To Spank or Not To Spank

ImageSpanking as a way of disciplining children is a subject that has been hotly debated for years. There was time when it was the prevailing method of disciplining children. But times have changed and today and in some countries it has been replaced by an alternative paradigm of non-spanking. This is most true in western countries where in some, the law even prohibits it. Parents who insist on spanking as a way of discipline can end up in jail or their children could be removed from their custody and given to state-appointed foster homes as in the case of Sweden.


Here's a link to a lawyer mother who is concerned about this development in her country and what she as well as other parents are doing in view of her country's transformation into what she calls a "socio-medical totalitarian state". She said that "during the last twenty or thirty years Swedish families step by step have lost the basic human right to family life and private life. In thousands of families this has led to thousands of parents losing their children."

Many articles favoring non-spanking cite Sweden as a shining example of its success. But this article by Dr. Larzelere disagrees for lack of evidence. 

But just  like in many things that's popular with the majority, the real reason for the popularity is not always correctness but  marketing, to use the word loosely. The paradigm shift started when Dr. Spock's book "Baby and Child Care" was published in 1946, just in time for the post-World War II baby boom. It became the widely-accepted bible on child rearing, and much of the advice Dr. Spock offered therein ran against the grain of what had previously been the accepted standard for bringing up children. Non-spanking as a way of discipline was his doctrine.


Mainstream media helped spread this non-spanking doctrine as almost all of them trumpet the so-called "expert" opinions that spanking can result to horrible consequences to children ranging from low self-esteem, becoming bullies, etc.. Consider this quote from an anti-spanking article in an online parenting site:

"Experts cite stacks of research that link spanking to mental health problems such as depression and a range of antisocial behaviors that land kids in detention and adults in jail."

With statements like this, a well-meaning parent  would surely be alarmed  had he or she been spanking his or her kid. I am not really a practicing statistician but I had 18 units of Statistics in college. And if there is anything in that  phrase "link spanking to mental health problems", it is that it doesn't prove anything. A link, statistically speaking, does not prove cause and effect. Period. For example, a statistical study may show that there is a link between watching Eat Bulaga and having a dog. But to say that watching Eat Bulaga causes one to be a dog lover is ridiculous. Those who need more explanation why this is so may click Wikipedia's entry on this subject  here .

The so-called "experts" who advocate non-spanking are just too quick to point out that one of the "lessons" learned by spanked children is violence. But one study done by a police officer named Det. Robert R. Surgenor of Berea, Ohio debunks the "expert's" opinions.  In his book "No Fear: A Police Officer's Perspective", Surgenor points out in his city, where he conducted a lengthy investigation in every case where a child physically attacks mom or dad, he found that only 1.9 percent of all children who physically attack their parents have ever received any type of corporal punishment for misbehavior. Less than two percent of these violent kids have ever been spanked!

If spanking from parents  teach kids to be violent, where did these juveniles who physically attack their parents learn violence when they have never been spanked in the first place? Isn't this a very strong argument against spanking as the cause of leaning to inflict pain by children? With data like this, non-spanking advocates cannot help but look somewhere else for the cause of these juvenile delinquents' behaviour.  I don't think I totally agree with the figure cited by Surgenor. It looks too artificial to me. But even if he "intentionaly" inflated his figure by designing his study to be skewed in his favor, if we reduce his figures by half it won't really affect the validity of my question. Where did 49% of the offenders learn to be violent when they haven't been spanked by their parents?

If  experts are to be pitted against experts, there is no lack of opposing opinions to the alleged effects of spanking. For example, Dr. Diana Baumrind of the Institute of Human Development at Berkeley has this to say about such researches:

"Methodologically strong studies have not established that normative physical punishment is a causal risk factor for the detrimental child outcomes with which it may be associated. . . a blanket injunction against disciplinary spanking is not warranted by causally relevant scientific evidence."

Here's another  article written by a faculty member of Biola University that also contradicts the "experts" for non-spanking. Even in Sweden where the law is already on the side of non-spanking, the same question is being asked here .

One of the more popular non-spanking advocate is Murray Straus, Ph.D., professor of sociology and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire. But even the three letters after his name didn't exempt him from making fallacious reasoning to promote his cause. In one article by Kitty O'Callaghan, he was quoted as saying "Why is it okay for an adult to hit a child when it isn't even acceptable for an adult to pick on someone his own size?". To his thinking, if one believes in spanking as a way of disciplining one's child, then this gives him the responsibility to extend that discipline to everybody else including a common street offender. His analogy simply does not fit. A father has a responsibility to his children but that responsibility does not extend beyond the limits of his own home.  To cite an example, if an adult hits another adult, the hitter can land in jail. Will a father put his son or daughter in jail for hitting his or her siblings? Clearly there is a different set of rules that applies in the household, particularly with children, than in the outside world. Besides, Strauss should know that there is a difference between a responsible adult authority legitimately punishing wrongdoing and individuals indiscriminately beating up those who frustrate them. Children are capable of understanding this difference in context. 

Testimonies are often cited to support the non-spanking argument. Lisa Bacote, a mom of a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old in Atlanta, remembers the few spankings she received. "They were harsh!" she says. But the punishments didn't teach responsibility or obedience, she believes, as much as fill a reservoir of resentment that took years to drain. Her husband says that the spankings he received growing up taught him two things:

• How to lie ("I didn't do it")

• How to avoid getting caught.

