Friday, January 20, 2012

I Will Not Teach Violence

Nonviolence is absolute commitment to the way of love. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I would never spank a child, not as a teacher or parent. This is a vow I made long before having a child of my own, and it’s one I’ve never even been tempted to break.

And while I could link to dozens of studies that show that spanking doesn’t improve a child’s behavior, and in fact may lead to everything from poor peer relationships to hyperactivity to anti-social behavior, I’m not going to. I won’t because there are other scientific studies (fewer, but they exist) that show that spanking is an effective and acceptable parenting tool.

My objection to spanking is a moral one, anyway, and any research I cite would simply be backfill to support a position from which I will not budge. As I’ve written here before, I believe that once a moral argument is raised, the debate is over. No one is going to back down from an honestly held moral position: once that point is reached, further discussion is a waste of breath.

There are a few things about spanking, however, about which I hope every reasonable person agrees:

• Spanking must never be done in anger – that’s called beating.

• Spanking is the exclusive domain of parents; it’s never okay to spank someone else’s child.

• Spanking must be accompanied by a clear explanation to the child about why she is being punished and followed-up with clear demonstrations of love.

• If the child is too young to understand why he is being spanked, he is too young to be spanked.

As much as it goes against every fiber of my being, if these conditions are met, I guess a big, strong adult has the right to hit a smaller, weaker child. The whole idea makes me soul sick, but we live in a society in which the choice of parental corporal punishment is permitted.

That said spanking done in public becomes everybody’s business. We’ve all seen a frustrated parent whack a whining child. From where I stand, that’s hitting done in anger and I can’t help but wonder that if a parent does this in public, heaven only knows what she’ll do behind closed doors. That parent may have the right to spank her child, but I’ve just witnessed a child getting hit. As a teacher in Washington State, I’m required by law to report suspected child abusers. That parent's actions have caused a spark of suspicion, so I can’t just look the other way on both moral and legal grounds.

It’s hard to know what to do. I don’t want to make things worse by humiliating or further angering a person who has already demonstrated a willingness to hit a child. Sometimes I find a way to say something. I try to do it in a compassionate and reasonable tone. My primary goal is to stop the violence by distracting the parent. Other times, I simply make sure that the adult knows that I’ve been a witness by forcing eye contact. Either way, I’m always left angry, sad, and wondering what else I could have done.

I’ve had people shrug at my moral stance and insist that spanking “works,” and I’m sure it does. There are lots of things that work that I will never try. If I disagree with you, shouting you down works, but wouldn’t it be better if I engaged you in reasonable debate? If I need money, stealing works, but wouldn’t it be better if I worked to earn a higher income? If you’re standing in my way, pushing you works, but wouldn’t it be better to politely ask you to allow me to pass? Indeed, spanking may work, but there are better ways. They just take more effort.

As a boy, I was on the receiving end of a handful of spankings, always administered by my father, who is by every measure a loving, peaceful, compassionate man. I don’t believe that I am the worse for the experience.

Still, I have never spanked a child and I never will because I know in my heart that violence is wrong. And I will not teach violence.

Nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. ~MLK

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Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call spanking violence anymore than I'd call killing a spider murder. You said your dad spanked you - so did your dad commit acts of violence toward you? I think we all need to be careful when we use strong words to express our beliefs.

BloggerFather said...

I wrote an anti-spanking post on my blog after witnessing my neighbors smack their 1.5yo boy, because "It's in one ear, out the other with him." I'm probably less tolerant than you are about parents who hit their children, but hitting a kid who can't speak should be shocking even to people who think spanking is legitimate.

Anonymous said...

Calling spanking "violence" seems a bit extreme. Redefining spanking as violence is like calling someone who hunts deer a murderer.

Candi said...

I love this post. Agree with you completely. It makes me sick to see a child getting spanked. Thank you for posting this. And I love the "there are better ways" approach as well.

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . Hitting anyone IS a violent act by definition -- no re-defining needed. Murder is one human illegally and knowingly killing another, so I don't see the parallel. Killing a deer is just killing.

There really is no way to deny that spanking is a form of legalized violence: that it involves adult people hitting children sickens me. That it is also ineffective in teaching anything other than "might makes right" only makes it worse, not to mention all the other negative side-effects.

Aunt Annie said...

Also @Anon- there are many people who would view killing a deer as a form of murder too, which may or may not be justified by circumstance or need. The edges are very blurry around such definitions and depend on your moral stance- and as Tom so rightly points out, once someone takes a moral stance there's no changing their mind with facts or definitions.

Tom, I agree with you. It took me longer to come to this view, as a child who'd grown up in a house where smacking was rare but accepted, but the more I read the more I see it as a poor choice. You really only have to think about how you yourself would feel if a policeman walked up and thumped you for breaking the law in a minor way- you wouldn't be thinking about what YOU did, you'd be thinking about what HE did.

