based on a LAW, as was the society in the Bible. And today’s society, for most Christians, is about grace and forgiveness.

      The Bible says Spare the rod and spoil the child. It also says don’t wear a garment made of two kinds of fabic, and not to do any work on Sunday. Some of the principles of the Bible are quite literally meant for us today. “Thou shall not kill” and some were meant to protect the isrealites in a primitive society from the world they lived in “Thou shall not eat pork”. Everything in the bible must be weighed against the concept “Was this a societal requirement or a tenant for all life” (See previous reference about garment…By the way, I love polyester-cotten blends).
      In Biblical days, as a woman, the man in your life, Father, brother, husband held your life in his hands. If you misbehave he could beat you, divorse you or kill you, depending on the infraction. We do not live in those days.

      I don’t want my children to learn to bully, and that is one scripture I will not be applying to my societal norms.

      • I know plenty of kids who aren’t spanked who still think it’s okay to hit their sibling for annoying them or not doing what they want them to do. I know kids who hit and bite their mothers even though they had never been spanked or scolded. We are all born with sin in our hearts, we don’t need to be ‘taught to hit’.

        Once again, what was your mother supposed to do? Gently tell you 100 times not to do something naughty? Repeatedly remove you from the situation over and over and over and over again getting nothing else done?

        I’m not even sure why I replied to this. I won’t be responding to any more comments in regards to my choices, if there are any. I’ve said my piece, nothing and no one will change my mind, and I won’t argue about it any longer and be foolish.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with the anti-spanking stance of the post, but YOUR unfounded outrage against it prompts me to address your points one by one:

      1. Studies show that when people do not have a choice about something that has happened to them in the past, they adapt their memories as a coping mechanism–i.e., they make a positive from a negative. It doesn’t mean the original circumstance was positive.

      2. The American Psychology Association does not espouse a “belief system” so much as a scientific resource. Religion, conversely, is a “belief system” requiring adherents to have faith rather than examine anything scientifically. I can choose to believe or not believe in the shenanigans described by the Bible, but if I accept theories described by science I do so based on facts and not a leap of faith. So by rejecting science but accepting the Bible you have chosen blind belief over informed choice.

      3. You’ve “heard” that statistics are hard to trust? (What about a dude getting swallowed up by a whale? Trust that? What about another dude being dead and then walking out of his tomb? Trust that word-of-mouth tale? What about the heavenly injunction to stone adulteresses? Trust that?) Statistics are simply patterns of data. Yes, they are open to interpretation, but they are based on facts. Yes, they can be manipulated, but take a look at the acrobatics Biblical followers engage in to make their Book’s teachings palatable. How do you parse Isaac/Abraham? What about Lot volunteering his daughters to be raped? The Bible is a case study in followers believing what they want and blindly ignoring the rest. Classic cherry-picking, and it’s a lot harder to do with science.

      4. The kids in our house learned not to touch electric sockets in aged-based fashion. When they were under 3 we plugged all the sockets. When they were both over 3, we explained about the power of electricity and the big zap that can come out of a socket. We did dramatize it. A lot. Kids need to understand when something is dangerous, so we made sure the idea of a big scary zap coming out of the wall was impressed upon them. They are smart, and they understood. Sometimes they ask about it. They want to be reassured that the zap won’t come out by itself, and we do reassure them because we want them to understand that they are safe coexisting with electric sockets but they mustn’t play with them. Give your kids some credit. They can grasp this. YOU I’m not so sure about.

      5. The biting phase is a standard phase that some kids go into and emerge from. Hitting them does not alter this.

      6. Pain is not a good teacher. Pain teaches aversion, which discourages curiosity. Right-wing fundamentalists are actually notorious for their lack of curiosity; they don’t investigate all angles of any given issue because they are afraid of learning things that contradict the teachings of their Savior.

