putting a whooping on spanking statistics

I know I am opening up a huge can of worms (or whoop-ass, however you want to see it), but I came across this article while studying for finals last week and finally had a moment to read it today. It is fascinating….ALL parents should read it. Specifically, it shows how spanking studies over the past 40 decades have been skewed toward the researchers’ philosophical bias*, but against actual statistical results: while many researchers are philosophically opposed to spanking, methodologically sound research does not make the case. When meta-analyses of spanking research that meets high methods standards are performed, spanking has not been shown to be any more “harmful” to a child than any other tool of punishment, including time out.

Most spanking research that tries to make the case that spanking is harmful fails to distinguish:

1) qualitatively between abuse and spanking (defined by hitting on the bottom or extremities with an open hand without inflicting physical injury while meaning to correct behavior) within the study,

2) between the ages at which a child was spanked (spanking a teenager is different than spanking a young child), and

3) the quantity of spanking (getting spanked once a month is different than being spanked, as one survey studied, “156 times a year . . . up to 13 times the normal average.”)

And while abuse certainly is harmful, the biased researchers will analogize to spanking by using a “continuum” theory that has never been empirically tested. In other words, anti-spanking researchers will say “spanking is on the same ‘continuum’ as abuse, and therefore parents who spank somehow ‘transform’ into parents who abuse.” Studies have actually found that abusive parents have very different personality traits than non-abusive parents and that:

Research that discriminates between abuse and physical discipline indicates that you cannot predict that a child will have behavior problems simply because his parents use spanking. (pg. 42 of the PDF)

The author uses anti-spanking laws in Sweden to show how a national spanking ban can have counter-intuitive results. In Sweden, parents are not allowed to do anything to their children that they would not do to their neighbor. The rhetoric used is often something along the lines of, “Can you hit an adult who doesn’t do what you tell them to do? Well, then, why should you be able to do that to a child?” That includes not only spanking, but also pulling a child’s arm to move them in the direction you’d like them to go (With my three year old, we’d never go anywhere.) The law, which many other countries also adopted, is based on the U.N. Convention of the Child, which mostly all countries have adopted except the U.S. and Somalia.

The problem is, according to this article, as a result, apparently Swedish children are out of control. There has been a perceptible rise in teenage violence since the ban went into place (although violence in Sweden is still very low compared to American standards) and Swedish teenagers who have grown up entirely under the spanking ban believe that their parents have no right to punish them at all.

There is so much more in this article, and if you ignore the footnotes (although there is a lot there to be interested in), this 76-page article is really not that long. And if you’ve followed me here or on gradmommy, you know that I am not one to spare the rod, so I found the article downright refreshing.

But I also find this article fascinating in how it sort of contradicts itself.

Part of the argument is about how what parents know to be true instinctively – he talks about how parents who were never spanked themselves go on to spank their children – have turned to childrearing advice gurus and statistics to justify or “learn” how to raise their children.  Most parents who spank don’t do it because some book told them it was the right thing to do, but because it was a cultural parenting tool that has been handed down through generations as an effective tool for discipline. We learn how to parent through how we’ve been parented. Yet, the only way he has to debunk all the junk science out there about spanking is to do it through statistics; he has to use the same platform to out-do what he’s fighting.

To be fair, I do know some parents who say they are purely philosophically against spanking because they see any hitting whatsoever as violence on any scale, but they are very few and far between. I can really only think of one who has NEVER resorted to citing a study that justifies his or her viewpoint. And even those who are philosophical in their viewpoint have a limit that I find hypocritical: what exactly is the outer bound of the non-violence? Is mental pain okay? Taking away a toy is painful to a child. Why is that kind of pain and “violence” okay, but hitting is not? At that point a person usually has to resort to, “Well, but the studies show that….”

Read the article (or don’t, and just trust what I say about it is true) and let me know what you think. I can say so much more in the comments. If spanking is shown to not be harmful to children, would that change your mind about doing it? How does it make you feel to know that the research has been purposeful skewed due to researcher bias based on a philosophical viewpoint? Is the only way to fight statistics with more statistics?

What do you think about parents’ tendency these days to rely more on “expert” opinions and statistics about childrearing and parenting than on our own traditions and instincts?

*(Parenting research is fraught with researcher bias. I am no exception; when I defended my dissertation proposal last week about parenting and special education I was called on my almost overt bias against special education placement. So I understand where it is coming from. But I had 7 people in that room on purpose to keep me in check because I acknowledge and own my bias. Anti-spanking crusaders? Not so much.)

34 thoughts on “putting a whooping on spanking statistics

  1. My opposition to it has been a cross between philosophical and statistical. I am opposed to physical or mental violence to discipline a child. Taking a toy away to discipline a child, to me, is just not violence. But hitting is. The author talks about how parents know something to instinctively be true; well, that is what I know instinctively to be true. Love sometimes has to put you in a time-out or take away a toy to teach you that there are consequences to your action. Love doesn’t go upside your head (or your backside, for that matter). You mentioned hypocrisy in your post; spanking to me seems to be the ultimate in hypocrisy. I’m teaching my child that violence is wrong, but then I use it against her because I can? What does that do to my mental state as well as my child’s mental development? Can/do studies capture that? I suppose my reading there depends on a conclusion that spanking is violent, and yes–that is the conclusion I’ve come to. But I suppose if someone else didn’t find it to be violent, then they wouldn’t grapple with the hypocrisy.

    I’m also curious about who the spanking is hurting. Is it just the kids? Or is it also the parents? I don’t feel good about spanking, and so to spank my daughter would also harm me emotionally. I understand that part of this is my staunch opposition to it; nobody feels good about going against their ideals and morals. But I also wonder what spanking says about parental state of mind, about parental sense of control over their children, etc. Part of me has always considered spanking uncivilized, child-like behavior. Hitting, to me, is what toddlers do when they don’t have words to express their frustration. In that same vein, I’ve always thought that parents who spank have given up on their mental and verbal ability to address a problem in ways that are more mature than a child’s. I realize this might be a little controversial, and that parents often spank only when they’re calm, and able to explain to a child exactly why their behavior merited spanking. Nevertheless, the practice has always struck me as problematic based on this reason.

    Statistically, I have understood that spanking is both ineffective and/or no more effective than other forms of discipline. If the study is correct, than only the latter is true. That is enough for me, however, to justify my opposition to a practice I philosophically consider to be completely unacceptable.

    I also have read studies suggesting that spanking has different meaning culturally among different groups. Even the type of spanking the author tries to justify can have detrimental effects on children if the children understand it to be a last resort; the ultimate in punishment; a response that suggests that the child has done something really bad. According to the study from which I took this, spanking has different significance among black communities for just this reason; black kids don’t see it as that unusual to have been spanked, and so the practice doesn’t have such negative effects.

    Finally, I don’t know about Sweeden. I’m just relying on your explanation, so can you tell me how the researcher attributes rises in violence to a lack of spanking, as opposed to, say, increasingly violent movies or music? Or a laxity in parental behavior generally, of which less spanking is merely a symptom, but not the cause?

    About relying on experts instead of your own parenting/parented experiences, I hate to take a middle road, but there has to be a balance. The truth is that our parents were not perfect, that nobody is born “knowing” how to raise a child, and that sometimes cultures enshrine behavior that is harmful long-term. Just like I would actively learn about how to master a new hobby, I am also interested in seeking out information about how to become closer to a master parent. That being said, sometimes you do have to listen to what your instincts tell you; if spankers feel like their instincts are telling them to hit…well, I suppose I’ll just have to turn my head until it’s over. In the meantime, nobody hits my kids; not even me.


