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