Great post, thanks.

Meagan said...

I think many people who spank would disagree with some of your "everyone agrees" points, the one that jumps out at me is the one about age. I've heard several times the argument that 4-5 is "too old" for spanking, that once they're old enough to reason and communicate with, spanking is no longer "necessary." I think in part it comes down to a lack of understanding about child development, and misinterpreting a child's intent and capabilities. The idea of striking a BABY (or a baby that walks- toddler) is abhorrent but some people do believe they "know better" and that spanking is the best/only way to communicate with a proverbial child.

Personally, I think spanking is pointless and sad, I think it does more harm than good, but I have plenty of friends who spank that I still consider wonderful parents. There are many things we do to or for our children that my be in some way damaging, and for the most part, those things are far oughtweighed by our motive, which is love.

I've been doing "cry it out" with my 7.5 month old, and there are plenty out there who claim that is damaging, and that it's abusive. I don't believe it is damaging, but even if it IS I know my baby will be fine, because I love him, and I am doing what I believe is genuinely best for him, even though it's rough on both of us. Sometimes it seems like parenting is all about choosing between different kind of damage.

Spanking goes against MY parenting philosophy, but I'm not going to try to convince a friend who acts as he/she believes is best for his/her child, that it is wrong. As long as they are under control, if I can see they love their kids, the kids can too.

Meagan said...

Proverbial was non-verbal befor auto correct interfered.

ominspiredmama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ominspiredmama said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly and completely. The mere thought of ever striking my child is enough to make me feel nauseous. I am a middle school/high school teacher and a Mother who practices Attachment Parenting and I strive to live my life as non-violently as I can (including my food choices, btw.). You are right: these are moral choices from which I will never budge.

Danielle said...

I have taken the same stance in my life as a parent and advocate for young children. I am shocked by how many people get upset with me when I say "I will not spank my child." They feel they need to change my mind. Great post Tom.

Jessica Skintges Wallach said...

Thank your thoughtful post. I agree with you too. I have always found it hard to know what to do in those situations, bc I never want to make it worse on the kids. I finally figured it out one day and I wanted to share with you that story from last mother's day...we went to dinner. As we left the restaurant we saw a family having a hard moment, one of the 3 or 4 children had run outside, crossed the street and down the sidewalk, when I arrived outside, the dad and other kids were bringing her back and the mother was shouting, you are done for or something making me wonder what would come next. As we were getting ready to go to our car, I heard the wack. Then I saw the girl, the same age as my daughter, crumble into tears. I knew I wanted to do something, but we were going one way and them the other.

We went over to our car and my daughter, who is 5, really lobbied to go to her grandmother's house, she wanted more of her. We let her cry and tell us over and again how important it was to her and how unfair it was that we got to decide. We held firm in our decision, and listened to her again and again. At some point the other family came out from the restaurant again and started going to their car. I excused myself and went over to the mom and said, "I just wanted to say Happy Mother's Day, I know it gets hard some time". The mom thanked me and it was sweet that I came over. The kids were full of questions, who is she, why did she come. I didn't stay or answer, I just said I wanted to wish them happy mothers day.

Somehow doing that, gave me the patience to go back to my daughter and listen to her for another good half hour cry and show her frustration that we were not going to see her grandmother. Finally my husband found a bag of art she had done at school and started talking to her about it and completing projects on the way home. Within 5 minutes she was in her carseat and we were on our way. The whole way home I heard laughter from the backseat as my daughter and husband played with each's amazing what a good cry will do for her.

For me, it was mothering at it's best, being able to band together with another mother without judgement whose parenting choices are clearly different then mine, and then hold true to my own mission as a mom to give my daughter lots of room for her feelings especially when we are saying no to her.

Girl From the Ville said...

I struggle with it too - especially in public. As a parent, I go to great lengths to protect my kids from violence - I don't let them watch movies with violence in them, we don't watch violent sports like boxing and wrestling but if we go to a shopping centre or a children's playground, they witness that violence through spanking.

Kids fight and I know that, but there is something more deeply unsettling about a fully grown adult hitting a child who is completely and utterly dependent on them. Violence is not too strong a word for it because that is exactly what it is. It is not violence between equals either, it is bullying.

My kids have been quite shocked by the times that they have seen other parents hitting their children because it is something that they are not used to. I know people think I am over the top in that, but I find it interesting that we live in a world where systematic and public violence against children is permitted and my children are the odd ones for being shocked and distressed when they see it. When did we become so desensitised to it, that we can't even recognise it for what it is anymore?

The oldest justification in the book is that there are so many problems in the world today because children aren't smacked anymore (apparently) - it doesn't seem to have occurred to most people that the real problem with our world is that we have incredibly aggressive and violent attitudes towards children and for some reason that is okay. General thinking about this issue really is upside down and topsy turvey. If we solve our own problems with violence, our children in turn learn to solve their own problems the same way. If we want to improve the world, we need to teach peaceful problem solving skills and unfortunately, those seem to be missed in favour of instant compliance.