    1. Let me begin with a Note: I was disciplined with a belt as a child. I will never use a belt on my children. I will never “beat” my children’s butt. I put the definition of spanking in the piece to center the discussion. But I acknowledge that many parents cross the line between spanking and abuse. And many parents do not, and spank according to the definition. I am in the latter group. I use a wooden spoon, 2-3 times on the hand only. I also don’t spank based on severity of the “offense.” Spanking is a part of the discipline, as in how many times, or how defiant the child is. A spanking can occur when a child is extremely defiant about going to bed, or because a child has extremely disrespectful, or a child will not stay in time out. However, the spankings in our home are very few and far between because simply the threat of the “spoon” is enough to warrant cooperation. Just like the threat of time out is enough to warrant cooperation.

      We teach our children many things that we then do to them. You take a toy from your child as discipline. Don’t you teach her not to take toys from other children? You put her in time out from some transgression. Don’t you teach her not to exclude other children from play? Do you feel bad about these things? Or do you just not feel as bad?

      Parents who have children who don’t need spanking as discipline; good for them. Spanking is not for every child. But is it really a more mature decision to rule it out completely? Parenting is not like toddler-play. Parents do not owe the same deference to their children as children owe to other children. To place yourself on the same level as your child would be ludicrous, and a seriously immature thing to do. The relationship between children is not the same as the relationship between a parent and a child. The task a parent is charged with is not the same as the task a child is charged with in managing the relationship with other children. Discipline requires doing EXACTLY the things to your child that you don’t want your child to do to others.

      What do you mean by “ineffective”? Ineffective at doing what? Correcting behavior? Under what circumstances? In conjunction with what? One of the points that the authors of the article makes is that statements like this – spankings are ineffective – are almost impossible to make without the correct data. First, it’s generally unethical to run randomized controlled studies, where children are randomly assigned to the spanking and non-spanking groups. Second, much of the research, as I noted, are systematically biased toward the outcome it favors – anti-spanking. Surveys look at children who are already defined as “defiant,” or look at parents who do nothing but spank. I don’t think any of us would say that spanking alone is the best thing to do. Rather one would say spanking, as a part of a discipline repertoire, is effective. But the studies don’t look at that. So what data can we look at to support “spankings aren’t effective”?

      The author combines journalistic accounts along with the statistics and other ethnographic work to make the case that lax parenting is the reason for the higher rates in teenage violence. He has data that shows how teenagers who were raised only under the ban differ from teenagers in the prior generation. Their perceptions of how much their parents have a right to punish them are less tolerant of punishment. He shows some data of this being the case in other European countries that have similar bands. He also has data from parents who feel less able to control their young childrens behavior.

      No child comes out with a manual, that much is true. But children have been raised from time eternal. Just like no one has tell that newborn to crawl up her mother’s chest to breastfeed only minutes after birth, maybe parenting wasn’t meant to come with a written manual. Maybe it was meant to happen in communities, informed by culture, meaning the environment in which we actually live. Not by an “expert” who writes a book based on data of thousands of children. Thousands of children spread out over many communities that may have things in common and others that are not. Parenting is cultural, not clinical.

      What is a “master parent”? Do you really think there is such a thing, or that you will reach it through following experts? I’m starting to really just question everything I read about parenting, especially knowing how statistics can be interpreted (not just about spanking, but about co-sleeping, breastfeeding, feeding, teaching, etc) to support whatever people THINK, i.e., their opinions. And when enough people agree on their opinions, those things begin to be considered “facts.” You are right; I didn’t “know” how to be a mother. But I “knew” that co-sleeping with my first child for 18 months felt right, but co-sleeping with my second only felt right for 8 months – she was/is a wild sleeper! I “knew” that my first child was gravely ill when he was 13 months old. I “knew” to take my baby to the ER 5 straight nights because she had a really high fever. I know now to let a fever ride for a day or two without getting too upset. And the things I don’t know, I know enough to ask another mom, or my own mom, but to stay off the internet. I know not to care about growth charts but to look at my kids and see if they look healthy. And I know enough not to look up statistics.

      Why do we need to be “master parents”? Why can’t we just really know our kids and parent them as best we can?


      1. I didn’t mean “master” as in perfect parent. But I did mean “master” as in, some people are better at this than others; and there are some people from whom we can learn a lot about parenting. And “the best I can do” route is not always acceptable justification for failing to become stronger in areas where you are weak.

        I don’t know what effective or ineffective means, which is why I left it at “if spanking works only about as well as other forms of discipline, I’m happy to discard it from my toolkit of discipline, because I find it completely unacceptable.”

        I was not arguing that spanking/hitting IS toddler’s play, but rather it is akin to toddler’s play. That is, spanking is–to me–and inferior form of communicating with another human being about appropriate behavior, when compared to verbal communication informed by an understanding of childrens’ developmental stages. Most mammals control their young through physical discipline, but I like to think God/the Universe gave us these higher-order mental capabilities for a reason; I say we should use ’em.

        Community is nice, and has its place. But a lot of behavior has been going on since “time eternal” like oppression of women, or–ironically for this conversation–placing a low value of the worth of children. Just because it’s always been done doesn’t mean it always should be done. When times change, it is appropriate to reexamine our practices. Children crawling up to their mother’s breasts, btw, seems as much a technical issue about which experts can provide value as anything else. I read all about that too, and the truth is that neither I nor my baby knew what the heck to do with each other after she was born. Thank goodness for the lactation “expert,” who helped me, informed as she was with all her information gathered from researching breastfeeding among thousands of children.

        Now, I think you make a good point about what we teach our children; and by asking whether when we take a toy away, aren’t we also teaching our children to take toys away from others. While I acknowledge the value of this point, the other part of me just wants to say “are you being serious?” On some gut level, you don’t wonder at all about whether there is a qualitative difference between time-out and a spanking? The easy answer is that if I’m teaching my child to do something to others, I much prefer that she learns to take toys away from others for bad behavior than to HIT others for bad behavior. The reason why I prefer the former rather than the latter is hard to put in words, but most people would acknowledge that there is a difference regarding hitting in terms of what it means to parents, what it means to children, and what it means in terms of respect.

        How do adults “discipline” each other? That is, what are the rules of engagement for adults, and what is acceptable there? Adults have to abide by rules, and there are consequences for breaking those rules. Let’s say I keep violating a rule at work. It’s acceptable for my boss–who is in a position of power over me–to deny me a particular privilege as a consequence of breaking that rule. It’s not acceptable, however, for my boss to hit me for breaking the rule; even if the hitting doesn’t hurt; even if it’s not done in anger; even if it’s controlled; even if it’s an effective method of getting me to stop breaking the rule. Why is that? I think whatever it is that makes the hitting socially unacceptable in the adult workplace contexts is the same that makes it unacceptable in the parent-child context. The behavior–hitting–is no more acceptable by virtue of my child’s younger age, stature, or less-developed intellectual capacity.

        Physical discipline, to me, is inherently about force, power, and fear. I’m bigger than you; I have control over you; I can hurt you–although I choose not to, so as to be a “controlled” spanker. I want you to be afraid of the spanking, no matter how gentle. When I think about time-outs, I feel like I’m trying to engage the child on an intellectual level: “this is the consequence for inappropriate behavior; sit here and think about it a little.” Or, “you can’t throw this toy anymore, so I’ll have to take it away until you can control your impulse to throw it.” On some level, even this description is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be, but I think it starts to get at why I put the 2 forms of discipline in 2 different categories. Why my boss denying me a privilege is different from my boss hitting me. In any event, I’ll have to think about this some more, to try and put it into words, because as I said–I think you have a good point here. But it is hard to believe that you don’t understand how the two forms of discipline have a different feel to them.