      7. “If the Bible agrees with me, that’s all the backup and information I need.” Seriously–you cherry-picker. If you rely on Proverbs to inform you about child discipline, why not also reference the stories of genocide, heaven-sanctioned rape and dismemberment, child sacrifice, and cannibalism–all endorsed by your Lord God? http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=21

      8. You are not a “live and let live” person. You are demanding that your particular religious views be given equal footing with modern-day common-sense morality. Not everybody’s crazy views need to be defended just because they are derived from an ancient book. In the Middle East women are forced to wear a sack over their faces and are being stoned on SUSPICION of adultery (guilty before proven innocent) BECAUSE IT IS WRITTEN. Do we have to respect this abuse of women because it’s FAITH-BASED? Answer (if you need an answer): It would be immoral to do so.

      What irritates me about your mindless comment is the fact that it ELICITED AN APOLOGY from the writer, who wrote a thought-provoking, highly moral (yes! moral) article and provided citations. That you are invoking a deity whose supposed writings are catalogued in a book pieced together over untold years, originally written by barely literate people who believed in sorcery, alchemy and all sorts of primitivity, to defend CHILD ABUSE is an even larger monstrosity. You are an ignoramus, and you don’t deserve any sort of apology.

  2. Also, I’d like to note that everyone takes the “spare the rod” thing as being from the Bible. It’s not. It originally came from a poem written in 1664, I believe. Also, no where in the Bible does it say to spank your child. It talks about discipline, but not what type. So spanking is not specifically in the Bible.

    Being a child of a single parent for a while and then having my dad (step-dad) come into the picture, I was raised with both forms of punishment: spanking and non-spanking discipline. I will say for me I do agree with the non-spanking methods. I know my parent’s loved all of us, but there was some real damage done to the relationship my dad had with all of us kids because of spanking. For instance, none of the four of us kids ever trusted my dad enough growing up to come talk with him about anything at all. We ended up just talking with each other and never really letting my parent’s in to our personal lives. My mom caught on to what was happening a few years into the change in discipline manner and her and my dad had a talk and reverted back to time-outs, grounding, and special chores for discipline. Even with that, it’s taken my dad getting sick for the relationships to slowly start repairing there and for us kids to be more open with him.

    Now, I will also say I have a friend who is a single mom with two boys who are handfuls. She does spank, but she always uses it has an absolute last resort and she never hits hard, it’s more of a tap and then a long time out. So, I agree that it needs to be each parent’s own choice. But personally, I believe that there’s better ways than spanking to get your point across.

    • Krisheena,
      For your etification (FYE, as it were).
      Proverbs 13:24 (KJV) “He that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”
      I looked it up, and the word rod literally translates to staff/cudgel/implement for striking.
      In Hebrew the word is “shebet”
      1) rod, staff, branch, offshoot, club, sceptre, tribe
      a) rod, staff
      b) shaft (of spear, dart)
      c) club (of shepherd’s implement)
      d) truncheon, sceptre (mark of authority)

      I find the “Mark of Authority” definition interesting. It is a literally statement. But again, this is King Solumon speaking directly to his son, concerning the societal norms of the time. The same societal norms that would stone or shun a raped woman, if the rapist would not marry her, because she was damaged goods. Everything must be taken into context.

  3. I think that the many varied experiences of people are why science is so important in cases like this. We would all like to believe that every choice we make is the right one, and are very likely to choose to remember examples that support our beliefs. The nice thing about science is that it allows us to draw conculusions that can be globalized without falling into the fallacies like confirmation bias.
    There will be examples that fall on both sides of scientific data curves, but the the trends show that spanking is not helpful and is actively harmful. That means that yes, some children will be not be negatively effected, but it also means that more children will be negatively effected. No one can gaurantee that their child will be one of the ones who doesn’t suffer harm from it, so no one should spank. It’s a matter of reducing the risks that you can.
    In terms of moral reasons, the greatest good is that that which does the most good for the most people and while harming no one. Even if a child is one that only suffers moderately increased agression by school age, that agression is spread to other children, which harms society as a whole.
    In terms of other things that parents can do to curb misbehavior, the best is to give children a “yes” environment. When my daughter started biting, I told her that “Lips are for kissing.” I got a couple fierce kisses, but I didn’t get bitten.
    Before she ever thought to hit, we taught her that “hands are for gentle”. Apart from that, we remove toys that cause issues, encourage involvement when it’s safe, and allow time out (with us or without us, depending on her needs) to help teach emotional control. It is very intense. It takes a ton of time and energy.

