Saturday, June 30, 2012

It's Time To Ban Spanking

Yesterday, I re-posted a link on the Teacher Tom Facebook page to yet another study about the negative consequences of hitting children -- what some folks call spanking. Whenever the subject comes up, I'm always shocked, and then depressed, by the fact that there are so many people out there who still insist upon their right, even responsibility, to hit their kids. Some even seem proud of it.

Those of you who have been reading here for any time know that I don't shy away from debate, but this is one of those issues that preemptively exhausts me, like arguing evolution with people who simply don't "believe in it." It's getting harder and harder for me to summon up the strength to keep debating things that have been settled science my entire life. I remember my mom, 40+ years ago, telling me about research that linked spanking to a wide array of negative consequences. The evidence has only gotten stronger since then.

I'm grateful to the brilliant Alec from Child's Play Music for yesterday linking to better studies in the comments than did I in the original Facebook post, including a comprehensive meta-analysis of 89 studies. Alec wrote:

This isn't an isolated study - this is just one of hundreds of studies which show the negative outcomes that are associated with corporal punishment. The research is clear and well understood: corporal punishment has overwhelmingly negative effects on children's development, and there is now almost total unanimity amongst scholars and child development experts that the effects of CP are undesirable at least and extremely harmful (sometimes fatal) at worst.

People, it is settled science that hitting kids is a bad idea. Prisons are not full of people who weren't hit enough as children -- it fact, the opposite is true. Kids today are not more "spoiled" than past generations because they've not been hit enough: mean-spirited people have always made that complaint about the next generation. From reader Erin:

The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders . . . They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and are tyrants over their teachers.  ~Socrates, circa 400 BCE 

I'm also not buying the necessity for children to learn obedience, let alone via being hit. In fact, I've found that obedient people are dangers to both themselves and others. I find it bizarre that it is illegal in our country to hit another person, except if that person is a child and you call it spanking. The thought of a big strong adult hitting a weaker child sickens me.

And I have no patience for the argument that "I was spanked and I turned out okay," or more simply, "It works." As I wrote before:

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 a 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, with far fewer negative consequences. They just take more effort.

But you know, none of this even comes into consideration when forming my own opinion about spanking. These are all rationales fashioned to persuade other people that spanking must stop, but for me it comes down to simple morality. I don't hit people. I don't hit people even when I'm right. I don't hit people when I'm angry. I don't hit people when they won't do what I want them to do. I don't hit other people because hitting is immoral. And it doesn't soften me to call it "spanking."

Again, I thank Alec for both the quote and the link:

To see how an effective spanking ban can work you only have to look at Sweden. They banned all corporal punishment in 1979 (the first country to do so - 31 others countries have now also banned all CP). Sweden wisely did not criminalise corporal punishment; instead parents who use CP are offered help with learning more effective methods. Naturally, physical abuse and assault remain crimes, but smacking per se does not result in parent's being criminalised. As a result children in Sweden experience some of the lowest rates of physical abuse in the world, and also have excellent outcomes on a wide range of developmental and societal measures. Support for CP has fallen to single digit levels, and few children are ever subjected to it.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share


tricia said...

I get a lot of flack for refusing to spank my kids...from family members who tell me that my kids would be paddled over their knee if they did certain things....being creative in punishments without spanking may make us appear "soft" or that we are "spoiling" our children, but I'm not comfortable asserting my strength over someone who can't fight me back- and what happens when they can? Putting my kids in multiple time-outs for screaming and disrespectfulness can appear that I'm tolerating it to folks that don't believe in our methods...but I think it takes some strength to endure it!

Anonymous said...

I am with you here 100%.  But, I call you into action.  I see a ton of blogs and other posts all the time on how spanking is bad.  What I would like to see is a land slide of other methods of discipline. Let's share other ways that work.  I believe that deep down in everyone's soul they know that spanking is wrong.  I want to see links to resources, to educators, top 10 lists on effective nonviolent discipline, and support groups for parents. Let's get creative.  Instead of putting energy into and saying, "bad" lets offer a million other ways to discipline and to support families so that they can be healthier and have better coping mechanisms.  I am willing to bet that most of the people who hit, in the heat of the moment, know no other way.  Show them a new way, give them something to fall back on. And do it lovingly and with patience (I believe you are a master at this :) ).  Let's guide everyone to a nonviolent, better way to discipline and parent so we can change our county's very sad statics on child abuse.

Meagan said...

I like the quote you conclude with, but if we had the resources to educate that many parents, I suspect spanking wouldn't be so widespread to begin with. Harlem Children's Zone has demonstrated that this sore of education IS effective, though I haven't seen any figures on spanking rates for families that go through baby college etc.

I think you make a mistake in setting up spankers as a moral enemy. (Most) people who spank their children do so because they honestly believe, whatever the science says, that they are doing what is best for their kids. They are proud because they see it as an act of rebellion: they are making sure to "raise them right" when most Americans buy into wishy-washy nonsense. They see it as their duty, and they are making the"tough choices" while everyone else allows their children to grow into monsters. Heck, if they were right, wouldn't it be something to be proud of?

On the surface, it seems obvious that hurting children is a bad thing, but it becomes less simple when it contradicts a common practice that goes back to ancestoral times. "This is how we've always done it" is NOT a real argument, but it's still the hardest argument to counter, and it can be so imbedded in a person's (or even entire culture) psyche, that they may not even realize that's why they're defending a practice.

