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Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.

— Winston Churchill

You Can Call it Spanking…

If a man is upset with something his wife says or does and he hits her, we call it abuse. If a mother is upset with something her child says or does and she hits him, we call it spanking.

Whatever term we use to help make the act more digestible, the act is still the same. It’s hitting a child. The very idea of physical discipline is based on an adult using his or her larger physique and power to intimidate and force someone much smaller and weaker into a state of compliance. In Western culture, we publicly frown at people who use their physical power to dominate someone smaller, yet when it comes to our children we take a pass, turn our heads, and call it spanking.

I’ve not been able to figure out why our society still debates the acceptability of hitting children. We agree children should not hit each other. We agree that adults should not hit each other. Yet we strongly disagree about whether or not adults should hit children. How will we get to a point where we agree that children’s bodies are their own, and violating those bodies, regardless of what we call the violation is fundamentally wrong?

“Despite the rise of the timeout and other nonphysical forms of punishment, most American parents hit, pinch, shake, or otherwise lay violent hands on their youngsters writes Alan E. Kazdin, John M. Musser professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University and director of Yale’s Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, 63 percent of parents physically discipline their 1- to 2-year-olds, and 85 percent of adolescents have been physically punished by their parents. Parents cite children’s aggression and failure to comply with a request as the most common reasons for hitting them.”

Parents aren’t the only ones who spare the rod. CNN reports corporal punishment in schools remains legal in 21 U.S. states and is used frequently in 13: Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, according to data received from the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Adults who use physical discipline cite its effectiveness, and it is true that hitting a child normally provides a quick fix and momentarily ends a certain behavior. This expediency is also why adults find themselves hitting children again and again. The quick fix conditions adults to embrace that fleeting feeling of victory but does absolutely nothing to teach a child how to positively modify her behavior. I doubt there’s a parent out there who supports corporal punishment but who’s also only hit their children once for the same behavior.

Hitting a child teaches her what not to do, but it doesn’t teach her an alternate behavior. You want your child to stop speaking to you disrespectfully, so you slap his face and the sassy-talk stops. You want your toddler to stop dumping her spaghetti on the floor, so you pop her on the bum and she keeps her plate on the table. Mission accomplished, right? Wrong. Perhaps you’ve delivered the message loud and clear that this particular behavior is unacceptable, but you’ve failed to show your child what is acceptable and you’ve missed an opportunity to help him develop better communication, coping and behavioral skills. You’ve failed to teach your child how to do it right.

My favorite argument from spanking enthusiasts is, “I was spanked/paddled/whopped when I was a kid and look how good I turned out.” I suppose the same argument can be used if you grew up with a parent who smoked in the house/car/apartment but you didn’t develop cancer from second hand smoke, so now it’s OK for you to puff away while your child sits and breathes your fumes. Perhaps your parents didn’t know the safety risks of not using a car seat and you rode unbuckled and unrestrained. Here you are safe and sound…proof that children don’t really need to be buckled in. The logic of … it happened to me so it must be fine for my child … makes little sense in my mind and immediately discredits the argument.

Study after study have shown us that hitting our children is not an effective form of discipline and in fact it does more harm than good, but as a society we choose to ignore the research. Why? We still see our children as possessions, objects to which we can do what we want and claim, “It’s in the best interest of the child.” We think hitting children is faster and easier than alternative methods of discipline, and we don’t want to take the time to learn something new. Many parents and educators believe it’s their right, even their responsibility to punish with physical force, and they ignore research that proves spanking produces negative long-term consequences for children, including aggressive, oppositional, anti-social and hyperactive behavior. If appealing to parents and educators based on science isn’t changing attitudes and practices, and if we’re not developing a deeper, more heart-felt conscience regarding parental honor and an expectation to cherish our children, what will it take to end corporal punishment of children?

Launched in 2001, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children is advocating for children’s rights around the world. I wish it didn’t take legislative efforts to put an end to the prehistoric idea that hitting our children is an acceptable form or discipline or education, but if this is in fact what it will take, than I’ll add my voice to the cry.