    2. To all anti-spankers,

      Police can get away with homicide. Police beat up adults all the time. They have the authority to do so. Liberal Obama can get away with killing terrorists with drones. He water boards adults. The “you don’t hit an adult” argument does not work when some adults- police officers and soldiers- abuse others all the time. Why do we not stop these acts first? Parents, in a way, ARE police and government. They set up the “laws” in the household for the children, as well as the consequences.

      Now, I only support a few swats on the butt as a last resort. What I am trying to say is that the “you don’t hit adults” argument is flawed- SOME adults are allowed to use force on those adults who break rules set up by the government. The government kills adults for killing. This is known as the death penalty. The CIA water boards. If we are going to end authoritative “violence” on children, let’s do the same with adults, no?


  2. Thanks, ORJ. You’ve (mostly) spoken for me here and saved me the trouble of writing a comment. 🙂 I have to admit that we do spank sometimes. I try to limit it to outright defiance, only three strikes, with a ruler in an open hand or leg; but, as you indicated, I don’t feel good about it and don’t ever want to escalate to the wild, dancing around, “beat his butt, whoopin'” that black folk laugh about. It also seems to me that many, many people only object to breaking bones or the like, and the outer limits are very, very wide. But this study is also pretty important, I’d say.


  3. The point I would like to make is that through experience can we understand the right actions to make. If we hit our children, what are the effects of our actions. Are they more defiant, more reserved? Are we able as parents to see the difference between our own behavior that encourages expression and curiosity, and what represses our children’s natural abilities and points of view? I have learned from experience, having a very difficult child that the more I acted like I was the boss, the less I was able to see the abuse he was enduring elsewhere. The more receptive I was to his reactions, the easier he found it to work out ways to explain to me in his own way what he had been dealing with that sparked his outbursts. So, I hope those who consider physically reprimanding their children as an acceptable action to understand children never forget the reasons why someone does something around them. If we act against them to have the upper hand or the remain dominant, they will never let us forget how wrong it felt to feel such oppression. I give many thanks to those around me, but I learned the most from what my son showed me through experience.


    1. Robbie – thanks for reading and responding! I think you are right to be responding to your child, rather than taking advice and applying it. But I also question why we look only at physical discipline as dominance or oppression. Why isn’t time out or taking things away also dominance? My children act as if time out – especially my very dramatic daughter – are as bad if not worse than my wooden spoon. I mean, some of the most repressive nations oppress their citizens without ever laying a finger on them.

      You also raise a great point – children never forget the reasons why someone does something to them. Do non-spanking parents think taking toys away or time out are not acts of dominance or oppression equal to physical discipline as perceived by the child? I think children know love. I think children see discipline as unwanted no matter what form it comes in. I think some forms of discipline for some children is more unwanted than other forms of discipline. Some children will hate a time out or grounding more than taking things away or spanking.

      Again, I think that we may be stereotyping parents who spank as non-responsive or non-receptive parents. I don’t think I’m that type of parent. I think my children talk to me. I think I’m a firm disciplinarian. I think my children talk to me. I don’t think these two things are incompatible. I don’t think they are unexpressive or lack curiosity. Of course, I cannot prove that they are as expressive as they would have been had they never been spanked. I cannot prove that they are as curious as they would have been had they never been spanked.

      But I know they are normal. And happy. And healthy. And raised in a tradition of discipline that is not abusive. And a parenting philosophy is incredibly mindful, but not dogmatic.


  4. @ORJ – I think before I actually used both forms of discipline for my children, I may have thought there was a qualitative difference. Having used both forms, and seen the effects of both forms, I no longer do. One reason is based on the fundamental difference between how a boss disciplines an employee and how a parent disciplines a child. I do not see the benefit of using the analogy. I think we use it as a justification for anti-spanking philosophy by imaging that the parent-child relationship is on a continuum with the employer-employee relationship. It is not. The employee-employer relationship is between two adults. I do not treat my child like an employee; I treat them like a child. Children are not mini-adults; they are children. The fact that we take their toys and sit them in time out means that we don’t not believe that children should be accorded the same “respect” as adults; we do things to them not simply because we can, as an act of dominance or oppression, but for a particular purpose that is not present in our relationship with our employee. Yes, with our employee we punish to correct behavior as an incentive strategy, but with our child, we are truly training behavior. With young children, it’s not about incentives, its about internalization of right and wrong.

    Another reason is that I’ve come to the conclusion that spanking and “hitting” as violence are not the same thing. Just as if we are joking around and I playfully push you or tap you on the arm, while we’ve had physical contact and I’ve technically “hit” you as we use the word, I think we can agree that you would not consider that what I’ve done is commit a violent act against you. We might even agree that you wouldn’t say that I “hit” you. Why? In that context, we both understood that my intention was not to injure you or harm you. In fact, not only was my intention not to injure you, I did not injure you. In my world of spanking, my children not only know that my intent is not to injure them, they are not injured. No more injured is their body when spanked than is their mind when their toy is taken or their freedom is restricted during time out.

    I understand the argument you are making, I just question its logical adequacy.

    I recognize that neither of us are going to change the other’s mind. I’m just trying to take the discussion to a different level. Thanks for continuing to engage!


    1. Thank YOU for continuing to engage; this has forced me to go past flowery speech about “bodily integrity” and really try and figure out what bothers me about this. I don’t know that I’m there yet, but I do think I’m closer. And, as I said, I think you make great points.

      About respect. I think you’ve hit on a fundamental difference in our positions. I actually do think children should be afforded the same respect as adults, although that respect has to manifest itself in different ways to fit within the context of the relationship, and what it is a parent has to do–teach a child how to integrate into our social world. You might say that that actually means it’s not the same level of respect, but I think it is; just differently expressed.

      Why do I think children should be afforded the same amount of respect? I don’t know where this idea originated with me, but I can think of 3 things that have affirmed my belief. The first was a reading of A New Earth a few years ago; yes–I found a way to integrate new age enlightenment into this conversation. LOL! Tolle wrote that many parents conclude that their children don’t deserve respect–that their children are not their equals–merely because they are smaller, or have not yet attained equal levels of mental capability. But that in terms of that child’s worth on this planet; in terms of the value of their spirit, their energy, their very being, they are equals. Unfortunately, parents buy into the role of “you are not my equal” and it affects the quality of their parenting. It becomes about controlling behavior for the sake of control, rather than shaping behavior in pursuit of teaching. Rules are justified “because I said so,” and if children don’t follow rules, parents convey their disappointment. Parents mask this disappointment as “doing what’s best for the child,” but it’s really about reflecting displeasure with having your control of the child disrupted; about having your ego–invested in being superior to this little person–undermined.

      The second was the response by a child-care instructor to questions about discipline. I don’t remember the exact question and response, although I do remember the teacher saying that the mother should talk to her child about the rule, even if she didn’t think the child could understand. “They’re not stupid,” she said; “just small.”

      The third is a belief I’ve always had–that my daughter is not mine. I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to give her an environment in which she can grow and develop the talents that she will take out with her into the world. But she doesn’t belong to me. Accordingly, I have to treat her the way I would something that belonged to someone else; with a lot of respect.

      I’m not saying that these types of beliefs/experiences don’t color your relationship with your children. It may be that you believe the same things, but it doesn’t result in respecting your child as an equal. But for me, it does.

      I also disagree that adults don’t punish to train behavior, or that discipline of children is merely about internalization of “right” and “wrong.” If my rule is “no balls in the house,” and I punish my child for violating the rule, it has nothing to do with whether the ball being in the house is “right” or “wrong.” There are plenty of parents who don’t care; in my house, we have several balls, and my husband has taught my daughter to throw them against the walls, much to her delight. Just as punishment in the workplace is not about punishing “wrong,” but about creating incentives to follow established norms, punishing a violation of the ball-rule in the home is similarly not about “wrong,” but about the violation of norms we’ve set to maintain peace in the home; about creating incentives to follow those norms. As such, I think the two contexts are more alike than you admit.

