Thursday, January 14, 2016

Can't We At Least Stop Hitting Children?

Surveys show that something like 70 percent of Americans believe that children, at least sometimes, deserve to be spanked. Just writing that sentence makes me sick to my stomach: all those big adults hitting kids. Even worse, some researchers tell us that over 90 percent of preschoolers are spanked by an adult at least once in any two year span, and 30 percent of children one-year-old and under have been spanked. Who could hit a baby?

Spanking is hitting. Hitting is violence. Violence is morally wrong and I believe that the US should join the 48 nations that have made spanking illegal (good links to research in that post). That's where I come from on this matter. As I've written before:

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 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.

Obviously, 70 percent of us do not share my point of view and believe it is not only acceptable, but even necessary, for full-grown adults to hit children. I also know that after posting this, I will spend my day reading comments from people who are adamant, even angry at me, for suggesting that they stop hitting children. They will say that spanking is not hitting, a hair splitting argument that makes no sense to me. They will say that spanking is not a problem if done "with love," an argument that tells me that there are a lot of people who don't understand love. They will say that spanking is the only way to teach obedience, a goal that I've spent my entire professional life rejecting. They will say, "My parents spanked me and I turned out okay," to which I will respond, "Are you sure? You hit children."

But beyond my moral stance, the research is quite clear: spanking does much more harm than good. According to Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, who has brought together more than four decades of research in his book The Primordial Violence:

"Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior. But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges. Moreover, the research clearly shows that the gains from spanking come at a big cost. These include weakening the tie between children and parents and increasing the probability that the child will hit other children and their parents, and as adults, hit a dating or marital partner. Spanking also slows down mental development and lowers the probability of a child doing well in school . . . More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent."

From where I sit, children have a fundamental human right to not be the victims of violence. When adults do it to other adults we call it "assault." Spanking is a violent act that does real harm to both children and the wider society. And while we can continue debating the efficacy of time outs and other punishments, can't we at least stop hitting children?

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Robbyn Peters Bennett said...

Thank you for speaking out on this subject. Spanking is a form of domestic violence and the roots of bullying not to mention a myriad of other serious health issues. We are trying to encourage parents to practice positive parenting AND we are helping to teach adults how to intervene when adults spank (in public, at family get togethers, etc). We call it the NIP Kit - neurodevelopmentally informed parenting kit.

What is a NIP KIT?:

Here is a TED talk about spanking:

Love your work Tom!

Robbyn Peters Bennett

Unknown said...

YES! People have the tendency to rationalize spanking or hitting their children. It is violence! Rarely is spanking done without anger. I hope more people see your post and really think about what you say. As usual, you are spot on!

Brett Gilland said...

My wife and I have chosen not to spank, but I struggled with exactly this argument:

'They will say, "My parents spanked me and I turned out okay,"'

I mentioned that to my mother and she told me thought it was hogwash. In her words, we learn over time and choose better than our parents did. So just because they did it to me (rarely) didn't make it okay now that we know better.

My dad laughed and added that he had once said something similar to my mom when they were making decisions over how to raise us kids and she told him in no uncertain terms 'I love you, but I don't love everything about you. Perhaps that didn't work as well as you thought. *pointed look*' That was the last time he tried that argument, to be sure.

Sarah L said...

Spanking can be a way of avoiding difficult topics. Not talking about things like the emotions we see and experience can be wounding too. I recently read that naming the emotions we experience can be healing and can shift our perception and recovery from an event.

Sandra Tuszynska said...

