Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spank this!

Most issues have two opposite arguments that are somewhat compelling. Even if you find yourself vehemently disagreeing with one of those stances, you can understand why someone would conceivably believe it. Issues such as abortion and welfare come to mind.

But there's at least one issue for which I cannot even begin to fathom a justification: spanking.

Stay with me for a moment: I'm not arguing that children shouldn't be disciplined or otherwise held accountable for their actions. I'm not even saying that an unruly child will be traumatized for life by an occasional light slap on the wrist. But it's time we disallowed the barbaric beating that too many children endure under the guise of "parenting."

Spanking bothers me for numerous reasons, the main one being that I have yet to see evidence that it works. Sure, lots of people speak proudly of how they had the crap beaten out of them as a kid; but just as many Death Row felons could say the same thing. Conversely, non-spanked children probably grow up with same ratio of good apples to bad. As with anything else, how a person turns out in life rides on many different factors. To hear the pro-corporal-punishment crowd tell it, only physical discipline puts young people in line. You’d think they’d at least have some proof before alleging that.

Another issue involves the attitude of the parents. Spanking is apparently written into the Louisiana Constitution, and thus is a very common occurrence both in public and in private. When I see unruly kids get whipped in public, I don't see a benevolent parent giving their children what they deserve; I see a desperate adult who has failed as an authority figure and can’t decide what to do next. I see the same immature responses that got me in trouble as a kid when I would fight my siblings.

I'll be the first to admit that I frequently fought my older brother, whether out of anger or for fun (like when we pretended to be the guys from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!). But boys roughhouse like that. Regrettably, I also slapped or spanked my little sister several times in my life. But those occurred when I was young myself, and they were always soft, spur-of-the-moment blows that I immediately regretted. And she's gotten her licks in on us as well.

Older parents, however, should know better. Much better.

No, I don't have kids. Nor do I want them. But I was a kid once, and an occasionally spanked one at that (though my parents generally frowned upon it). One of my earliest memories is seeing my cousin get his pants yanked down by his dad (on my great-aunt's front porch) and get spanked until his butt was bright red. He was three years old. Maybe. His cries have always stayed with me, even as the actual infraction has long since faded away. I've seen similar incidents play out hundreds of times in the years since, and they've all struck me for the sheer effort put into them by the parents.

Most whippings I've witnessed involve a brief pause beforehand. This serves to heighten the tension for the child, and perhaps gives the executor a moment to reflect on it. Or anticipate it. Whatever. It does prove to me that the parent premeditates it, which is frightening. The ones I've seen in public smack of almost theatrical proportions, as if they’re seeking approval from bystanders. Sometimes they get it. Not from me.

Parents often say to their children, "This will hurt me more than it hurts you." Not from what I've seen. Those who advocate corporal punishment speak of it with a particular relish, as if they're happy that they can consider this. I detect more than a little hope that they have to enforce it. It's not unlike giving a gun to a trigger-happy Minuteman on the Mexican border, and telling him that no jury will convict him if he uses it. He will, and gladly. Never mind that, in any other circumstance, he would probably be hauled off to jail.

In America, children are disallowed from indulging in such adult vices as drinking, smoking, gambling and pornography. The mentality behind this is that kids are unprepared to exercise the maturity necessary to partake in such things. And yet, children are not protected from beatings from adults. If two adults start a fight, they will get arrested for assault or disturbing the peace; so why do we allow parents to exercise various forms of abuse on children?

Yes, I’ve heard all the justifications. "It’s how I was raised." "They don’t respond to anything else." "It’s for their own good." "It’s all I know." Funny how none of those excuses are acceptable for other forms of child neglect or abuse…

Intentionally or not, a parent who spanks their child sends them this subtle message: "Sometimes, violence is the only answer." This message rings loud and clear for schoolyard bullies and juvenile delinquents all over America. And thus the cycle continues.

Obedience through fear is not respect. Projecting your childhood trauma on your children is not discipline. The primal urge to control will not breed a generation of behaved kids. Spanking is one form of perverse nostalgia that belongs in the past.


cord said...