Okay ... getting off my hobby horse now :)

Josh Marshall said...

Spanking is about as useless as a traffic fine. When administered it makes the receiver feel angry at the punishment and the punisher rather than the reason for being punished. I believe in real consequences of actions and have found with my kids that any form of punishment that I deal out will only drive us apart and not deal with the real issue. I will not "save" my child from consequences of their actions unless they are in physical danger (such as playing with a power point) or from long term consequences (such as dental hygiene or drugs) and these consequences often are enough for them to realize that it wasn't a good idea in the first place.

I believe there is a place for physical action when dealing with emergency situations such as stopping a child from running out onto the road but this doesn't mean they should be hurt. In fact it should have the complete opposite effect and be an act of love - an immediate hug and telling them that you love them and were scared for their safety. This works a lot better than getting angry or spanking would and the child gets an understanding that they shouldn't run out on the road because it's dangerous, not just because I say so. What if I'm not around? A spanked child would be more likely to make a bad decision because their they are not being watched. A child who understands consequences is more likely to make the decision that is going to have a better outcome.

Tom this is my first comment on your blog, I enjoy your posts and believe we are all fortunate to have the media available to us that we can become educated in a better way. Otherwise we will all just parent as we were patented and unfortunately that seems to have been detached parenting styles.

I chose to raise my boys in a loving, attachment style They might not always see me as their friend but they know that I love them and they don't have to be worried that I will smack them when I get home. They might not always do as I say but I don't want them to be blindly obedient as I want them to make decisions of their own (with my guidance where necessary). Even though I have my frustrations with them, I have people comment to me about how lovely they are. Comparatively I have friends with similar aged kids who do smack and who detach themselves and it's those kids I see acting out the most.

It's quite a long comment :-) but basically love your kids, be an active part of their lives and don't push them away or place barriers between you and them as punishment, rather be their support when they are going through the consequences of bad decisions and quietly guide them to make better decisions in the future.

Jenny said...

There is a wonderful poem by Ralph Fletcher (my copy of the book is at school and I don't recall the title) in his book of family poems written from the perspective of a young boy. He and his mother are waiting in line at a store and another mother has hit her child. The mother seems about to hit again and the narrator's mother steps in. She simply steps between mother and child and engages with the mom about the difficulties and challenges in parenting. She points to her son and laughs about how he can frustrate her. She diffuses the situation through empathy and engagement. It's beautiful.

Lyn said...

'That parent may have the right to spank her child'

What about the Right of the Child to feel safe and loved?

Mullin Avenue Workshop said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly.
I grew up in the late 50's, and my Mother was truly an authentic, wonderful, generous person; who was terribly depressed, and frustrated in her role of stay at home Mom with a husband who was rarely at home, and unsupportive at the best of times.

She unfortunately took her anger out on the three of us often, and this caused a huge rift, between us which took years to heal.

I think one of the tragic consequences of hitting small children is the breakdown of family love, and this is a terrible loss. As well, it causes consequences for the development of children - learning problems, as well as behavior disorders. Often the terrible consequences are permanant.

I think as well as extending compassion and understanding to mothers in difficult life situations, we need to address the employment, and child care needs of women.In some ways I think inappropriate spanking can be societal.
Of course this doesn't address people who coldly and calculatingly use spanking as a method of behavior modification.
Good post, and as shown by all the wonderful comments here, an important issue.

Anonymous said...

I was spanked as a child and it taught me something very, very valuable. My parents were wonderful and I adore them--I don't remember being spanked in anger. But I DO remember spanking a child that I was babysitting in anger. I was about 12 and it was a family friend's son. I remember seeing NO problem with spanking him when he acted up. I honestly didn't know it was inappropriate. And when I got older and REALIZED that it was, well, pretty awful that I spanked someone else's child, I looked at how in the world I could have come to the absolute conclusion as a 12-year-old that spanking a child in my care was acceptable.

My conclusion was simple: I was hit, therefore, I hit.

And I made the decision not to perpetuate the cycle of violence. Done.

Anonymous said...

Teacher Tom, what do you say to those people who believe that criminals are criminals because they weren't smacked as children? I posted this link on facebook and got a reply from a police officer saying that he disagrees, and that he deals with "these types" (meaning people who were not smacked) of people everyday. He believes that there would not be criminals if parents smacked their children. He was smacked and of course used the line that he is "fine". It is so frustrating!

Girl From the Ville said...

Anonymous, I would ask people where there evidence is? Most of those things are based on the assumption that people who do terrible things weren't smacked as children. We never assume that it is because of the violence and general aggressive nature that our society seems to have towards children, that they have grown up to be angry people who want to act out.

