Should you Spank your Kids?

I think I got smacked once as a child.  In fact, I am not sure if it actually happened or if I just am remembering wrong.  My parents don’t believe in spanking kids.  They are Swedes.  Sweden banned spanking children over 30 years ago.  As in, it is illegal to spank your child in Sweden.  Since then over 20 countries have followed suit.  The United States is not one of them.

Premarital Counseling

Jammie and I talked over the issue of how to discipline our future kids as part of our premarital counseling.  It wasn’t the easiest topic to discuss because we didn’t agree.  Spanking is more common (although not universal) in the Filipino culture and Jammie was not as against it as was I.  We kind of put the issue on a shelf.  We are usually able to arrive at compromises but this one will, I am sure, be discussed at length.

Culture Clash

I am sitting in Barnes & Noble as I write this and a few minutes ago I flagged down a doctor friend who was in here looking for a gift.  “I’m writing a post on whether or not we should spank kids,” I told her.

“What qualifies you?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I replied.  She laughed but then pointed out that I had my own childhood to pull from.  But my childhood involved a whole mess of cultures clashing loudly.  I lived in Asia, the US and Northern Europe and basically saw every approach to discipline imaginable.  The blessing and the curse of seeing so many different ways of being human is that you are a lot less likely to have very fixed ideas of what constitutes right and wrong.  I don’t mean this in a strictly moral sense.  I like to think of myself as a fairly ethical chap.  But on something subjective like appropriate discipline I don’t actually have a very dogmatic position.

The Spirit

I think it all comes down to the spirit in which you discipline a child.  My parents believed in trying to reason with my sister and I, even when we were still fairly little.  To an extent, this worked but some would have argued that the verbal discipline would have been a little more effective if paired with a swift (light) swat to the behind.  But I knew that my parents meant business and I knew that I actually hurt them when I misbehaved so the spirit in which they disciplined me tended to work.

On the other hand I know of friends of mine with parents that were equally conscientious but came from a more swat-friendly culture.  They were well-behaved as well, but were spanked regularly for various infractions.  And I don’t think they grew up with the issues that the anti-spanking lobby constantly brings up.  They didn’t express their anger through violence any more than any other kid on the playground.  They did not seem any less capable of resolving conflict through reason and conversation than was I.

Should a Village Raise a Child?

As much as I was raised partly in collectivist societies and I believe that the village raises the child, I DO NOT believe in the collective right to discipline children.  The first school I attended still spanked children.  I was proud of my dad who put his foot down and demanded that the practice end.  If anyone were to touch my future kids at school I would do my best to make sure they were put behind bars.

How were you raised?  Were you spanked?  Or did discipline come in a different form?  What is your own take on what’s right?  Tell me in the comment section.

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Bjorn Karlman

28 thoughts on “Should you Spank your Kids?”

  1. good topic. I was spanked once in a while. Have spanked my kids but generally found it inneffective. I don’t think it is as damaging as some claim. The correlational studies tend to ignore the fact that children who are spanked tend to also come from lower income, less-educated households and they also don’t take a close look at whether or not there was much love expressed in the home. Love is the real issue. Lots of kids are never spanked and are still messed up because they were always yelled at or put down, or never encouraged or told . Politically, it’s easy to focus on one issue, since it makes those who avoid that behaviour think they must automatically be good parents. Its another way of diverting attention away from the real parenting problems plaguing modern cultures.

      1. It’s a whole process. First of all, what do we mean by work? are we just trying to control behavior or trying to really instill morals. A little bit of both obviously. First it’s important that the child’s needs are met. when they act up, make sure their needs are met before you go into punishing mode. If their needs are met. Nip dissobedience in the bud by being consistent and firm. Make it clear to them that they won’t have any fun if they don’t obey. We use alot of timeouts in the corner to get that point accross. But once the point is finally communicated, everyone is much happier.