    As for the religious standpoint? I’m not at all religious, so I’ll choose to leave the biblical debate to those that believe that it is a valid source of information. I don’t consider it one, so from my perspective it would be akin to taking parenting advice from Hamlet or The Odessy. Traditional perspectives to be sure, but not something I view as a reasonable guide.

  4. You live on a busy street with your curly-mopped cutie, whom you desperately want to keep alive. Said cutie starts to run into the busy street. How do you make her understand the gravity of the situation? I see that your argument is well-researched (I, too, have read these articles), but I am interested to know of alternatives that you have found. A stern talking-to just doesn’t cut it in life-or-death situations, in my opinion. Please enlighten on the matter.
    Personally, I stand by my decision to use physical force if there is great need. Since my daughter has found reason, and stopped actively trying to kill/maim herself at every opportunity, there has been no need. However, in the less-than-five times I have swatted her behind, it certainly got her attention and the offense was not repeated. I suppose I did it slightly differently than you stated, however. I did not warn her that I was going to spank her. She started to run into the street, I smacked her behind with a big old “NO!” and then explained to her why running into the street is dangerous and horrible and we never do it.
    If I’m wrong she can send her psych bills to me later on. However, being that I have one (two, but Little Guy is too little to be well behaved) of the happiest, bubbliest, most well-behaved children I have ever seen (and as a teacher, I have seen a lot)…I don’t think she’s going to need it.

    • We go to the pool a lot and I think it’s a good example of how to handle danger below the age of reason. The rules at the pool are that non-swimmers must have “bodily contact” with a responsible adult. Basically, if they can’t be trusted not to drown, then it’s your job as a parent to keep them safe by maintaining physical contact with them. I think it applies to all cases.

      Honestly, when my curly-mopped cutie was too young to understand reason, I made sure that I could control her physically when we were near cars (pick her up, hold her hand, etc.). As she’s gotten older, I’ve made a point of expressing that she always has to hold my hand near cars and stay out of the way of cars because “Cars are very big and Fiona is very small and if they hit her it will be ouchie! ouchie! ouchie!” (All said with wide eyes and sincere voice) To which she replies, “And I will cry?”

      As it turns out though, just showing her that things make me afraid for her seems to be enough and is shown in the research. “Support for spanking is higher in response to a child who runs into the street than it is as a punishment for hitting another child, even though the adult reaction of fear is the most effective deterrent in the former.” – From the Journal of Pediatrics at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/101/4/723.full

      Below about 18 months children are developmentally unable to understand the concept of consequences and, while they can be trained using operant conditioning, they’re not really understanding anything. Making a startling, unpleasant noise (in Fiona’s case clapping my hands loudly) is as effective as pain for operant conditioning (as shown with training cats and dogs.)

      I would agree that spanking a child a few times is very unlikely to cause damage. Overall, the research showed that the more often and more severely a child is spanked the more damaging it was, so unless you’re dealing with an extrodinarily sensitve kid, they’re probably okay.

      • The ideal of physical contact is definitely important. However, both times we had a problem were when my daughter managed to wrench her hand away from me. I am quite sure I do not know any mothers who would let their unreasonable toddlers walk next to the road unguarded. I also think that part of what makes unreasonable toddlers reasonable is exposure to life and ideas, so I don’t think that they should always be carried or in a stroller. Just saying.
        My point in commenting – to say that no one should ever, under any circumstances, use gentle physical force with a child is presumptuous. Children are not intellectual or reasoning equals and need to be instructed in a way that reaches that child. Not every form of discipline works for every child. That being said, people should carefully examine their motives in choosing a form of discipline, so they are not doing something out of anger or frustration.
        I find the unhappiest children in my classroom are actually the ones who have never known discipline at home. Children crave limits on a limitless world, and are psychologically worse off having no anchor to what is right and wrong. Loving discipline, even if it includes an occasional gentle spank, is better than no discipline at all. I think that some parents get scared of “messing up” their children by choosing the “wrong” form of discipline and then are worse off in the end.

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