Being a parent is an honor. I have a four-year-old son and the natural trust that exists between a parent and child must be sacred. My husband and I are our child’s barometers of right and wrong. We’re the people willingly charged with the responsibility to keep him safe and to nurture his mind and his body. I simply can’t imagine taking his innocence, his unwavering trust, rolling it into the palm of my hand and slapping him with it.

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23 comments to You Can Call it Spanking…

  • Wow, great post. I’m so proud to see my state listed as #1 on the schools with corporal punishment… I thought they had pretty much done away with it, but apparently not. As a kid, I was absolutely terrified of being hit with a paddle. I had a music teacher wave the paddle in my face once and I swear, my blood runs cold just thinking about it. God, she was mean. I wish I could bump into her again just to tell her what a crappy person I think she is.

    HeatherPrides last blog post..Picture Tag

  • I hear you loud and clear, sister. Our children are both adopted and we had to be vetted both times in a rigorous home study process. One of the questions was about spanking children. We answered that we wouldn’t spank. I asked our case worker if people ever answered yes. She told us that yes, people do answer yes and that many people consider it an acceptible form of punishment. I still cant wrap my head around that. Thanks for posting this!!

    steenky bees last blog post..The Five Spot

  • Amy

    We wonder why some have no respect for anything these days, no one respects them. The idea that you live what you learn is so true and we need to STOP this cycle. I think we can easily see that current methods are NOT working … look at all the anger in our society, just read the paper or watch the news and it is everyone — people who do not know how to handle a situation without violence. It really is sad. Thanks for helping stop this cycle!

    Amys last blog post..Picture Tag

  • Great post. I was just thinking about doing one on spanking as well, just this morning, as i recently read an article received in an email that brought the topic up for me again. My last discussion of spanking came in a class “Psychopathology of Childhood Disorders”. Strangely, in a round table discussion of spanking, only myself, the instructor and one other mature student spoke out against it. The rest, all 20-somethings (and presumably future educators and psychologists), supported spanking using the same argument you just cited ‘well, i was spanked and i turned out ok’…yeesh…frightening! Most were unshakeable in their belief that it was ok to use corporal punishment on their own (future) children, if not those under their care.

    thistles last blog post..Canada votes too!….Part One

  • Yep, I’m one of those people that would have said, “Well, I was spanked and I turned out OK”. I’m not even sure what negative long-term effect it had on me. Maybe my spankings were minimal (plus I don’t recall it actually hurting, it was more scary than painful, but I suppose part of your point is the emotional impact it can have). And I can’t imagine delivering them myself if I were a parent. Also, I’m not in any way justifying spanking – hell no, I agree with you completely. You’ve just got me thinking about my own experience is all (again, probably part of your objective here).

    Great post, Trisha.

    Margarets last blog post..How To Win a Pissing Contest

  • I feel the same way about pets…

    garys last blog post..the weekend of the duck

  • I think I am one that can say I turned out alright (realizing this is up for debate) and know that some the the choices I made had a direct causal relationship with whether or not I thought I would get a beating.

    I realize I’m running the risk of sounding like someone who condones the spanking behavior, and no I don’t spank my son, but I also think there’s an epidemic where there is no discipline at all and a lack of respect ends up being the regrettable outcome.

    There has to be a happy medium somehow.

    Grandys last blog post..It’s awareness time again

  • Very well said. Those who use the reasoning that they turned out ok despite the spankings really haven’t.. not if they’re condoning hitting their own child. They’re simply perpetuating the abuse… and that’s not turning out ok. Great post, Tricia

    Hilarys last blog post..Fiery Skies

  • donna

    I too was spanked as a child, actually I was whipped with a belt as a child and I turned out ok as you say, with some help figuring it out by professinals. I remeber that it hurt like hell and it left deep emotional scares. I did not raise our children that way. I do not belive in spanking. Great post Tricia.
    XOXO

  • Jen

    Well you already know how I feel about this. Great post!