        1. I certainly remember my times time-outs!! Thanks for the explanation… I might be checking back in with you in a few years when I get some little ones of my own…:)

  2. The ego-lead “because I said so” school of parenting is no way to treat or nurture a thinking being. In addition to physical pain, spanking causes psychic scars in the form of humiliation. In a rational household that aims to raise a reasoning human, mindless, fear-based compliance has no place. Leave it in the Old Testament. The home should be a refuge of peace and love.
    Physical discipline as a policy establishes a foundation for unhealthy relationships. I am still afraid of my mother because “spanking” was the only tool in her kit. I am training an unruly, non-reasoning hyena dog at the moment, and I don’t hit him either.

      1. Obviously, the hyena is not a Hairy Reasoner and some physical correction is required. We are making progress with positive reinforcement and motivational intonation. There are always alternatives to maintaining the alpha position without inflicting bodily harm. It’s usually fruitless to argue a position with those whose rule book is an external, sanctified and codified moral structure. It turns out that a small African refugee was safer in a Liberian orphanage than in my community because her adoptive parents subscribed to the gospel of corporal punishment: http://www.chicoer.com/news/ci_14388171 An extreme example, certainly, but it’s a slippery slope.

  3. This is a great topic because disciplining children is such an important part of raising them; and despite it’s importance there is no one right way to do it. Of course that doesn’t stop people from having very strong opinions, formed mostly by our own experiences, and although there is not one right way there certainly are wrong ways.

    I think it is absolutely ridiculous when people claim that spanking is bad for kids, or in some way damages their relationships with their parents or inhibits the way they relate to others. The reason is I was spanked, and not just with the hand; but with a ruler and a belt as well at various times, and I suffered no ill-effect. I think in the long run it was good for me because it did no permanent damage but it helped establish the concept for me early on, while the stakes were still relatively low, that there are serious consequences for bad behavior. It was usually my father who delivered the punishment and I often had to “wait until” he got home in order to face the music, and that psychological pain was always worse then the actual spanking.

    Maybe some of you are cringing at my experience, but I honestly thank my father for it. I think the reason it came off in a positive way for me, when for others it has been so detrimental was because my father always explained why he was doing it, never did it in anger, always let me know he didn’t want to do it. Additionally I always knew my parents loved me, no matter how I had been behaving, and I think that is the main thing kids need along with discipline. The important thing with discipline is not so much the form it takes, but that it is done in love, and kids can sense it.

    Now that I have a son of my own I do slap him when he misbehaves, but only rarely, and usually in cases where he is doing something dangerous like standing in the tub or going for an outlet (never at the same time, fortunately, though if there was an outlet near the tub I’m sure he’d try). In cases like that I think he needs an instantaneous that his current behavior intrinsically leads to pain and it is better for him to feel the minor pain of my hand rather than the greater pain his behavior will lead to if left unchecked. When he is simply acting up or throwing a fit, however, we prefer to send hm to his room to cool off, rather than spank.

    Ultimately I don’t plan on spanking Tristan, my son, very much. He is about to turn two now, and once he is old enough to undertand reason I plan on using that with him more, rather than inflicting pain. However, I don’t think reasoning with kids, and punishing them are mutually exclusive, as my parents demonstrated, and there are also many forms of punishment that get the message across without inflicting physical pain (one my parents used to put me in the corner for a time period, which I couldn’t stand, so it was quite effective). I think the punishment has to be appropriate to the crime, and to the child’s age and level of understanding. For toddlers who can’t be reasoned with, sometimes a slap is the only way to get them to understand when they are doing something that will hurt them or someone else, but with older kids we usually have other options.

    One big problem I see in today’s society, especially in my roll as a teacher, is a general lack of discipline in children today. It seems to me that too many parents have swung away from spanking their kids and gone to the opposite extreme of virtually no discipline or boundaries. I’ve seen these kids grow to become very self-centered and inconsiderate of others, and acting as though their behavior had no affect on anyone else, or if it does they don’t care. They tend to be very disrespectful of both their peers and authority figures, as well as wasteful of property and resources, and opportunities that are afforded them. If parents choose not to spank their kids that’s fine, but there has to be some form of enforcing boundaries, and inflicting consequences on children when the cross the line. Of course this should be coupled with reasoning, and explaining the situation to kids. However, I think parents who just want to be liked by their kids, shield them from every kind of pain, and never give them consequences for their actions end up doing their kids a disservice.

