Thursday, November 01, 2018

Spanking Is A Violent Act That Does Real Harm

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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