I'm not saying you're wrong to argue against spanking, just pointing out that it's a very uphill battle, against people who sincerely believe in their actions.

Aunt Annie said...

To anonymous- There's a wealth of information about positive parenting out there. My Facebook feed is chockablock every morning with posts from bloggers about non-violent discipline. My own blog has a whole page devoted to behaviour management (links to related posts on my blog) in which thrashing a kid is NOT presented as a solution. If you're looking for information I would point you first to Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare and Dr Laura Markham's 'Aha Parenting'.

The difficult part is not in finding this sort of information- the difficulty is getting every spanking parent to seek it, read it and take it seriously as a solution, when their own context encourages spanking and regards positive parenting as wishy-washy do-gooder weakness.

Teacher Tom is addressing that problem here, by presenting evidence and rationales for stopping spanking. To address the whole problem, including solutions, he'd have to write a thesis- not a blog post. There are plenty of other discipline-related posts on his blog; you could do worse than to look at how his children's 'room rules' are arrived at.

Meagan said...

@anonymous About 10% of the posts on this blog talk about better methods of discipline, in one form or another. His post on hitting (kicking, biting) is particularly good, and very straightforward. Link anyone? I'm on my phone... can't easily search.

Meagan said...

Here we go!

Nikoli said...

Well, I was spanked and I turned out okay. No seriously! With a belt. (Once with a spatula even. But it broke, so I actually laughed, and the whole situation was diffused.)

Do I think my Father was a horrible immoral person? Absolutely not. "Spanking" is all he knew, and I honestly don't feel he had the time to seek out other methods, and it certainly wasn't as easily available as it is today.

But guess what, just because I was spanked, doesn't mean I have any intentions of spanking my Son. I know how much I hated being spanked, so I don't want him to experience that. But discipline is important, so I've sought other methods. (It's rather hard to reason and talk with a 2 year old.) Spanking eventually loses all effectiveness. Children grow to fear the punisher, not the spanking. And it doesn't matter what is going on, even the good parts of life, that fear will be there.

I can't remember exactly when it happened, but I do know that very young I recognized that my Father truly hated to give "whoopins" and I know that I behaved better after that realization. (Don't believe I ever got another one after that epiphany either.) I know now that what I saw was frustration and guilt in him, of not knowing what else to do.

So, yea, my aversion to spanking is also very selfish of me. I don't want to feel that frustration and sense of failure. I also don't want that judgement of other people, even though that should really be the least important reason EVER. I get kudos often from many, including strangers, on my parenting... That gives me motivation to keep it up. And the result, if I'm lucky, is one truly awesome kiddo. So far, so good. (Though I still say it has much more to do with HIM truly being naturally awesome than it does with my parenting skills.)

Thanks again Teacher Tom for all that you do!

SunnyD said...

I learned not to spank the hard way. I got super frustrated and gave a smack on my son's bottom and realized that it not only didn't stop the problem behavior, but it made me feel much, much worse.

Here I was doing something I didn't think I'd ever do with my child because I remembered how livid it made me when my mother spanked me. But it happened.

So I figured out alternative ways to keep my cool when I feel like I'm about to flip my lid and use my actions and words as a model to get my point across.

Alec Duncan @ Childs Play Music said...

Tom, thank you so much for writing this post and thank you also for your kind mention of me - I'm glad you found my comments and links useful. I'm passionately opposed to corporal punishment, and I wish that my own country, Australia, would ban it.

I agree with you that the fundamental reason for opposing CP is that it is simply immoral to hit anyone, let alone a child. Even if CP was effective it would still be morally wrong. But of course, it isn't effective and it has serious negative consequences for the child's development. There is no possible way to justify CP - it is always wrong.

The best site I know for information about corporal punishment (and the campaign to end it) is . It has extensive information & links to huge amounts of research on the effects of CP, the progress towards a global ban on CP, country by country data on the legal status and prevalence of corporal punishment, statements from children (heartbreaking!), and much more, including links to positive parenting methods.

I believe that in the not too distance future we will find the idea that corporal punishment was ever acceptable as strange as we now find the idea that wife-beating was acceptable or that racial segregation was acceptable. Those ideas were common not long ago, but society has moved on and we can move on from the idea that CP is acceptable too. Change will come.

AParent said...

I don't believe in spanking, but I have spanked. I'm off to read the link Meagan posted to your "How I Deal With Hitting and Kicking". I need all the suggestions I can get. As a parent of several small children, I had a situation where I had one child in a "time in" situation (like time out only I stay with him) and he was NOT happy. His sibling attempted to come to his rescue and started throwing clumps of blocks at me. As I moved away from child #1 to stop child #2 from throwing blocks, child #1 ran away. So I caught them. And spanked them. And I feel awful. Meanwhile, child #3 and child #4 (younger) stayed playing with blocks. I'm a sleep-deprived parent who manages to tread water most days and actually parent fairly powerfully on others. What would any of you have done in my situation? How to save face, remain in charge, make sure all the kids were safe (the issue had started with child #1 biting someone), and calm myself the heck down when I'm alone in the house in this situation? I really do want input. This is so different from a situation where a parent is dealing with just 1 or 2 kids.

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!!

Melissa P said...

You are correct. Peaceful does not mean permissive, it means calm and cooperative. Also, the 14th Amendment does apply and demands that our rights as parents end where our children's bodies begin. There is no excuse for harming others and hitting is harming. I now consult with parents so they can find peaceful solutions. I thank you for being honest, open, and steadfast.