    Finally, I also want to say, in response to Monica’s comment, that I think the view that corporal punishment is an “Old Testament” way of showing love, sounds like it’s based on an incomplete reading of the Old Testament to me. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New Testament, I think it’s just that in Jesus we have a clearer picture of him. In the Old Testament is full in incidences where God had to deal with people in a less than ideal way in order to meet them where they were in their culture, or to prevent worse outcomes from occurring. In the New Testament, we simply see God with all that stripped away as he really is, the embodiment of love. I think God’s dealings with Isreal in the Old Testament are much like my spanking my two year old son; it is not how he wanted to treat them, but it was the only way for him to get through to them. Of course in the end, although God spanked his kids, he was as willing (and more so) to jump in front of a speeding truck for them as any of us would be for our kids.

    1. Micah, both Jammie and I were very impressed with the depth of your analysis…

      I am not a parent yet but I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with:

      “For toddlers who can’t be reasoned with, sometimes a slap is the only way to get them to understand when they are doing something that will hurt them or someone else, but with older kids we usually have other options.”

      It seems a little unoriginal to think that the only way to communicate that something is wrong to a toddler is a slap… What did your parenting books say?

  4. I think it really depends on the child. Some children are as dense as boards and could use a pat on the bum once in awhile, and others only require a look. As long as kids learn the meaning of the word “no” and are not afraid of their parents, then whatever method is being used is working. The important thing to remember is that whatever you do, make sure it is out of love and not anger. Words, feelings, and hits given out of anger can cause lasting pain.

    Oh, and Micah, your son has an awesome name!

    1. I agree with the idea that it should all be done out of love and not anger.. but give the fact that punishment needs to happen soon after the infraction there is a good chance that the parent will still be angry… I am uncomfortable with physical punishment then being an option…

  5. So Bjorn, when are you two planning on joining the club? I’ve been a member for two weeks now, and it is pretty awesome… regardless of the number of times Alastair has peed on me :P

  6. People often over use the Proverbs quote to support spanking. I think the vast cultural and time difference really makes it difficult just to read the verse straight into 2012. It doesn’t even say to hit your children with a rod. It says to discipline them. Obviously discipline is crucial, but spanking should be the last resort. There are plenty other ways creative ways to discipline. I was spanked, but I cannot remember any specific times. However, I do remember the discipline of having Magyver taken away. Trying to reason with kids seems silly. Kids ability to reason is a developing skill throughout their childhood. You only have to be in a school a little while and realize there are a lot of indisciplined children whose parents idea of disciple is to “talk” to them. If you watch Super Nanny, she disciplines without spanking. So the short of it is this: Be creative with your discipline, only spank as a final resort. If you do spank, use a weapon like a flail or mace… lol, thats a joke.

    1. Oh – and I disagree with you on one point Bjorn. Discipline is a village activity. If said discipline is not spanking. But if I see your kid kicking my kick, of course I will be disciplining with time-out or waterboarding. And I would expect the same from you toward my kid.

      1. Tony, I went back and re-read the bit where I talked about the village and I think I agree with you… to a certain extent… but I do remember one irate mum pulling me all the way to her house over something I had done, screaming at me much of the way… I thought she had overstepped her bounds…

  7. I am very much against spanking kids. Maybe it’s mostly because i wasn’t raised with it.. the most my parents every did was a little smack on the hand or something small like that. I may just have fallen in the category of being a good kid.. but one thing that always worked on me was my conscience. My parents would talk to me about what i had done and i would just feel so guilty and sick to my stomach. Whenever i was about to do something i probably shouldn’t do that feeling would come back.