    Jens last blog post..I miss her

  • I don’t have children at this point, so I don’t have hands-on experience that many of you do. I still think there is some behavior that a ‘time out’ isn’t going to solve. My brother and I both had a few times in our childhood where our actions warranted a hand-to-butt solution. Those instances usually came after the verbal discipline, time-outs, or groundings were ignored. Maybe it’s my inexperience talking, but what happens when the non-corporal approach isn’t hitting home? Working for a school system, I see a lot of young kids with zero respect for authority – if that’s the result of “Honey, don’t do that” over and over, what’s next?

    There’s often a fuzzy line between appropriate discipline and actual abuse, but feel that responsible parents can clarify that line in their own families.

    Dougs last blog post..The Best Sporting Event Sponsor EVER

  • Tricia

    Doug, You’re certainly not alone, and you definitely don’t have to be a parent to weigh in. According to the most recent stats I could find, more than 65 percent of adults in the U.S. believe spanking is an acceptable form of discipline, and the numbers are especially high in southern states where many families rely on Biblical reference to help develop their family’s value system.

    I question why the idea of discipline for children should include physical punishment. You’re right that there is a terrible endemic in our society that allows for disrespect to propagate, but I think the best way to teach respect is to model respect, not to demand it with physical force. Demanding respect doesn’t work in adult relationships, why do we think it should work in adult/child relationships? Rather than create respect, I contend that when we use corporal punishment we create fear, which is an unhealthy prerequisite to learning. I wonder if schools that allow corporal punishment find less disciplinary issues than those that don’t? I doubt it, but would be interested to know.

    I don’t think there’s a line we can draw that says hitting a child is OK as long as it’s not TOO hard, or TOO harsh…as long as it doesn’t leave marks, etc. There are so, so many strategies for effective parenting, education and discipline that are more involved than “Honey, don’t do that” but as parents we have to take the time to read the research and implement the strategies. I’m reading a book called, “Beyond Discipline from Compliance to Community” by Alfie Kohn that provides wonderful insights and suggestions to classroom management, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking to read more about alternative methods that are working.

  • Amy

    In my experience the children who are more disruptive and lacking respect, especially in a classroom setting are NOT from families that use a “Honey, don’t do that” BUT more from families that use harsher parenting punishments or NO parenting at all.

    As a society we frequently seem to be looking for a quick fix – a pill for illness or a slap on the butt — to me neither address the issues! Parenting takes so much time and effort and we need to take this responsibility when we choose to be a parent!

    Amys last blog post..Halloween Costume Design

  • Tricia

    Amy: You mentioned pills as a quick fix, which reminded me of an article I read recently that reported: “Ample research suggests that all children, especially those with ADD or ADHD, need school recesses and other unstructured play time to function at their best. That presents a growing problem for kids, as it’s estimated that 40 percent of elementary schools across the country have cut back on—or have eliminated—recess in the past decade.”

    Whether a slap on the butt or a pill, the whole idea of a quick fix is not working, and we certainly have a ton of questions to ask ourselves regarding the current and often sad state of affairs, and what we expect of our children, of our educational systems, and of ourselves as parents, that’s for sure.

  • modeling respect is a great way of putting it…teaching respect and tolerance is fundamental to developing self-discipline and social skills, values and ETHICS…

    during my childhood, my mother was quick to both physical and mental abuse (let’s call it what it was)…my dad on the other hand, was the talker and teacher…i always felt worse about doing ‘bad things’ and learned from him what was acceptable behaviour and what was not…while only learning to resent my mother for her actions…i feared her, but did not respect her

    thistles last blog post..Canada votes too…Part Deux!

  • Hey there, just visiting from Dave Fowler’s and this is a subject very close to my heart.
    I can’t abide it when I see parents give their children a slap (around the back of the legs too, why do they do that?) while walking around the supermarket. What do you expect? Your children are bored!
    I am a great believer in leading by example and I wouldn’t want anyone hitting me when I am stubborn/moody/cross (very rare!) so why should we do it to children?
    And if they learn that you solve conflict with violence, well, what kind of world are we building?