Hello TT and others

I am so glad you wrote about this again. Violence always creates more violence!
Yes, why is it illegal to assault an adult, but not a child? If anything, it should be the other way around, because children are helpless and small and oftentimes even unaware of breaking a particular law their parent created. Most people who hit children would not have the guts to hit an adult, not to mention that it is illegal to do so. Hitting children, no matter how small goes against the UN rights of children

Exposure to any kind of violence creates fear in the children and fear is what causes stress, and thus post traumatic stress disorders. We who have had violence perpetrated against us, are never okay, until we fully feel how hurt we have been and thus heal ourselves. I believe (eg. The Body Never Lies, by psychoanalyst Allis Miller) that all sickness emotional, mental and eventually physical is a direct result of violence of one kind or another having been perpetrated against us. This includes emotional violence, even if we have not been hit, but threatened, condescended towards, judged etc. (all constituting the lack of love we have experienced).

I believe all war is the very effect of violence perpetrated against children. Most of us are in denial of our own hurt about the fact that our own parents hurt us, and our anger and thus war, are a direct result of that denial. We are essentially a lot of hurt, very angry children, in denial of our childhood hurts.

I do not believe that by punishing and creating fear of violence in a child, can ever make children see the reason why something is wrong. They simply change their behaviour, without learning anything other than "if I do this again, an adult is going to hurt me, so I better not do it." Children and adults do not do some thing, simply because they are afraid of getting punished by others, not because they know those things to be wrong or harmful to themselves or others, but simply because they are afraid of the potential consequences. I speak for myself here too.

Most importantly here is how children describe how spanking feels to them and all agree that is hurts

I would like to add that I am a very violent person in how I treat myself and others, that I do not have children but work with children and see more and more how much damage emotionally, I create by my desire to control them and punish them, having learnt that it is through violence, I will get what I want. I have not actually hit a child, but I believe that the feelings inside of me, when I do not get my demands met, have as much or more violence attached to them as hitting might.

TT you are right, most of us do not know what love is, we have not been taught what love is and we desperately need an education in love. I am learning so much through your posts TT and if I can ever get to the level of love that you display and strive for, I will be one of the happiest persons on Earth; because being nasty, controlling and demanding, is a horrible and painful place to choose to live in.

Thank you so much TT

Sandra Tuszynska

Mary Elizabeth said...

Well written. I also would like to add the following: "I'm not in it to judge you... I just think it's only fair for all parents to be aware of other options... and of the negative consequnces..." I liked your analogies as well.

Anonymous said...

I was spanked almost daily as a child. Sometimes I was hit with slippers, rulers and hairbrushes. I am not ok about that. I have very poor attachment with my mother. A lot of my childhood I spent hating her.

Marianne said...

I was beaten as a child for every misdemeanour. Sometimes in anger but mostly in cold blood when my father came home and my mother reported me. I was the most obedient child you ever met. I was controlled by fear and that is not acceptable for anyone in any circumstance and I refuse to allow it to happen to children on my watch.

Anonymous said...

"They will say, "My parents spanked me and I turned out okay," to which I will respond, "Are you sure? You hit children.""
What a brilliant line. It mad me laugh a lot.
I live in New Zealand, where the "anti-smacking" bill was passed in 2007. This was met by public protesting and a general attitude of "who are you to tell me that I don't have the right to physically abusive my own child?". So outrageous that the government would step in to protect those who are vulnerable!
To me, if you boil this debate down to a very simple statement, I would say that spanking (we call it smacking in NZ) teaches children that issues can be solved with violence.
As a child I was often smacked if I hit my sisters. I wonder if my parents ever considered the irony of hitting me as a punishment for hitting someone else?

Anonymous said...

My sister who lives overseas is visiting me at the moment with her 2 children. She is a believer in spanking. Her children hit each other often and her response is to say to them "that's not for you to do". She doesn't say to them that hitting is wrong because she can't.

Pixie said...

A friend uses the phrase "I wouldn't hit my child because I wouldn't hit my wife" and it really is that simple. Your children are someone you love, and you shouldn't hit people you love, there's no kindness in hitting.

Michelle said...

I'm constantly mystified when parents who spank refuse to scknowledge that what they are doing is called hitting. If they find the word do repulsive maybe that should tell them something.

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