Debunking the Spanking Arguments
- Although in this conversation I might argue that spanking is ineffective, let me be clear that the core reason I’m against spanking is because I think it’s abusive and violent. I also happen to think it’s not effective, more on that later, but this disclaimer is to point out that even if research came out tomorrow proving how spanking produces the most wonderful kids, I would still be against it, because I do not believe that the means justify the end.Abuse definition: to treat (a person or an animal) with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.
- The second disclaimer is that I am not here to judge parents who lose their cool and speak or act out of anger. This has happened to me many times, and I have behaved in aggressive ways that I am ashamed of. Those of us who do this and are working to better themselves are on the right track, in my humble opinion. I am, however, passing judgment on parents who act out of anger – and use violence to “discipline” and accept it, justify it and even sanction it.
- The third disclaimer is that I am not exclusively against spanking. It may, or may not be, the worst of all parental aggression and control but to me yelling, timeouts and punishment are all similarly problematic and for all the same reasons. So when I say that spanking is forceful violent parenting, please understand that I see this as one expression, but no one should leave this conversation thinking that I think it’s fine to yell, punish, threaten, put kids in isolation or shame and humiliate them. I think these are all expressions of controlling, forceful parenting that I’m on a mission to displace.
- I don’t think that spanking is something children cannot overcome and go on to flourish and even have a close relationship with the spanking parent. They can and do. This means that children can thrive despite spanking, but never because of it, and says much more about children’s incredible capacity for resiliency in the face of adversity, and less about spanking. Many beaten women too, go on to have meaningful lives and rebuild their self esteem despite their abuse.
Debunking the Spanking Arguments
- Children learn primarily from what we do, not from what we say
In the 1961 Bobo doll experiment, it was proven that when an adult behaves aggressively, children copy their behavior almost to a T. When a child is spanked they learn that aggression and violence are good ways to solve a problem. Look! Even mommy and daddy do it.
- Spanking makes children more selfish
When children learn they need to “behave themselves” or else they get hurt, they are going to be always looking out for number one. So they might perform acts of kindness, or refrain from naughtiness, because they know if they get caught they’ll be hurt. But what if they don’t get caught? How can we develop their inner guidance system so that they’re not behaving nicely because of fear?
- Spanking necessarily escalates our violent and controlling behaviors
Over time children become desensitized to our violent controlling behavior and their effects lessen. What do we do or say, when our child no longer cares that they’re yelled at? We send them to time out. When that doesn’t work? We spank them. What are we to do when that doesn’t work? Better we step off this escalator from the get go and find some more sustainable solutions to our problems.
- Tell me, if hitting is a good way to solve a problem, why on earth don’t we do it more often? Well, in fact, we have
Throughout history strong white men have found endless ways to justify using brute force to bend the wills of people who are weaker then them. It has been fine for white mean to beat black men, for men to beat women, and of course, for adults to beat children. It has been fine for people who are of a different race or gender and age to beat those with less power. Through blood, sweat and tears – literally – “minority” groups such as these have succeeded in rising up and standing up for their rights to personal safety. How can children possibly rise up? What can they do? Well, they try… they scream, they tantrum, they run away. But ultimately, we can overpower them for many years to come.
- Parents are children’s survival ticket in the world
They need us terribly. Dr. Dan Seigel calls these ruptures in our relationship and explains the brain science behind why these are so detrimental to children’s healthy development. When a child is afraid of their parent they are in a biological paradox. The very person that is designed to offer them protection and safety poses a threat. Thus they are drawn again and again.
- It’s true, spanking might generate good behavior, but for all the wrong reasons and at a huge price
It will increase selfishness whilst decreasing self esteem… leading to anti-social, depressed and anxious behavior.
Why does spanking happen?
Because we are triggered.
We have underlying vulnerability, but we are too afraid to expose it, so we cover it up with unleashing anger on our smaller members. Which vulnerability? We, as parents, feel desperately that we “don’t know what we’re doing”, or in intense fear that “we’re doing it wrong”.
This is what happens when your kid runs into the street and you start yelling at them or spanking them. Really you want to say “I was SO scared just now. I couldn’t live if something happened to you.” Instead you say “I am SO mad at you. You are not listening to me.”
Children Do As We Do
We teach primarily through who we are and how we behave. I think you can judge a person on how they treat waitresses and children.
Are you so immature that you can’t use your words? How do you expect a 4 year old to do so?
They’re brains are underdeveloped, yes, but research shows again and again that children learn best to be hard workers, emotionally healthy, and socially adept beings in a demanding and supportive environment.
A child who is afraid of the consequences, afraid of the punishment, will not turn to you for help when they are in trouble.
A tantrum means the child’s brain is did-regulated. To me, spanking a child out of a tantrum is paramount to spanking somebody who is coughing to get them to stop coughing. They need care, nurturing and time, not pain inflicted on them by the very person they trust.
Social Sanctioned Abuse
To me, spanking is no more than socially sanctioned bullying and abuse of it’s youngest, most precious and innocent members. I do not believe in such a thing as a bad child, or even as bad behavior.
I believe all behavior is a child’s way of communicating their needs… needs that have been placed most preciously in our hands to protect, nurture, and guide.
When a parent routinely resorts to spanking as their go-to tool, they are in fact giving in to their own immaturity, regressing to their own inner child, and abandoning the ship of their home. They are allowing themselves to resort to brute violence, and in doing so hurting the very people they are meant to protect. I don’t think this falls short of abuse, and I think it’s a crying shame that this is somehow legal in many countries today. No doubt history will look back and shake it’s head.
All Is Not Lost
To end on a positive note, I think there is always a way to come back from violent parenting. Children are incredible forgiving and vastly resilient. If caught in time, parents can and should make amends. This starts by apologizing, and follows by putting actionable steps in place… to confront our triggers, and find alternative routes to negotiating boundaries with our children. It is most definitely the parent that is the problem, and the only one that needs fixing. Through anger management and therapy this can be achieved.
Someone who grew up being spanked may seem “fine”. But can they handle their anger well, or do they blow up? Do they have a healthy self esteem, or do they tend to be anxious or depressed? Are they in touch with their inner worlds, or are their emotions flat, cut off, unconscious? Are they true to their own truths, or do they live to please others and live up to others expectations?
The Only Valuable Lesson
The only valuable lesson learned from being spanked is that your parent, the person you look up to, value, and idolize, can’t control themselves in moments of anger, and quickly resort to inflicting pain on people weaker and smaller than them.
Let me remind you that up until not long ago, and still today in certain parts of the world, women are routinely raped, sold, locked up and forced to stay in the house, cover their bodies… all because men deemed it so.
Let me remind you that black people were slaves, the they were put in cages, and exhibited in zoos. The fact that we, as humans, are capable of justifying extreme and horrific acts of violence is clear throughout history. We’re amazing at this! We want to control other people, of other genders, colors and the last taboo – ages – and we can justify anything with “it’s for their own good”.
The simple fact is that people who deliberately chose to spank, and then to justify it, are out of control and have zero grasp on what science shows us children need from their adults.
Coming Back to Respect
I view spanking as incredible weakness. It’s the inner child in us… the four year old hitting back on the playground.
Remember that our children learn from what we do, not from what we say. The far more powerful lesson is safety rooted in trust.
We always need to ask ourselves what is the lesson I’m trying to teach, how can I teach it best?
Please remember that children are complex humans, capable of reasoning, learning, and understanding. There’s nothing a 4 year old can’t grasp. If you’re needing to spank your children to keep them safe, that means their environment is unsafe for them. Full stop.