Is spanking an effective tool in (pardon the pun!) child-rearing? It’s seems that the jury is still out on the subject. There are traditionalists who think that current positive parenting strategies are too soft and permissive, causing children to become spoiled or out of control. And there are others (including most family service agencies) who consider spanking to be a form of child abuse. Wherever you stand on the corporal punishment debate, one thing is worth noting: current research suggests that spanking isn’t at all helpful.
The following are some of the reasons why spanking isn’t helpful:
The “Don’t Get Caught” Mentality
The level of moral reasoning in spanking is shallow: don’t misbehave so you don’t get hurt. A child can end up thinking then that it’s okay to misbehave, just don’t get caught. Instead of helping children develop a moral compass, spanking encourages lying, deceit and sneaking around. True change will only happen if children understand deep down that a behavior is wrong, and why it is wrong. Unfortunately, spanking does not promote this insight. The only message children get in spanking is the confusing “I only hurt you because I love you.”
The Positive Parenting Climate
A lot of what made spanking effective generations back is the culture. Back then, spanking was an accepted and acceptable form of education. Children themselves also took it as part of a normal parenting routine. But today, so many professionals have spoken out against spanking that it is no longer considered an acceptable parenting strategy. Children now consider being hit equal to being physically assaulted and are liable to report the crime to a teacher, guidance counselor, or child abuse hotline. A child who gets spanked is more likely to develop hostile feelings toward the parent than to graciously accept the punishment and move on.
An Encouragement to Seek Revenge
Many studies have found links between corporal punishment and increased aggression in children. Kids who are spanked are more likely to act out power and anger issues by throwing tantrums or being aggressive to others; as they grow older, those with a history of being spanked have higher rates of bullying and vandalism. Many theories have been put forward to explain this link. Some experts believe that it’s simply modeling; kids follow what they see their parents do (i.e. use physical strength to gain compliance, attain power or achieve other goals). Others think that children tend to internalize the humiliation and pain that comes with spanking, and express their feelings in indirect ways.
A Form of Sexual Abuse
Some adults remember being spanked as being sexually stimulating. Certainly when a father pulls down his daughter’s panties to swat her behind, the child is able to feel not only pain, but also violation. Unfortunately, children who are used to being maltreated sometimes have trouble developing normal boundaries in adulthood. As a result, they may find themselves with adult partners who are abusive. When children are regularly hit in childhood they form an equation in their psyches that looks like “being hurt can go together with being loved.” This can give them a tolerance for mistreatment throughout life (although psychotherapy can be helpful). Since there are excellent forms of discipline that do not carry the risks of spanking, there is no reason to resort to this tool nowadays. The choice is not between spanking and no-discipline but rather between spanking and other strong and effective forms of discipline.