      I also disagree that playfully hitting me is not violence because we both understand you neither intended to hurt me, nor actually hurt me. Rather, it’s not violence because we both have agreed that it isn’t. But if I don’t agree, then it is violence. And if I ask you to stop, and you don’t–even if it doesn’t hurt, and even if you never intend to hurt–it is still violence. I’ve met people before who are violently nice. That is, they punch or wrestle you, or touch you excessively, or tickle you, or whatever. Those people are violent to me; moreso if I ask not to be touched, but they do it anyway. I also knew a person once who always greeted women with a “what’s up, bitches!?” I knew she was “only kidding,” and that she didn’t intent to hurt, but it was still a problem, and I asked her not to greet me in such a manner. So, it cannot only be about intent or actual injury. Sometimes the behavior itself–no matter the context–is problematic.

      Finally, I want to come back to your opening statement that you used to see a qualitative difference, but now don’t. Yes, it could be that after spanking, you realized it was exactly the same. But it could also be that after spanking, you ended up working your way into a justification for the behavior, as you became desensitized to the violence of it. At almost 2 years, we decided to gently sleep train our daughter. Up until now, I was staunchly opposed to letting her “cry it out,” for a lot of reasons that I won’t get into because my post is already too freakin’ long! But we decided that I could no longer nurse her to sleep, and now I place her in her crib, say goodnight, and leave the room. Every night, except for one, she cries. I return every 5 minutes until she has stopped crying and put herself to sleep. In the beginning, I couldn’t even stomach the 2 minutes of crying. A week later, I sometimes look up and realize 10 minutes have gone by without me remembering to go back in, so desensitized am I to the sound of her tears. I am not convinced that this has no emotional cost to her; in fact, I often worry that it does, and that this wasn’t the best decision, although it was the one we had to make now. But I’m not gonna talk myself into concluding that this was the best decision. Rather, I’m acknowledging that I’ve become desensitized to something, and making sure that it doesn’t creep into other aspects of my parenting. I don’t mean to suggest that you have talked yourself into justifying behavior, although I do challenge the suggestion that just because 2 things look the same, that they actually are. There is a lot of cognitive rationalizing that can go on when we have to justify behavior, resulting in conclusions that the 2 are the same when they aren’t.

      Looking forward to more of your thoughts (if you have any; if not, that’s cool too!)…


      1. I suppose I put “respect” in quotes to indicate that I meant it in the sense that we typically mean that two people accorded the same level of respect should be treated the same. I obviously don’t believe that. But that doesn’t mean that I hold children in any less esteem than I hold adults. I agree with you that the respect is shown in a different way.

        My aim is not to control my children for the sake of control. It is to teach them to control themselves. I attempt to be firm in my discipline because I think it teaches children the one universal rule: that actions have consequences. Every single thing one does in this world has a consequence. That cannot be escaped. I’m sure Eckart Tolle would agree. I have, but did not read A New Earth. Any book Oprah recommends is suspect on my list. I prefer ancient texts over New Age. ☺. In any case, yogic, Buddhist and Christian texts are very big on subverting the ego and recognizing that children do not belong to us. I am very aware of my ego, and attempt to subvert it every day. I pray every day for God to teach me the way to raise my children.

        We have rules in our house not simply for control. We don’t play with balls in the house now that we have two preschoolers because things can be broken. That is a rule not simply for control, but because we all want enjoy the things in our home and don’t want them broken. Of course sometimes the children want their enjoyment of the ball more than we want our stuff to not be broken. Do we, as adults win? We do. But I don’t think simply because of control. We win because we have more foresight than they, who are naturally egotistic beings, who are thinking only in the here and now and only about themselves and their pleasure. While that teacher was right in saying that the child was not stupid, I disagree that the only difference between an adult and a child is size. You would not explain a law review article to a child, just like there are some rules that I explain to Ahmir in more complexity than I explain to Amina, who gets a pared down version. Children differ from adults in how they comprehend, what they comprehend. This again may be the battle of the experts. A therapist often says to me that nowadays parents talk too much. Supernanny often says the same. I do explain rules to my children, but not extensively. We don’t play with balls in the house because we don’t want to break things. We go to bed at this time because our bodies need sleep. We eat this food because it’s fuel for our bodies to work.

        I disagree that something is violent just because the person experiencing it thinks it is. Your perceptions of the world are not so just because you think them to be so. Your example is like saying that just because a child thinks that putting them in time out is unfair then it is so; this cannot be the case. There must be something more objective that defines what is violent, what is harmful. I don’t think the bar must be 100% objective, but it also cannot be 100% subjective.

        It is possible that I have become desensitized, although I think I’ve shown that how I’ve come to this is also through a reasoned approach that 1) rejects accepted research as biased to reflect a normative (although I suspect anti-majoritarian) approach to child-discipline that is anti-spanking and 2) that questions logically why we see physical pain as so much worse than mental pain. It’s kinda hard to prove one has or has not become desensitized, so I won’t try.


  5. In light of your opinion that children are fundamentally different from adults (not “mini-adults”), what do you think of a concept like “adultism” in certain social justice circles? I know your post criticizes the unquestioned appropriations of qualitative inquiry, so this critique of traditional adult-child relationship takes a different form…Take a look if you’re interested: http://www.freechild.org/bell.htm

    Here’s an excerpt: “In addition, adults reserve the right to punish, threaten, hit, take away “privileges,” and ostracize young people when such actions are deemed to be instrumental in controlling or disciplining them.
    If this were a description of the way a group of adults was treated, we would all agree that their oppression was almost total. However, for the most part, the adult world considers this treatment of young people as acceptable because we were treated in much the same way, and internalized the idea that “that’s the way you treat kids.” For this reason we need to hold adultism up to a strong light.”

    As a (very) young adult without children, I realize I can’t understand the challenges of parenting. But, I can say that I was subjected to occasional hitting, frequent yelling, and isolation (in the home in which I experienced these forms of “discipline” or “protection”). I was a self-sufficient and smart child and teenager (through many family crises), but my opinions were rarely engaged and my depression was seen as insolence. Now, at 22 years old, I’m re-establishing my boundaries and voice: my experience in my home (which many onlookers wouldn’t have classified as abuse) taught me that it was okay for people to do what they want with me. I was sexually abused at different points in my childhood and adolescence, but I didn’t trust my parents…so I didn’t tell my mother about the abuse until age 18.

    All this to say…hitting (however mild) was part of a process that distanced me from my family. It taught me that I was below my parents and grandmother in certain ways, but adult enough to take on responsibilities in the face of financial, medical, etc. crisis. So, I was very confused. I’ve forgiven my family, but I’m afraid that my healing process is aided only by my independence in adulthood.

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


    1. Wow, PKC; that was very interesting. Although I just skimmed the page, 2 things struck me. The first was the suggestion that you ask yourself whether you would treat an adult the way you are treating a child; if the answer is no, then there must be a good reason for it. In the example given, insisting your 6 year old hold your hand when crossing the street is justified, even if it’s not justified for an adult. No one will be surprised to read that I don’t see a good justification for spanking/hitting children as a form of discipline, considering that we would not discipline adults like that, and considering research suggesting that spanking is not more effective than other forms of discipline.