I have been a father for 10 years and if there is anything I learned, it is that I never taught my child to lie. Does that mean that my child never learned to do so? I wish she hadn't as many parents sure wish too about their own children. Kids learn to lie without being taught and it takes more than psychology to explain why so. I'm a Christian parent and I'd be straight to the point that this problem is a spiritual one.

The flak that spanking parents are getting for their method is largely due to the fact that studies cited against the practice tend not to differentiate between parents who spank frequently and forcefully and those who do so occasionally and moderately. So results get lumped together, with different definitions of "spanking" carrying the same weight. I for one believe in biblical discipline and it definitely involves spanking. When included in most anti-spanking studies, I will be lumped with all the subjects, some of whom may indeed have been abusive in their use of the rod. If there are gun owners who are called trigger-happy, there are also parents who are rod-happy. But the question is, if spanking can be abused, is it to our advantage to outlaw it? Let's take some analogy. If knives can be abused (thousands have been killed by knives), do we prohibit its production and sale? The same can be asked of guns, even medicine, or food. Clearly, outlawing spanking, when viewed from this angle looks ridiculous. But there is a more compelling reason why it is a mistake to do so.

Human laws, at least those that are based on righteous and fair judgment, are always calibrated in degrees as to the punishment for specific violations. Lesser crimes receive lesser penalties. It is very important that these different degrees of punishment is followed, implemented and understood. Understanding it is critical to the concept of fairness and equitability. These  are concepts that children should learn early on. Otherwise, they will learn it late, maybe in the arms of the law. Then and only then will they feel the unpleasantness of crime and punishment. Sadly, it is already too late a time for learning. Spanking will already have prepared a child about the concept of degrees. He would have understood that bigger violations always bring bigger penalties. I wonder how it could ever be done in the non-spanking world. Is there ever a punishment there that will make the child say "I will never, ever go through that again."? Why is this important? There are things that children should never ever do and the only guarantee that they will never ever do it is a punishment that will make them think twice, thrice or even more before they act.

To their credit, non-spankers agree that  children should be disciplined but they do not agree that spanking should be used to do so. Self-esteem is said to be one of the first casualties of spanking. Maybe I missed something or maybe non-spankers missed something. Biblical discipline is always based on love. The 12th chapter of the book of Hebrews is very clear about this particular distinction. In fact, parents who do not chastize their children according to the verses do not actually love their children. Now if love is the reason for spanking and the child is made to understand this, how in the world can love be a cause of loss of self-esteem. Either I'm too dense to understand this "psychology" thing or the psychologists who use this argument  have not really understood biblical discipline in its entirety.

Am I telling you to spank your own kids? No, I'm not. There may even be children who are too well-behaved and too easily chastized by words that they wouldn't need any spanking at all. Needless to say, not all offenses deserve spanking. There is a so-called middle ground in the subject of discipline so instead of opting for the no-spanking or the all-spanking extremes, it is worthwhile to learn the biblical method of discipline which squarely falls in the middle ground. Here's a very helpful excerpt from a summary of a debate between Larzelere and Strauss on this subject that will help explain why:

There have been 13 published studies and 3 unpublished studies capable of isolating the effects of parental spanking on child outcomes. Most of them (12 of 16) have found beneficial child outcomes of spanking under some important circumstances. Such beneficial outcomes are mostly limited to the use of nonabusive spanking to back up milder disciplinary tactics with 2- to 6-year-old children by loving, sober parents who are in control of their anger. When parents use spanking primarily to back up milder disciplinary responses, such as reasoning or time out, then those milder tactics become more effective disciplinary tactics by themselves. In this way, parents can work themselves out of the need to use spanking without compromising their disciplinary effectiveness. Beneficial outcomes have included reductions in noncompliance, fighting, antisocial behavior, emotional problems, and hostility.

In contrast, 4 of the 16 causally conclusive studies found only detrimental child outcomes of nonabusive spanking. The detrimental outcomes occurred almost entirely for children over 6 years old. The detrimental outcomes tend to be small, and do not apply to subgroups that view spanking as more appropriate and loving (e.g., African-Americans and conservative Protestants). Further, a replication of the best study found identical small detrimental child outcomes for all four alternative disciplinary responses for 6- to 9-year-olds available from the interview: grounding, sending the child to a room, removing privileges, and taking away an allowance. Whatever accounts for this small detrimental child effect, it does not seem to be unique to spanking, but may reflect overly frequent uses of any negative consequence (rejecting manner?, impulsive rather than loving discipline?, insufficient discussion?).

In conclusion, the current scientific evidence suggests that some kind of balanced middle position on spanking is preferable to either of the polarized extremes. Parents should resort to the mildest disciplinary tactic they think will be effective, and be open to mutually acceptable compromises negotiated by their children. But they should back up reasoning and time out when necessary, whether with a nonabusive spanking (appropriate only near the ages of 2 to 6) or some alternative (e.g., grounding). Parenting experts need to expand effective nonabusive disciplinary options for parents, not prematurely restrict them.

Much of what I said here springs from my own conviction as a Christian parent. It's just an added bonus to see that objective scientific research confirm what the bible has been saying all along. So if you believe just like i do that the best source of  knowledge about our kids is from the One who created everything, then there are sources of help for you.

For more ideas about biblical discipline and how to avoid abusing it, click here to read an article that I don't want to duplicate anymore since the author has done a quick but quite thorough job of explaining the rationale and the methods of biblical discipline supported with bible verses all throughout. You may also find more resources on biblical child discipline in the site .