Though I pretty much agree with your assessment, I think it would be helpful, in advocating an end to spanking, to offer some proven effective means of discipline as an alternative. Of course, rewards for good behavior can be helpful, and I've seen enough inconsistent parenting to know that the inability to draw a line as a parent often leads to the frustration with misbehavior that begets violent discipline. But for good, attentive, consistent parents faced with ureasonable misbehavior, are there better suggestions than a brief, measured, dispassionate spanking? The angry public wallopings disgust me too; it seems silly to let a child drive you to an unhinged emotional frenzy.

And no, I don't have kids, but I have taught (1st and 2nd graders), which is in some ways far worse, particularly b/c spanking was not an option. It's hard to deal with misbehavior in this setting, because it is disruptive and contagious, but maintaining control of the situation is the top priority (one of my peers refered to a teacher yelling at a class as a sign that she has lost control) and so the ideal solution would be to get the majority of the kids to work on something, and then *talk* to the kid(s) who were cutting up. It takes longer, and is sometimes impractical, but generally resulted in an end to the cutting up and often a return to participation in the class. When it didn't work, someone higher up would talk to the child, and given the unique nature of the school (public bilingual immersion in New Orleans), and the fact that most of the kids loved it there, the tacit threat of getting kicked out was ultimate, and fearsome (admittedly in part because of what this would mean to the child's parent/s). But the subtext of that institution was communication (and parental participation), and given it's unique success in such a maligned school district, this seems like a worthwhile approach. If authority figures are on their a-game, it should be possible to head off misbehavior constructively, without escalation, and to bring a child to understand why a behavior is unacceptable. To teach. I don't think spanking is a terribly effective way of transmitting understanding, so much as fear (without the neccesary comprehension). And so maybe there is no simple solution...perhaps the alternative to spanking is thinking.

Nick said...

There is no reason for spanking out in public. That just shows lack of class and respect for yourself, your children, and others.

I quick pinch just below the butt can have the same effect, usually better, without causing a scene.

Also, if your children are deciplined correctly at home, then you don't usually have to worry about them misbehaving in public.

I was spanked and/or whipped as a child, but the corporal punishment to love shown ration wasn't even close. I was whipped, but I still knew my parents loved me.

And just like there's no statistics that prove corporal punishment is effective, there are also no statistics to prove it's not. Parenting is not easy, as I'm finding out as a step-father. But those who aren't willing to work hard at being good parents for their children shouldn't be having kids in the first place.

GumboFilé said...

Much of what you and others call spanking might be better called beating. Spanking is not beating and neither spanking nor beating can improve bad parenting.

Good parenting requires you to be prepared to be inconvenienced at any and all times. Bad parenting is intolerant of inconvenience. In such case spanking can make bad parenting worse.

Spanking is not a public spectacle. Parents should never humiliate their children. This is not only inappropriate and ineffective, it's counterproductive. It can actually provoke resentment and rebellion.

Spanking can be an appropriate and necessary component of good parenting. Some children might never need to be spanked and for other kids spanking may not be effectice.

Spanking should be reserved for overtly rebellious or overtly dangerous behavior. No one can parent a rebellious or dead child.

My two daughters are now in their twenties. I seldom spanked and didn't have to spank after they were five or six. If you don't have control of your children by that age it's probably too late for spanking to be very effective.

Ian McGibboney said...

People tend to use "spanking," "whipping" and "beating" interchangeably. Similarly, one degree of such punishment often leads to another. That's why I'm not sure we should have any of these in the first place.

But all of you make very good points...and pretty much the same one, actually. It truly does start at home, and from the beginning. I liked what I once read, of all places, on a Christian home-schooling site. It was about a father who had raised his kid so amiably that all the dad had to to correct bad behavior was whisper the child's name--after that, the child would stop. It sounds like BS, but I've seen it among actual parents. And, among the ones I know, it's done without fear or violence. I don't really know what it takes...but we all know what it clearly doesn't take.

Anonymous said...