      The 2nd thing that struck me was the part about kissing children w/out asking them. Although I am known to just pick up my daughter and kiss her, I also often ask her for a kiss. A lot of the time, my little 22-month old will so “no!” And my response is usually, “okay.” Similarly, if she protests when I pick her up–even to hug and kiss her–I put her right down. It’s important that she learn that people should respect her boundaries. At other times, however–like when her diaper must be changed–she doesn’t have a choice.


    2. Hi PKC! Thanks for reading and commenting. Your comment and the site are very interesting, and first I must say that what happened to you sounds like abuse and goes well beyond spanking as an *aspect* of disciplining a child. Yet you bring up some good points. I am very social justice oriented, but the concept of adultism, just isn’t tenable. To me, children are fundamentally different from adults. But different does not mean less than.

      I agree with the site about a few things. I think there are some ways in which our society acts as though children are less important than adults. I think the state of our primary education system is a failure of our society to properly invest in children. It is probably more of a statement about how the wealthy can put their kids in private schools, but overall, failure to pay teachers well and invest in school infrastructure is pathetic. Same for maternal and prenatal care, and the lack of high quality and affordable preschool and day care.

      And some parents do not respect their children. They believe in a credo of “children should be seen and not heard.” I am not one of those parents. My children are constantly talking. Too much, but I don’t tell them that ☺. I respect my children a great deal and thank God everyday that I have them. I do not think that I am “better” than my children simply because I am older.

      But I do think that I am wiser than they. With age and experience, something is gained. I do pray to God every day to give me the wisdom to make the right decisions about their upbringing. I do think that I am more emotionally mature than they, that I can make decisions for them that they cannot make for themselves. I think the social model of parenting is such that parents are to scaffold children’s social, cognitive, and emotional learning so that they can learn to make good decisions for themselves. That means that whenever a child is learning something new, a parent must show them first. Over time, as the child masters the skill, the parent can let go, and the child can do it alone.

      We do have laws that seemingly make out children to be “lesser” than adults. Children don’t have the same “rights” as adults. But I think there is a lot of common sense behind those laws. I have a 5 year old. No matter how many times I tell him, he does not always look both ways before crossing the street. My three year old never does. If I could not grab their arms to pull them back from an intersection because that is something I would never be able to do to an adult, what kind of sense does that make? My children would never eat vegetables if left to their own devices. If they had free choice like adults, they would eat cookies and cupcakes all the time, no matter if I explained to them the benefits of eating vegetables over the detriment of eating sweets all the time. That’s because children do not have the cognitive and emotional skills to delay gratification like adults do. Teenagers should certainly have more freedoms and “rights,” but even teenage minds are still growing and social, cultural, and emotional skills are still being developed. Teenagers do not make the best decisions, and need supervision and guidance.

      I’m not trying to control my children for control’s sake. I try to keep my children safe. I try to teach them how to treat others with respect. I try to teach them discipline, as in how to discipline themselves. So when they act in ways that are unsafe, there is a consequence. When they are disrespectful to others, or me, there is a consequence. When they don’t do something that it is their responsibility to do (a chore, cleaning up after themselves, etc.) there are consequences. I am trying to raise self-controlled people, not people who will not be able to live on their own because they are so used to being controlled by others. I slip up sometimes; like the Nick Jr. channel says, “You’re not perfect; you’re a parent.”


      1. The site doesn’t suggest that children should be allowed to do whatever they want. Instead, it suggests that if you treat children in a way that you wouldn’t treat an adult, there should be a good reason. We agree that coercive behavior like insisting that children eat vegetables or hold your hand when crossing the street is justified, even if you wouldn’t treat an adult that way, because children are not yet mentally capable of making better informed decisions for themselves.

        So, we then turn to the question to spanking/physical discipline. We agree that we wouldn’t treat an adult that way. The site suggests that we ask what is the justification for treating a child that way? Especially if we agree that children can be disciplined effectively without it, and especially if we agree that it can be difficult to ensure that spanking doesn’t turn into abuse? (This is, in fact, one of the reasons I don’t hit at all; I’m not sure that I wouldn’t ultimately end up hitting that child in anger, or in an attempt to control, instead of with the pure intention of effective discipline).

        I don’t know what I think about “adultism,” but I do think the question of respect–and how we manifest that respect–is critical here.


  6. I don’t think we agree that every child can be effectively disciplined without it. And, as I stated in one of my earliest comments, we do not know whether children who are spanked, as a part of a discipline system, are better/worse off because there has been no such study. We don’t know how “effective” spanking is or is not in relation to other methods. Studies that isolate methods make little sense, since that is not the way real parents parent. And quality qualitative studies do not exist.

    I would suggest that much “research” suggests that physical discipline is important. Yoga suggests that discipline of the body is a step towards discipline of the mind. One not very scientific study says that the top CEOs in world have one thing in common: all were spanked. http://www.usatoday.com/money/companies/management/2006-10-08-spanking-ceos-usat_x.htm.

    If you think that most parents don’t respect their children, then any type of discipline can cause abuse. Time outs can be used indiscriminantly, causing children to be constantly isolated. Many parents who don’t spank do constantly yell and scream. The possibility of mental and verbal abuse is huge. Again, there are no quality, methodologically sound studies that I am aware of that show that spankers are more likely to be abusers. Abusers have a particular profile that cuts across type of discipline used.

    Respect is important, but ultimately we are talking about why we do the things we do and what effects we believe are coming from those acts. We are thinking about them in terms of our selves or our own children. We are also thinking about them according to our own philosophical ideas about the world and how people should operate in them. I don’t think we are having a disagreement about respect at all.

    I think it goes back to this idea of how much we listen to experts – who are overwhelming saying spanking has a negative effect on children, relying on the evidence that has now been shown to be biased – versus looking at our own kids and having our own reasons for why we do the things we do with them. I think looking at adults and thinking about what you do with your kids as compared to adults is an unsatisfying comparison for the reasons above that have little to do with an abstract concept of “respect”.


  7. Cheap shots at Oprah notwithstanding, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on some fundamental ideas. I’d also note that CEOs probably also share a lot of personality traits, not all of them so positive. Who knows; maybe desire for dominance is linked to spanking. LOL

    I do, however, have 2 questions. The first is, you don’t really mean that there are some children for whom nothing but a spanking/physical punishment would work? That doesn’t strike me as plausible. Discipline is a complex thing, in response to a myriad of factors, including child and parent temperament, context, etc. It strikes me as a bit of a stretch to say there are some children for whom only a discipline regimen that includes spanking is effective, just as it seems far-fetched to say that there are some children who must be disciplined using time-outs. There are a lot of different techniques aimed at getting a particular result; I can’t imagine that children only respond to one, or that the absence of spanking for a particular child means they’re doomed to antisocial behavior their entire lives. Am I misunderstanding your statement, or is that really what you’re suggesting?

    Which leads me to my second question. How is it, exactly, that spanking works? See, I understand how taking away a toy works, or why a child would want to avoid a time-out. But what is it that they’d like to avoid with a spanking, if it’s done, as you suggest, in a manner that does not cause physical pain? It doesn’t take away or prevent anything–it is done in response to behavior that has already occurred. It’s not supposed to hurt, so it’s not about pain or injury. If it’s about incurring parental disappointment, surely there are other ways to convey that, like saying “I’m very disappointed in you.” So, what is it that children would prefer to avoid with a spanking? What is it that makes them afraid of it or averse to it? I’m not a spanker, so I’m really trying to understand what you think it’s about.


    1. I also wanted to say that I know you want to get back to the issue of trusting in experts, versus trusting ourselves. But that issue is not really germane for me; this is a personal belief that I’ve been happy to use research to support, but that does not change in the absence of research. Hope my indifference to that issue is not an inconvenience.


