Spank Early, Spank Often…Or Not…

As I have mentioned on this blog—and discuss at length in my book Desperately Seeking Parents—spanking has both proponents and opponents who are intensely passionate and vocal. In my opinion, both extremes are ill conceived and neither is supported by quality research.

It seems as though every couple weeks, a new study arrives on the scene either lauding or lamenting the practice of spanking. The newest study, performed by a professor at my alma mater, Calvin College, suggests that young children spanked by their parents may actually grow up to be happier and more successful than those whose buns escape pain early in life.

According to the research, children spanked up to age six were likely as teenagers to perform better at school and were more likely to carry out volunteer work and to want to go to college than their peers who had never been physically disciplined.

There was a difference, however, in those children who were spanked into adolescence. Those children showed a clear increase in behavior problems.

So maybe spanking itself doesn’t make disturbed children. More likely, there is a subset of parents who spank who ALSO lose control, spank out of rage, say horrible, nasty things to their children, and don’t utilize any other means of discipline who produce the negative results. That’s what I think.

Anyway, the study’s author concludes that “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data. I think of spanking as a dangerous tool, but there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool. You just don’t use it for all your jobs.”

I could hardly say it better.

Spanking is not for regular discipline or correction. Used as a primary tool, it is less effective than other means and can often become counterproductive. Spanking should only be used for those “big jobs”, like establishing the understanding that defiance (e.g., not going to Time Out) will not be tolerated.

Like I say in my book, if you can’t spank without rage or losing control, don’t spank. Ever. It’s not for you. But wise and self-controlled parents can use moderate, controlled spanking to help achieve an appropriate hierarchy with their children and make discipline way easier in the long run.

5 thoughts on “Spank Early, Spank Often…Or Not…”

  1. Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

    Child buttock-battering (euphemistically labeled “spanking”,”swatting”,”switching”,”smacking”, “paddling”,or other cute-sounding names) for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like “Supernanny” and “Dr. Phil” are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    NO VITAL ORGANS THERE, So They Say
    by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads-visit http://www.nospank.net.

    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn’t a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics,
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
    Center For Effective Discipline,
    Churches’ Network For Non-Violence,
    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
    Parenting In Jesus’ Footsteps,
    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  2. I’m sorry, Mr. Deverit, but I don’t find your comments helpful at all; nor do I find them well-reasoned. To suggest that a “marginal few” think that spanking is good only because of a literalist interpretation of the Bible is ignorant at best and hostile at worst. Frankly, your assertion borders on nutty.

    While you are free to offer rational arguments based on evidence (and I welcome anti-spanking arguments if they are presented respectfully), please take your anti-religious rhetoric elsewhere; it is neither appropriate nor welcome on my blog.

  3. Re: my response to PDeverit, I was not referring to his first post; that was reasonable (albeit simplistic). He added a second post that was, for lack of a better term, highly inappropriate. I deleted that post after responding to it and insisted that any future posts be more respectful.

  4. I found it interesting to read your blog response to fellow Alma mater as I had caught the tail end of a news clip on the matter. I was excited to hear some Calvin coverage on national TV.

    I am also glad you responded to PDeverit because I was shocked by some of his comments. I was horrified to think that “spanking” my child was somehow illiciting some sexual response.

    I would like to agree with you in quoting my favorite child-rearing author Dr. Dobson, “A spanking is to be reserved for use in response to willful defiance”. I believe that if a child is willfully defiant and he/she has been made known of one’s expectations then a spanking done without anger and in control is the proper response. I also would like to say that if a child has been properly alerted to certain dangers like going into the road and the child continues to do so, that a spanking is appropriate in this situation as well.

  5. It’s nice how you set it up as if parents who don’t spank their kids are not wise or self-controlled.

    Also what is an appropriate hierarchy ? What is the parent’s role, what is the child’s role? It’s not that easy to answer the question as it seems, and there are several answers.

    Do you think children children are so stupid that they can’t figure out “whos boss” unless hit ? Does a good parent want to become “boss” ? And I’m not talking of becoming their friend either. What about guiding with patience and teaching by example?

    I’m not saying that the study is wrong, but there can be quite a few different explanations. I can easily believe, for example that as the child learns more about the world and society the spanking seems more and more questionable. You should also consider the group you got your data from. Is the difference statistically significant ? The model doesn’t seem to be logical especially when you are comparing wanting to go to college.
    It’s not heretical to try and find a connection, but maybe another common factor is responsible. It’s like saying cars with greater mass accelerate faster, if you understand what I’m trying to say. (hint: big, expensive cars have more powerful motors usually)

    This study seems just trying to grab attention. To spank or not to spank? Spanking should be put into perspective. What does the study say about the importance of spanking compared to other factors? I highly doubt that it’s the most important in child rearing.

    That said, a slap on the butt is not the most horrible thing you can do to your child, just completely unnecessary pain. If you do most things right, she/he will grow up to be a fine adult even if spanked. (yes, I don’t consider spanking to be right)
    There are plenty of examples.
    Just keep in mind that there are plenty of examples to the opposite too.

    And as to my earlier question, I don’t think children are there to obey parents, so it’s not a question of defiance or not.
    Well, this is my view on this anyway. People with a different world view and values will come to different conclusions.

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