    Taras last blog post..Olay said this would make me look younger . . .

  • Great, great post. As a victim of spanking myself (and adopted), I’m with you all the way down the line. Spanking is not teaching. Spanking does not engender respect. Spanking can do permanent damage. Thanks for sharing this!

    goodfathers last blog post..Pad Thai, Walmart-style

  • Tricia

    I want to say thanks to everyone who commented here. Whether you agree or disagree with the article, I’m honored that you stopped by and shared a piece of yourself…a piece of your history. Thank you!

  • Dear Tricia,

    I read this post last night and although I live in Florida, I was not actually aware that my local schools allowed corporal punishment. This is a letter I sent this morning to the country superintendent.

    @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

    As an eight-year resident of ******* County I was appalled to read the the current ******** County School District Student Code of Conduct and to discover that corporal punishment is still an option in ******** County schools. I realize that the parents must approve and I do understand that discipline is needed with children, but paddling children in school is always wrong. For every administrator, teacher, parent and even child who feels that moderate corporal punishment is harmless and can be positive, there are numerous cases every year of injuries, abuse and trauma inflicted on school children by adults. There is a fine line between discipline and abuse and it is reprehensible that actions resulting in parents arrests for spanking their children at home are fine with the legal system if done in the school by school administrators.

    There cannot be enough safeguards or witnesses to protect the child when the goal is to inflict physical pain upon the child. Every month you can read media articles and lawsuits against school districts for allowing children to be abused. Coaches and teachers rape children constantly in this country and yet school districts have followed the path of the church and covered up many of the assaults. What school boards are failing to realize is that spanking, paddling, caning, strapping and other forms of corporal punishment are considered to be sexual amongst consenting adults. Many adult females who practice spanking as adults commonly relive parental and/or school punishments and admit to being sexual aroused during those childhood punishments. Spanking is sex among adults and allowing adults to spank children can be construed as sexual by both the adult and child. Is that the perception that you and the ******** County School District intend from allowing corporal punishment in schools?

    In the policy it does not state that male cannot paddle female or that female cannot paddle male. Even so no matter with the best of intentions and the best written policy there cannot be adequate protection for the child as nearly every court case has shown. Even if the parent has not given permission to paddle their child and even if a paddling results in injuries and hospitalization the parent and child will lose in court even if they take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. That is unacceptable in 2008 when coaches, teachers and administrators cannot be held liable for actions that a parent would wind up in jail for duplicating. I do not have children but I assure you that I would never allow a strange adult to physical assault my child. Corporal punishment in schools is a barbaric practice that perpetuates the myth that beaten children are happy children. That is a flat out lie.

    Brians last blog post..Fourteen ways to vote for President in Florida

  • Tricia~ I felt so compelled by your post, I also wanted to come back and see what people were saying in the comments. I think you have elicited some excellent discussions.

    This is what blogging is about for me. Thought provoking dialogue (with some chuckles on the side). ;)

    Grandys last blog post..Because we have to be told?

  • AMAZING post…so well said…great thought provoking blog!

  • It makes sense about not continuing with “business as usual” I couldn’t do it, either. But I can’t see ghost writing as being satisfiying for someone with as strong a voice as yours. Being an evangelist for the likes of Apple or Adobe might be cool, but would that let you continue with the stream of consciousness riffs that have obviously been satifsying for you and been so energizing for us, your readers? Don’t know.,

  • It makes sense about not continuing with “business as usual” I couldn’t do it, either. But I can’t see ghost writing as being satisfiying for someone with as strong a voice as yours. Being an evangelist for the likes of Apple or Adobe might be cool, but would that let you continue with the stream of consciousness riffs that have obviously been satifsying for you and been so energizing for us, your readers? Don’t know.,

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