    2. I do believe that there are some children for whom spanking may be a necessary disciplinary technique. Of course it is subject to all the contextual factors you mention, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility, just like I wouldn’t rule out any other disciplinary technique. People respond to different things. I notice it in my own children. Some techniques work better with one than they do with the other.

      I use spankings not as an original consequence. I use spankings as a “consequence of a consequence.” For example, I give chances to correct behavior (as long as it is not seriously dangerous or seriously disrespectful that I think needs to be immediately ceased). Usually two chances. I then will use a time out, or taking away of a toy if a toy is involved (throwing or hitting with a toy.)

      A spanking will occur to reinforce this discipline. If a child will not stay in time out, they may get a spanking. If a child refuses to relinquish the toy, they may get a spanking. If a child refuses to cease their disrespectful behavior, they may get a spanking. In our house, this rarely happens. The boundaries are often pushed, but rarely crossed.

      I don’t think anywhere in the definition or how I’ve talked about it that I’ve said that a spanking does not hurt. I think the physical pain of a spanking should be equal to the mental pain of a time out or having a toy taken away. It should be minimal, and it should be temporary. It should be only enough to get the child to think about what occurred immediately before the discipline was given. When I spank my children, just like when they are sent to time out or have a toy taken, I explain why, both before and after. That is why I only spank their hands, 2-3 times, and I use a wooden spoon. I don’t use my hand because I do have to take the time to get the spoon, which calms me down and gives me time to clarify why I’m doing what I am doing and time for the child to change their behavior. There is a fear of the spoon, I think, but there has also been an escalation in the defiant behavior to the discipline that was meant to correct some other behavior. But there is also a similar reaction to having to go to time out – tears, pleading – and having toys taken away, leading me to understand that children dislike discipline no matter the form.


      1. My last question to you, and your response, led to an “aha” moment for me: the value of discipline itself, as opposed to the value of discipline as a means of addressing other behavior. I have always thought of discipline as a way to immediately address behavior I don’t want. I don’t like the way you’re playing with the ball; I take away the ball. I don’t like the way you’re interacting with others; you can’t interact with others anymore, because you’re now in time-out. It was always about that specific behavior. Sure–nobody likes to be told that their behavior is inappropriate, or be controlled, and so children don’t like that the ball was taken away, or that they are relegated to time-out. But it was always about the original behavior–about stopping that behavior. In contrast, you’re suggesting that discipline has an additional purpose. You’re not just about stopping the behavior in that moment–you’re about signaling to that child that they are in trouble. The spanking is not about the ball; the spanking is about the spanking.

        Which led me to think about what it is we intend to signal to children when we discipline. I’m conscious that I don’t signal that the child is bad; rather, what they DID is problematic. I intend (although as my child gets older, my thoughts on this might very well change) for my discipline to be related to the original action that caused the offense; if it makes the child feel bad, that is a secondary effect, and my hope is that they feel “bad” because things didn’t go their way; not because they feel bad about themselves. You can probably see where I’m going with this–I’m wondering whether, when we spank, we are actually directly signaling to the child that they are bad, themselves. It’s obvious what my thoughts have been on spanking, and so I’m not pretending that this is an inquiry without any bias. But our last exchange did make me wonder.

        I called my mom, and asked her opinion. Unlike me, she was spanked/hit as a child. Opinions would probably differ about whether it could be considered abuse, although my guess is that the discipline was probably fairly normal for that time and place. Despite her experience, however, my mother was staunchly opposed to spanking as we grew up; the first time she caught herself physically disciplining one of us, she stopped herself and thought “I’m just repeating what I experienced growing up. There has to be a better way.” When I asked her this morning about why she felt the way she did, she said that no matter how the spanking was conducted when she was a child, it made her feel like there was something wrong with her, that had to be corrected; that she was a “bad seed,” who needed straightening out. In her words “the physical hitting affects the spirit and psyche of a child in a way that is not comparable to other forms of discipline.” Obviously, every child is different, and so maybe that statement cannot be applied to children broadly. But it did make me wonder about whether using the child as the site of discipline–hitting the child–instead of making the child’s behavior the focus of the discipline–taking away the ball–doesn’t have a different psychological effect; does the child internalize “bad” in a different way, such that instead of concluding “what I did was bad,” they conclude “what I am is bad.”

        We could spin this out a couple of different ways. To the extent that the physical punishment IS in response to some external problematic behavior, maybe the child doesn’t internalize bad. But the alternative explanation–obviously–resonates with me, both because I think it captures part of what I find so problematic here, and because I think it’s just an interesting question (that maybe some child developmental experts out there can address?!).


  8. I don’t think I said that the spanking was about the spanking. I don’t think about it like that at all. I think I said that the spanking comes when the other forms of disciplining about the behavior are being resisted. So the spanking is also about behavior. The spanking is not about signalling trouble; it is about behavior. It’s because the child was not listening, or following directions, the directions being to go to time out or hand over the toy.

    I think I understand why you are making a distinction, as not listening or not accepting the discipline that has been given is different from the “original” offense. But those things happen, and they are, in my book, behaviors that also have to be addressed. We can then disagree on how to best address those behaviors, but I don’t consider that the things I spank for are not behavioral.

    Regarding what your mother said: I think a lot of people who were spanked, or hit, abused, however they experienced it feel that way. I think a lot of people who were spanked, etc. do not feel that way. I was spanked, and I would not do it the way it was done to me. I do think that certain ways of hitting children is abuse. I think I am particularly constrained in my approach as to never get close to that.


  9. I feel like I’m interrupting an important conversation and I should raise my hand for permission to speak . . . Anyway, I’m struck by a number of things about this exchange. The first is that I’ve been trying to find black people who weren’t spanked and who seem fairly normal. Since I don’t think I’ve found any in real life, I’m going to claim you, ORJ, as my example–which might push me closer to being a total non-spanker. Thanks! I’m also struck by the depth of this exploration. When we were planning to become parents, my old school father asked if we were going to be the kind of parents who “read those books”–he was laughing his head off as he said it. I responded that, yes, I wanted to gather as much information from as many sources as I could and that I would used what worked with my children, point blank. That’s why it seems foreign to me, LaToya, that you see parents as sort of blindly following experts. My perception is that many parents don’t seem to be this conscious about their parenting. I think that people do what they feel, which might include yelling at or lasing out at or hitting their children and aren’t all that aware of what results they want or how they might be changing their children’s very spirits. They just want them to “Stop it!” or “Do what I told you!” Perhaps that’s just my perception, perhaps it’s specific to the South, I don’t know. Ultimately, I wouldn’t spank my children the way most people I grew up with were spanked, but I think that the people I know who came out of their houses with their whole selves intact did so because their parents were intentional and conscious–maybe that’s the key on which it all turns. Maybe?


    1. @Steel – please don’t feel like you have to raise your hand! LOL

      I think you point out the best point of all – being a conscious, mindful parent. Many of the parents that I know that spank are very conscious of when and why they do it. I also suppose that my spanking of my children does not bother me because I am very conscious of when and why I do it, and am very clear with myself on the matter. Now, I also know many parents who spank because the Bible tells them to, so they are very clear on it too. I guess that’s not what I mean, or what you mean either.

      I don’t think that I am against reading books or listening to experts in general. I take my kids to the doctor for check ups; I think experts have their place. My aunt, who passed away last week, used to call some of us “educated fools;” perhaps that’s what your father was laughing about. I think it reflects a sense of having lot of education about a topic but lacking common sense about it too. A book is not going to teach you how to raise your children. I think great teaching is similar to great parenting – it may be something that cannot be taught, no matter how hard one tries. You can read all the books you want, but until you do it, until you are in the trenches, working with the cues of the children, using good common sense, reflecting on yourself as a child, your childhood, and how you were parented, using the cues of your environments and learning from those who are also doing the job you are currently doing, a book is not going to tell you much.