Definitely a difference between beating and spanking. As already stated it should NEVER happen in public. I was never spanked as a child or much other discipline for that matter and as a result, self-discipline was one of my hardest lessons as an adult.

I have a friend who I think has a great method. When one of his kids is being clearly disobedient (not just being kids) and after 2 or 3 chances to correct the behavior on their own, he brings them in the room and first explains what they did wrong and why they are going to get spanked. Then the spanking (3 quick wacks with a switch). Then he prays with them leading them in prayer asking God and him for forgiveness for disrespect and disobedience. Then he hugs them and say he also forgives them.

They have 5 kids and hands down the most well behaved kids I have ever met in my life.

Nick said...

That is a good method Shane, one that we try to do, except except without the prayer part. I usually forget and pinch before explaining the reason for the pinching. But Cherie is really good with that method your friend does.

There is a series of books on parenting and schooling written by Christian parents, "No Greater Joy," that Cherie and her cousin have enjoyed. They are quite informative and the methods are effective. My step-daughter almost never has to be corrected more than once in public. Again, she's only 3, but they say the 2-4 yr. old window is usually the most difficult for instilling discipline.

Again, parenting, as I'm learning, is not easy. There are many effective strategies, but the effective ones definitely have to involve both discipline and alot of love and respect.

GumboFilé said...

There you have it, parenting advice. You never know what you'll find on the "Not Right About Anything" blog. Who would have thought?

Ian McGibboney said...

Well, I figure that if a presidential administration full of people who know nothing about combat can start wars all over the globe, then I can at least offer my observations on how not to raise children. Especially since my advice is at least based on years of witnessing good and bad parenting; having been a child myself; and having a big hand in raising my own baby sister.

GumboFilé said...

I was commenting more on the anecdotes from the parents. Taken out of context you might never guess they were found here.

Speaking of those who know nothing about combat, those who've been in combat may be less likely to start wars of aggression, but I think that history has proven that even such people are neither qualified nor authorized to do so.

Nick said...

Icon, there are people within the Bush Administration who have fought wars. Tommy Franks is one who comes to mind, though he was in charge of Iraq, not Bush himself.

Duncan Hunter was an Army Ranger in Vietnam, and now has a son serving a 2nd tour in Iraq as a Marine. John McCain, etc.

And I believe Gumbo is referring to people like FDR and LBJ. FDR was never a soldier, at least to my knowlegde, but let the US to victory in WWII. Meanwhile, LBJ is the reason why we got stuck in Vietnam, and politicians, probably both D and R, much like today, were the reason why our men were not allowed to fight the war to the fullest extent, and therefore, many of them died. Over 50k.

Kevin Hayden said...

When kids are real small and don't understand the logic behind certain safety instructions, they still can 'get' that, for example, running out into the street is gonna get their fanny whacked.

So I'd say it works in a few occasions as an aversion therapy.

However, when my kids were 8, 4 and 3, and used to fight each other, I made them a deal: I'd quit sppanking if they quit hitting each other. Of course, they agreed.

Of course, they continued fighting. But all I had to do was say: "Okay, you're breaking our agreement. I guess I have to go back to spanking."

That'd stop their fights dead in the tracks.

Being much older now, I'd say that spanking is not automatically bad nor good. But comparing what I got versus what I gave, I'd definitely make the case that it should be used VERY sparingly, if at all.

And parents who use it because they're pissed off, are usually not wise to do it. Discipline, consistency, and positive reward (behavior mod) are far more effective ways to parent, over physical punishment.

Generally speaking, hitting begets hitting more than compliance. And compliance based on fear breeds anger and disrespect, so any short term gain comes with a longer term loss.

Would I still spank the very young to teach the safety? Yes. But that's about all I'd consider the trade-off worth it.

Ian McGibboney said...

Yes, Gumbofile, apparently it IS possible to have an important discussion on ol' dumbass Not Right About Anything once in a while! Even I'm surprised.

In all sincerity, though, I am enjoying this exchange. May all of your kids benefit in their upbringing.

