Arguably, one of the most hotly debated subjects on parenting is whether should you spank your children or not. On one side of the argument are generations of parents dating back to pre-history claiming it is not only okay to beat your kids, but it is a sacred duty. The other camp consists of decades of modern scientific research that seems to all agree spanking has extremely negative consequences on children’s healthy development. Most people’s opinions seem to settle somewhere in the middle.
The first question that generally arises when someone brings up the discussion is, “how do you define spanking?” Most would agree that an open-handed slap on the backside is a far different thing than a severe beating with a leather belt. However, perhaps owed to the reductionist nature of hotly debated topics, the nuance is generally lost, and the discussion devolves into lumping all forms of “spanking” into one nebulous blob.
Consequently, much research on the topic does not differentiate forms of spanking and combines data from parents who spank angrily and inappropriately with those who remain calm and exercise self-control when administering physical punishment. It’s also difficult for researchers to determine whether spanking causes negative behavior or if other causative factors that ultimately result in adverse outcomes for the child later in life precipitate it.
Understanding every angle of a subject as complex and disagreed on as spanking is difficult. It can be helpful to look at some of the arguments for and against it before forming your opinion.
Common Reasons Cited Why Parents Spank
Reason 1: It Works
Spanking generally stops bad behavior immediately. The experiences of parents throughout history back up the effectiveness of using physical punishment to control how their children act. In situations of when the child is in imminent danger or misbehaving, spanking parents believe they have a tool that is likely to stop the undesirable behavior.
Reason 2: It’s Biblical
Many people believe that if it is in the Bible, it must be right. The book of Proverbs and other citations seems to say it is okay to spank. For example, Proverbs 23:13-14 says: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” Parents of all faiths tend to spank more often probably due to religious teachings and a secure attachment to tradition.
Reason 3: It’s Generational
“My parents spanked me, and I turned out okay.” is hard to refute since you would have to convince the person that he is in some way maladjusted as a result of how his parents disciplined him. It is a case that is not only hard to prove but could come across as degrading. Passing down the custom of spanking could also be related to the genetic predisposition of both the parent and the child.
Reasons Given Not To Spank
Reason 1: Some Theorize It Lowers Your Child’s IQ
Some studies suggest that spanking your children will lower their IQs. This study, while still considered valid, does not conclusively prove whether parents tend to punish children with initially low IQs more frequently.
Reason 2: It May Increase Aggression Levels
Major studies on the subject of spanking show that corporal punishment increases aggression in children. The course of reasoning is that aggressive behavior taught to children by their parents through spanking continues until the adult child views physical violence as a way to get his or her needs met.
Reason 3: It Can Harm the Parent-Child Relationship
Almost everyone agrees that the bond of trust between parents and children is paramount for healthy childhood development. Experts argue that physical punishment in the form of spanking can do irreparable harm to this vital connection.
Spanking is an emotionally charged issue, as are most that deal with children and their relationships to the adults that care for them. Trying to completely separate feelings on the subject from what experience and science demonstrate seems to be a near impossibility. Science does seem to be gradually making inroads on the topic since fewer people spank today than they did even 20 years ago. Most people have firm opinions one way or the other, and though the custom seems to be gradually fading away, no amount of debate will likely cause those who firmly believe in it change their minds.