      I think this blindly following experts is a class phenomenon, and not wide spread. I see more of the middle-class, and more whites, following experts and quoting research, as compared to the working class and poor and other racial and ethnic groups. I have seen it growing in the black middle class, however.


  10. Totally agree that class is a major factor here. And I think that’s what I was trying to say about people who reject research and “experts” out of hand, as I see it, tend not to be the people who academicize (I think I’m making up that word) everything. But I don’t necessarily give any more weight to the parenting books I read than I do the little old ladies who told me that I needed to have a hat on my infants’ heads every single second of their lives, even though I acknowledged their own “expertise” as mothers of 6 or 9 or 11 hundred babies of their own. I just feel the need to have additional information and perspectives outside my own–perhaps I’ll accept them, perhaps I’ll reject them, but I want to know.
    My last self-talk about spanking: it seems to me something that you can’t take back. So while I think that many people older than I as well as many parents my age are, in fact, both conscious, mindful parents AND spankers, I wonder if they know what it means for their children. What I mean is, we don’t KNOW and it’s risky because it might mean something horrible. My children are very sensitive to yelling, so while I don’t think that it’s a huge deal when I raise my voice, it is clear that it means something really important and harmful to them. So I have to get control of that. I have to. Because I can’t take it back when they feel frightened. Just like hitting them can’t be taken back but a toy can be returned, etc. I know there are flaws in the logic, but . . . .


    1. Steel, several things in your posts struck me as interesting. The first was your conclusion that I was a normal black person who hadn’t been spanked! That made me laugh out loud! Yes, I do think I’m normal, or average, or whatever, but in another way I’m not; I’ve been given a lot of opportunities that other folks haven’t, which takes me to another aspect of your post that was interesting–your reference to class.

      I think class is an implicit issue running through all of this. When I mentioned a few posts back that I think spanking is “uncivilized,” and a failure of imagination–a point at which parents give up on their ability to discipline through mental engagement–I expected a lot of responses calling me elitist, etc. Whether it’s elitist or not, I think middle to upper class parents have been cultivated to eschew physical punishment in favor of discipline that seems more mental. That same cultivation leads them to look to experts, who claim to have “thought about” the issue in more depth. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, although LaToya is right–common sense is important too.

      That being said, I want to push back on Toya’s assertion that somethings cannot be taught. We have to make a distinction between teaching and experience. Using classroom teaching, for example, good teaching absolutely must be taught. There is a place for experience, but like most things, that experience is PRACTICE; an opportunity to put into practice that which you’ve been taught. Many things that go into being a good teacher are counter-intuitive, and many things about classroom management are not things that “come naturally.” Nor are they things that you just learn after working with children; in fact, the intensity of working with children can often just get you stuck in ineffective teaching ruts if you don’t get some training on how to properly teach.

      Two more points. The first is going back to thinking about the body as the site of discipline. I mentioned this in the context of my mother. I want to be careful about how I/we characterize her experience. She didn’t say it was abuse, or that she even thought it was abuse. She said that when she was spanked, that it communicated that SHE was bad, instead of “what she did was bad.” That’s an important distinction. In talking about this with my husband, he independently said the same thing: spanking is an extremely personal form of discipline, because it takes place on the child’s body. It creates anger, and frustration, and because it is directed at the child so personally, it is internalized. Like I said, I’m not a developmental psychologist, but I think there’s something there to at least think about.

      Finally, we started off this conversation talking about researcher bias, but never discussed the value of the bias itself. That is, WHY do researchers have this bias, and is that bias itself something of value? Why are we looking for research to confirm a conclusion we’ve drawn about a particular practice? To the extent that people are thinking “something is not right about this, and I’m going to figure out why,” we should take pause. Just because we haven’t yet found the research that confirms what we think is wrong, doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. This takes us back to intuition and common sense. People with the luxury of reflecting on this are being told by their common sense that something ain’t right. I don’t think it’s smart to ignore that.


  11. I think you are right about the research bias, except it goes both ways. Academic researchers are more likely to be middle class, and come from middle class backgrounds. There are relatively less academic like myself who have working-class roots and therefore question the “wisdom” of this middle class rationale. The problem I have is not with any individual’s bias, but the overall bias of the research program and the agenda. It’s just as insidious, I think, as the middle-class white bias in most parenting, family, and education research. It’s an unconscious bias that is rarely challenged, and when it is challenged, the defenses are weak, especially on the methods and empirical data. Again, if the defense is largely philosophical or metaphysical, then fine. But be upfront about it, and don’t use junk science. I think that insults my intelligence.

    I hear you on the personalization of discipline as the site of the child. It’s an interesting distinction, one I hadn’t thought of before. Definitely something to think about. I still think I believe that all sorts of discipline can be personal, and spanking neither has to be nor is it in a category by itself. Discipline, depending on how it is carried out, can be dehumanizing and can be read as “I am a bad person.” You say it “creates anger and frustration”; do you think this is different from other forms of discipline? I think my children are angry and/or frustrated in many situations. As far as what is internalized, I try as much as possible to make it clear what what is being punished is behavior. I truly do not believe that my children think they are bad children when they have been spanked. If you believe that you can explain a rule to a child, I’m not quite sure why you think you cannot explain the reason for a particular type of discipline to a child.


    1. I certainly agree that research should not be advertised to be proving something it doesn’t, and that no matter what your bias, you should be rigorous enough to know and/or acknowledge that you haven’t successfully validated your bias. I’m still curious about how and why this bias against spanking started; it’s probably an interesting story.

      I do think that all sorts of discipline can cause anger and frustration, although I wonder about whether differences in types of discipline can determine whether those feelings are kept external, or internalized.

      I actually don’t think you can explain all rules to children. When creating a rule, I think about whether my kid is old enough to understand it or follow it. And even if she can follow it, does she understand the logic of it? Sometimes the answer is no, but the consequences are so negative that she has to follow it anyway (i.e. holding my hand in the street). But given that limited verbal and mental ability, at what age can a child truly understand that when I hit you, it’s actually not about you, but about your behavior. I also wonder at what age can they verbalize to you that, “Mommy, when you hit me, it makes me feel bad about me, but when you put me in time-out, I’m just angry at you for putting me here.” These are fairly complex ideas about emotion and self; it requires children to be aware of the mental dialogue they are having with themselves all the time; to have developed an ability to think of themselves in the 3rd person. I’m not sure they can do any of that for a long time, and like Steel, I’m not convinced the risk is worth it…