Kevin, what you said reminds me of Chris Rock's bit about the four ass-whuppings every kid needs in life. He argues that kids need those very early in life, but should never again need to have a hand laid on them. I like your tactic and I think it works best if the kid isn't sure of how far the parents are willing to go.

To use an analogy: my college track coach was a gentle man who never cursed. He was also extremely effective as a coach and mentor. One day, I finally heard him get mad and use the f-word for emphasis. There's truly nothing like hearing someone who never gets mad, suddenly get mad. But we knew then that we'd dropped the ball that day (so to speak), and our immense respect for the man was incentive enough to get everyone motivated. I think parenting is the same way.

As for the war tangent: Tommy Franks is retired, as are most generals and high-ranking officers who had questioned Bush's policies. John McCain is taken seriously by the GOP only insofar as he toes the Bush party line, something his experience should never let him do. When you have to dig as deep as Duncan Hunter to find a hawkish Republican who didn't totally avoid the Vietnam War, there's something wrong with the party leaders in general.

But, Nick, you're right about presidents and their inconsistent qualifications regarding conduct of war. There are great civilian commanders-in-chief, just as there have been fantastic veterans. And lousy examples of both, as well. In any case, no president should be as eager to deploy troops as proactively and as recklessly as Bush has. He and LBJ are very similar in how they conduct foreign policy, which has more to do with a cowboy mentality than with qualifications.

Anonymous said...

I don't hit my kids. Period.

That's the thing about "spanking." Its like calling deaths "casualties". Its a softer word for what's really going on. When you spank a child (whether you want to distinguish between spanking or beating) you are hitting your child. And 99/100 times I see it happen is not to really teach the child anything. Its a way for a frustrated parent to let off steam, to feel like they've done something about it. Every person I've had this argument with, I tell them: swap out the word "spanking" for "hitting" and tell me it's still a valid punishment. Kid mouthed off? Hitting? Kid won't behave? Hit them? What does that teach the kid? That the way to solve problems is to hit somebody. Ugh.

My kids get punished. They get priviliges taken away from them. I load on the guilt. I tell them I'm mad at them. Do it enough, it works.

david said...

Good children don’t need spanking. A red bottom does no harm and if fear is the training method acceptable to the careers responsible for disruptive children, society has no right to interfere. Societies through do good self-indulging know alls are filling up detention centres both for minors and adults who lacked discipline when younger. There is a big difference between spanking and assault. A red bottom only hurts for a little while compared to detention in all forms that take up a lot of time and are the cause of developing mental trauma and insecurity.

Ian McGibboney said...

David, I disagree that it's that cut-and-dry. No one's all good or all bad, but that is the prevailing thought for many these days, be it regarding spanking or terrorism.

You seem to be saying that spanking isn't bad because it's a mild punishment. But because the kid is obviously "not good," then what's the point of inflicting a punishment that is likely to be ineffective?

Furthermore, can it be argued that these detention centers you speak of are full of kids who have never been spanked? And even if that were true, is that the sole reason why? I seriously doubt either count. In fact, you might find that spanking in the home is a common denominator.

david said...

Ian your head is in the clouds. Detention numbers from lets say from the fifties compared to current support my position. Current thinking is the major result of the increase in todays society. Softely softely is not the way and mential torment is not the answer.

Ian McGibboney said...


Where are your numbers? If nothing else, at least pick a concrete time frame.

Then show me at what point spankings began to go out of favor, because as far as I can tell, they haven't.

Once you've done that, prove that the detainees you speak of have never been spanked. Then prove that spanking (and only spanking) would have kept them out of lockup.

Finally, you can explain to me where it says the opposite of spanking is "mential torment," as if I'm somehow advocating that instead.

In the meantime, I'll stick to the finding of a worldwide study in 2005 that found children who were regularly spanked were more violent and high-strung overall . Or, I'll just reflect on all the friends and parents I've known in my life.

david said...

Ian your response is of a person with a closed opinion so we will leace it at that. good luck. David

Ian McGibboney said...

Yes, I tend to be "closed" on certain issues, particularly when the other side can't even make a coherent case.

Good luck right back at you.