I have no evidence either to say that people who grow up and do violent crimes were smacked, but I worked with kids with severe behavioural issues before I was a stay at home mum (I was a teacher who specialised in it) and most of those kids were punished. Their problems were rarely that they weren't smacked, their problems stemmed for a lack of love and acceptance. It was amazing what giving them a sense of belonging, self worth and ownership could do to alter their behaviour.

I can't see how children that grow up in homes where they are loved and feel like they belong, would grow up to commit crimes. Most people behave the way they do because they want something - whether it is good or bad. I think people who do crimes are really just fulfilling a need or communicating something. I don't think we take the time to listen to what their behaviour is really saying and we as a society often judge very quickly about the sort of character or person that they are. We rarely look at them for the hurting person that is trying to communicate something that they really are.

Anonymous said...

@ Teacher Tom - so following your logic and definition of violence you should say your father (who you describe as being a compassionate man) committed acts of violence against you as a child.

Teacher Tom said...

@Anonymous . . . Girl from the Ville says it well. I've never seen a scientific study that makes a connection between a lack of being spanked and criminality, yet I've seen many that connect being spanked in childhood with violent, even criminal, adult behavior. Those that say that criminals come from NOT being spanked are expressing a belief supported by nothing.

@Anonymous . . . Yes, that's true. The few times I was spanked were acts of violence. These are not my definitions: I cannot find a definition of violence that would somehow carve out a non-violent niche for spanking.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I realise that this blog is a few days old and so are the comments but I've just been catching up on the few blogs I've missed so I apologise for the late comment.

I enjoyed this blog and completely see where you're coming from. Spanking is hitting regardles of how it's done and it is intended to cause an immediate sensation of pain. Having said this, I spank my son.

It is never done in public or in anger and he is ALWAYS given 3 warnings before it is done. He is never spanked more than once and it is always made very clear as to why it was done. He was never spanked as a baby as I don't believe he would have understood but from the age of 2.5 it was done when he knew that what he was doing was worng. If he was doing something that he didn't know was naughty we redirected his attention and explained it to him, however, once it was clear that he knew what he was doing he would recieve 3 warnings and redirections of his attention before recieving his smack.

Now he's 4 he goes months without a spanking as he never gets past the 2nd warning before he ceases his act. He is a great child who is always very polite, interacts well with his kindy friends and very rarely disobeys his teachers and parents. If he is naughty we try a 'time out' and removal of favourite things before a spank. So far it's working but should something drastic happen and he knows that what he was/is doing is very naughty he will still get his single smack and a firm talking to about why it was he recieved it.

I believe that there is a thin line between a smack and a beating so it will NEVER be more than one smack and always with an open hand. It will never be delivered in anger and should the stress of the moment be getting to us, both parent and child are seperated to their rooms for 5 minutes (sometimes we need a time out too). We're young parents and he's our first child so this is all a learning curve but this is what works for us so we'll continue with it. :)

Wren said...

What is worth spanking and what is bad behaviour? I've been doing some theoretical studies on "student behaviour" at uni this year. The educational research is moving away from dicipline (such as smaking and naughty corners) being inposed to what is called a guided constructionvist approach. That means the child is recognised as constructing their understanding of the world, working out the rules for themselves. that dose not mean free reign over every deciion but it takes a more democratic approach to adult/child relationships. Your job is to guide them not bully them.

I also have a 3 year old who has never been smacked has never been in the naughty corner or yelled at. Is she an angel? I think so. She dosn't tantrum and has only every truly melted down 3 times, all because she was over tired or quite ill. She does not get everything she asks for but when told no she is given an explination why.

You would be amazed at the power of stories and explinations. For example she's been using sissors since she was 2, not saftey ones. She has been told the story twice about my childhood freind who ran with sissors and lost his eye. She polices others to be careful and to hold the sissors correctly when walking pointy side down.

Smacking is the easy way out. As it's been said above it really dosn't work effectivly in the long term. I'll happily link the research. Guiding, playing and narritive are a harder road to take. You may need to distract their attention away from undesirable behaviour from time to time, but that gets easier as you go along.

Caroline said...

The first anon doesn't consider spanking violent. Consider this: Most local and State police define any form of physical contact intended to hurt/control another individual as violence.

If one doesn't like the behavior of an adult (say your elderly mother)and you hit her to control her behavior, you could be arrested for assault. Just because you don't like the way other people (adults) act doesn't mean you can hit them! It's called assault and it's a crime. You can't hit, or spank your co-worker just because he or she is "misbehaving". You can't hit or spank your spouse in order to get them to change their behavior! It's against the law.

Can you imagine-- your husband doesn't like that you spent too much on shoes, so he spanks you until you cry. Come on people! Don't children have any rights?
Really, I think it is sad when people are so desensitized to violence, they can't even identify it!