When we see a screaming kid at the grocery store, we almost reflexively start questioning the disciplinary bona fides of the parents. We are all so sure that if that were our kid, it wouldn’t be acting up like that, or at least never in public. Some would add, “If I had done that when I was little, I would have gotten a good swat and that’s what’s wrong with kids these days. They get participation trophies and not spankings!”
In fact, a national survey conducted in 2012 showed that a majority of men and women in the US find spanking to at least sometimes be a proper method of disciplining an unruly child. There’s a long tradition of it, but is it good for kids? Should we spank our children?
The history of spanking goes back many years. In fact, some date it back to biblical times. Some interpret certain Bible verses to condone spanking. Some of these verses include:
- “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24, NIV)
- “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.” (Proverbs 22:15, NIV)
- “Punish them with the rod and save them from death” (Proverbs 23:14, NIV)
Understandably, some people think these verses mean that spanking children is an acceptable and even preferred method of discipline. The Christian group Focus on the Family offers parents 7 tips for effective spanking on their website, including “use a wooden spoon or some other appropriately sized paddle and flick your wrist,” since “if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline.”
In an attempt to do what I’m sure they consider walking a fine line, they urge parents to communicate grief while swatting their children. This is so that the kids understand how much it pains the parents to inflict pain on the children…
However, some people disagree with this interpretation, stating that these verses are not what they seem. Many point out that the rod they are referring to is the same as the rod used to herd sheep. Shepherds do not strike their sheep with the rod; they use it to guide them. They think that these verses are simply instructing parents to gently guide their children, instead of giving into their every whim and not disciplining them.
Punishment vs Abuse
No matter what side of the debate you are on, we should first establish that spanking in anger is not the right thing to do. When spanking a child, you should be careful not to react. In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to give your child a spanking. However, this is not the right time to do it. You may find that you are spanking all the time, or spanking for offenses that don’t really deserve a spanking.
It’s also important to realize that there can be a very thin line between spanking and abuse. Anytime you strike your child and leave a mark, you are going too far. A child should never be injured as a result of your discipline. This is a clear indicator of physical abuse. This can cause serious psychological and emotional problems in your child. The same is true for striking a child repeatedly.
Smack the Smarts Out of ‘Em
Research shows that physical punishment can actually have a negative impact on the child’s brain. This goes beyond any feelings that might get hurt, and this is where those that complain about parents being too soft on kids today should pay attention.
A study in 2009 looked at kids exposed to harsh corporal punishment (HCP). CP consists in “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behavior,” – you know, the Focus on the Family technique. It is considered harsh if it occurs about once a month or more for a period of a few years.
They found that the spanked kids had less gray matter in parts of the brain linked to addiction and depression when compared to their non-spanked counterparts. Lower grey matter in these regions is significantly correlated to lower IQs. In essence, you are smacking a kid silly.
This gray matter is also instrumental in regulating behavior. The sad irony is that when you regularly spank a child for acting out of control, the less self-control they have. They get so used to being controlled by you that they never nurture the ability to do it themselves.
Other Disciplinary Methods
There are many different methods out there when it comes to discipline. Experts say the most important key to discipline is consistency. Once you have found an approach, you need to stick with it. This might include things like time outs, taking away privileges, or chores. No matter what you choose, make sure you display tenacity and you should be successful in your discipline.