    I’ve always felt that spanking your kid is the easiest and fastest way out of disciplining children. In my mind it makes a parent look quite uneducated and not so bright when they spank their kids.. Do they really think this is the only way to discipline?
    Violence has no place in the home or outside for that matter..

    1. I am inclined to agree Bettina… it really does seem unoriginal to use the physical force of a bigger person on a smaller person to enforce rules… but then we are both Scandinavians and maybe if we had grown up differently spanking would not seem as brutal…

  8. What I find interesting here is that those who were smacked see little wrong with it,so surely if it was so bad the people who experienced it would feel more strongly about it.on that same note how can someone feel so strongly about something they haven’t experienced?

    1. That’s an interesting point Jay… I think that those that object to physical punishment tend to be either those that have never experienced it or those that have experienced too much of it. I definitely hear Monica on her experience…..

  9. I am in favor of it as long as the child is too young to understand reason. Generally though, I am against it. I don’t think it should be against the law though. Also, I do believe it takes a village to raise a child. I think most conservatives believe that. The problem is, it does not take a government and in fact, a government intervening as much as it does can often cause more harm than good by distorting markets, suppressing positive behavior, and encouraging negative behavior. Most conservatives I have spoken to say Hillary got the title of her book right, but that the general message was wrong.

    1. Also, I was spanked, and I do think it was overused with me. There were times when I genuinely wanted to understand certain rules, but my parents would refuse to explain and would spank me instead. I won’t lie, I am sure I was being a little piece of crap at the time, but still, had they reasoned more, I would have listened more. For a kid like me, I think I could have done without being spanked past the age of 5. Some kids are different and maybe cannot be reasoned with. Still, spanking should only be used sparingly though.

      1. Yeah, I think I am like you… I would have done worse with spanking… I definitely have a stubborn streak and never did well with authority being asserted without my understanding why…

    2. Why does it have to be an either/or? Why can’t both the local community AND smart government contribute to early development?

  10. Tristan, thanks. Obviously I think you have an awesome name too.

    Bjorn, I haven’t really read any books on the topic of disciplining children, because, as you may have gleaned from my post: I already know everything. Not really, but I am one of those people that thinks you don’t necessarily need a book for everything. Not that parenting books aren’t helpful, and I have a few I plan on reading; but there is also as much misinformation in books as anywhere else.

    I think books can be helpful in parenting as well as marriage, or any other relations, because it’s good to get as much advice as possible in these areas. However, the best relationship advice I think is really common sense; treat others as you want to be treated. If we apply that to our kids as with other people most of the time I think we’ll do well. A lot of time the best that books about relationships can do is remind us of what we [should] already know.

    I get your concerns about slapping, and they can certainly be overused. However I tend to think your main objects to it stems from the fact that you weren’t exposed to it. We all tend to think the way we were raised is the best way to do it. Of course we all have those areas where we want to make sure we are not like our parents as well, because when they messed things up, as kids, we were keenly aware of it. That’s one reason why slapping is okay in my mind, it’s not one of the those things that I look back on my childhood and wish my parents had done differently.

    Maybe slapping is unoriginal, but I’m not so much of a hipster that I’m terribly concerned with originality. I’m more concerned with whether or not it works. I know that slapping, if done in a loving way, without causing lasting pain or damage, with clear warnings and explanations attached to it can work. You can try reasoning with a toddler, it’s harder than you might think. That said, I do try to explain everything to Tristan, because I know he always understands more than he shows immediately and he is growing every day. As I said, I think kids certainly outgrow slapping, and as soon as they are old enough to talk to and reason with that is preferable to me. I also think that the time they are able to reason things through comes more quickly if you treat them like reasonable human beings even before they are, so while I do use slapping occasional, I only use as a last resort or in urgent need and always try to explain things to Tristan right away (i.e. “You got slapped because you didn’t listen. Daddy told you not to touch that because if you do you will get hurt”).

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