      This has been a really great thought exercise! 🙂


      1. I realize I am almost a year late finding this post, however I wanted to say I side with minor to moderate spanking. It seems from reading your posts you are all much smarter than I. Yet, I have one thing it seems you all do not have as of yet, I have my own case study. My youngest son is now 26 years old. I raised two natural sons and one step-son, which I only identify to you as step-son to differeniate, which was age four when he joined my household. My three sons were raised getting spankings. My three sons all are upstanding citizens, have not yet been in trouble with the law, do not use alcohol or drugs in excess, are not violent, show concern for others, are slow to anger, do not beat their children, and do discipline with spanking as they were taught by me who was taught by my father, who was taught by his father, and you get the idea. I only used spanking in what I saw as a gross waiver from the norm of my teaching. Let me give you some background for the purpose of my study. My step-son came to me from an abusive father. For the first four years of his life he was taught he could slap, cuss, kick, pull hair, spit, threaten with knives, and even piss on his mother. Yes his father treated the boys mother in this fasion also. I am not making this up! When I met this boys mother she was very gun shy of men. She was trying to gain control of this four year old who had all the power he needed from the training he received and the beatings she got. My first born was two at this time. I was taught, you do NOT do those things. So, here I am wanting to date this woman and she wants to date me, but how do I tolerate this behavior from her son? First of all I talked it over with her and she said if there was anything I could do to help her gain control, she would be grateful. Now comes tough love and trust. When the boy would do anything on the list I stated above, the first thing we tried was to explain to him it was wrong and put him in timeout. This method from the experts we used for about two months. Did not work. Next, in conjunction with timeout we took away toys. Did not work. I talked to his mother about good old fashion spanking on the butt, with a belt. She agreed. Now so you understand, I never gave more than three swaps and I used moderate strength. I know I can not explain the force I exserted, but it did leave a light redness on his butt through his jeans but no bruises and was always gone in 10 to 15 minutes. I know you non-spankers are thinking, “Call familiy services quick!”. It only took about five to seven of these spankings over a period of about two months and we had his attention. The rest of his life he maybe received ten more spankings from age five to age eleven. This were often only when he showed extreme agression such as hitting the kid down the street with a rock, choking his younger brother, which by the way was actually turning blue by the time I figured out why they had went quiet playing in their room. The “experts” would suggest that the violence of spanking would excalate violence. Guess what? The experts were wrong this time. This young man, now 31, is an upstanding citizen and treats all people with respect. He has a great job and is well liked by his peers. He to this day still holds the door open for others. He says please and thank you. He is well groomed and whatever else you might think of as a quality person. Yes my own natural kids got butt whoopins too! They are both in the same upstanding citizen award catagory as my step-son. My step-son has even thanked me syaing, “Dad, I remeber how I use to treat mom and if you had not discinplined me, I don’t know where I would be now, probably in prison.” “Thank you, and I love you.” So, read your research and argue over whether spanking is right or wrong. I know from experience and not the experts that when done out of love, not anger, when applied with other forms of punishment which are still punishment, it works just the way the Holy Bible says it will.
        PS. Since I will probably not ever be here again, anyone can respond to me directly and get it off their chest at: ljellid@yahoo.com


  12. swinging a piece of wood to hit someone less than half your size whos completely dependent on you, in order to change their behavior is violence. period.. to call that love you have to be deeply barbaric. the idea of physically attacking a child to correct ‘disrespect’? is the equivalent of spanking your wife for insubordination.. you are getting a pure reciprocation of the level of respect that you are teaching the child by physically bullying them!! furthermore any positive effects gained by spanking are lost as soon as you lose power over the child, but the statistical realities are not escapable, great how you brush a mountain of research to the side in the name of ‘culture’.. culture is arbitrary unconscious hand me downs just like racism and sexism so its not a virtue, its just random at best.. treat your kids how you want to be treated and remember they didnt choose you as parents theyre stuck! punishment is an anachronism to any parent who is interested in controlling causes rather than the endless game of whack a mole called effects.. i hope you apologize soon and end the practice otherwise im sorry you will be sittin in the old folks home wondering why your kids dont give a damn enough to visit. only dinosaurs and christians (but i repeat myself) stick up for spanking children.


  13. LaToya – To begin, let me offer my heartfelt and most sincere admiration for your idealology, for your excellent communication skills and command of the English language. Your article is quite impressive, as was the study cited ( yes I have read it, three times now, footnotes and all ).

    Although I dont have the time at this moment ( I am completing a series on Election Reform ), I will return in a day or so to add my voice to yours as regards to this issue. ORJ has raised some questions, committed several logical fallacies in her/his reasoning, and raised several issues to which I would like to reply in detail. I would also like to comment at length on your position, which i share, and offer additional backup and source material.

    Again congratulations on a great article!

    Shea Bernard
    Social and Poilitcal Commentator


  14. What if the war on spanking actually had very little to do with spanking? If that is the case, it could explain why, when it comes to anti-spanking research, there is more smoke than there is fire.

    Interestingly enough, the war on spanking seemed to coincide with the rise of the counseling profession. Although modern professional counseling began in the early years of the 20th century, it did not become popular until counselors began addressing mental health issues in the1970s. Shortly thereafter, anti-spanking research took off like a rocket. Sure enough, the focus of the anti-spanking research centered on mental health issues! Was it just coincidence? Perhaps. Then, there might have been other reasons.

    What if no one ever told you that water or baking soda would put out a typical small house fire in the early stages of the blaze? What if you were forbidden to even own a fire extinguisher? Instead, from childhood on, you had it drilled into your head that, if you ever had a fire, you had to call the fire department. After all, firemen were trained professionals and fires are dangerous. Just look at all the pictures of horribly burned bodies and testimonies from those losing their loved ones to fires!

    Let’s further assume that becoming a certified fireman required years of training. What if that training was so expensive and getting into a fire fighting school was so difficult that firemen could charge handsome fees for putting out fires? Sound familiar? It should. The basic concept is rampant into today’s society. There are all sorts of things which ordinary people are either discouraged or forbidden by law from doing on their own.

    During the course of the past few decades, handling children has made it onto the list. The situation has gotten so bizarre that schoolteachers have to call the police to handle out of control students in the classroom! That was not the case a few decades ago.

    Likewise, despite parents having raised children for thousands of years, child discipline has been deemed to be beyond the abilities of mere mortal parents. This, too, now requires experts with specialized advanced degrees. The reason may boil down to money.

    After all, there is no money to be made from telling parents that, sometimes, there just is no substitute to putting rambunctious Little Johnny or smart-mouthed Suzie over a parent’s knee. There is, on the other hand, a great deal of money to be made from offering courses, selling books, or holding counseling sessions.

    The easiest way to cower parents into compliance with the program is by selling fear. The possibilities are endless. All it requires is a little imagination. Spanking your kid will lower his or her IQ and make them become a depressed alcoholic. It will make Suzie promiscuous and turn Little Johnny into a sexual deviant. The specifics don’t much matter so long as they are accompanied carefully selected statistics that give the desired result.

    The next step is just to swamp news organizations with this stuff and create as many anti-spanking websites as possible. The fact that the whole war on spanking is predicated on junk science matters little. It is only important that the flow of misinformation never lets up. It is one to the techniques used to disseminate the BIG LIE. The BIG LIE is a well-known propaganda technique that was fine-tuned by Hitler’s Third Reich. Although poorly understood by the public, it is still widely used today by politicians and others pushing suspect agendas.

    Another element of the BIG LIE is to keep the spotlight on the target. In the war on spanking, it really doesn’t matter whether opponents of spanking don’t have a viable easy to use and effectvie alternative to offer the average parent. It only matters that parents are continually told that spanking is bad and ineffective.

    In time, as with all BIG LIES, the war on spanking will be exposed as fraudulent. Until then, parents will have to navigate through the mountains of propaganda hurled in their path. Spanking is neither a panacea nor a poison. It is simply a tool that, as with most other tools, can either be used or misused.

    Whether they spank or not, parents will have to discover what discipline strategies work best with their particular child. Otherwise, they will fall victim to the BIG LIE.


  15. 1. Calling taking away a toy “violent” just so you can compare it to spanking is a pretty weak, and faulty, argument.

    2. Downplaying the values of non-spanking parents who cite studies to support or back up their beliefs and parenting practices is pretty hypocritical since you are citing a study to back up your beliefs and parenting practices.

    Your argument would have been much better if you had just left it at “spanking does no more harm than other forms of discipline”. When you started making all your other weak arguments, your post started to look more like a desperate attempt to justify your parenting decisions.

    I found this because I was doing a google search for an article or post that would empirically or logically support spanking to offer as a counter to all the studies that oppose it. Apparently I need to keep looking because I did NOT find that here.


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