Not so long ago, but in a paradigm far far away I was a part of a faith tradition that glorified many types of violence including corporal punishment. Not only was corporal punishment taught and encouraged, my husband and I were told that if we were to withhold “The Rod™” we were, in fact disobeying God himself (I am purposely using only the male pronoun on purpose because at the time that was the only acceptable one).
Buying into this lie is one of the great regrets of my life. The idea that I ever embraced the doctrine of spanking my children when they disobeyed me now turns my stomach. Thankfully, I could never bring myself to doing it with the regularity or gusto that many people I knew did, but I did do it. Far. Too. Often.
And right here, right now, on the biggest forum I personally have, I am ready to go on the record.
I repent. I was wrong.
Recently a study from The University of Texas at Austin and University of Michigan has come out on the effects of spanking. And guess what? Spanking does not produce the fruit that the proponents of it would have you believe. Violence is definitely one way to get someone to comply with your wishes, especially if you are bigger, stronger, smarter and in control of pretty much every aspect of that person’s life (i.e. your child). It is NOT the best way. Not by a long shot.
The UT/UofM study spanned a period of 50 years, followed over 160,000 children, and was published in the Journal of Family Psychology. Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at The University of Texas at Austin stated, “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children.” SURPRISE. #science
“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” Grogan-Kaylor says.
Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor tested for some long-term effects among adults who were spanked as children. The more they were spanked, the more likely they were to exhibit anti-social behavior and to experience mental health problems. They were also more likely to support physical punishment for their own children, which highlights one of the key ways that attitudes toward physical punishment are passed from generation to generation.
The researchers looked at a wide range of studies and noted that spanking was associated with negative outcomes consistently and across all types of studies, including those using the strongest methodologies such as longitudinal or experimental designs. As many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children, according to a 2014 UNICEF report. Gershoff notes that this persistence of spanking is in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence of positive effects from spanking and ample evidence that it poses a risk of harm to children’s behavior and development.
Both spanking and physical abuse were associated with the same detrimental child outcomes in the same direction and nearly the same strength.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors,” she says. “Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.”
Did you catch that? BOTH spanking and PHYSICAL ABUSE were associated with the SAME detrimental outcomes in the SAME direction and NEARLY THE SAME strength.
Currently, in the U.S. 65% of percent of people approve of spanking and 50% of parents say they at least sometimes spank their kids. As succinctly put by The Economist, “In America Republicans spank more than Democrats; southerners more than north-easterners; blacks more than whites; and born-again Christians more than everyone else.” You can find the numbers to back that up here. I was a “born-again Christian”. I currently call myself a follower of Jesus. I disagree with way too much of my old system’s doctrine and practice to identify myself that way anymore.
Do you want to know why born-again Christian parents spank more than anyone else? Because their God demands it. They are, by and large, loving parents who want to do what is best for their kids. They love their kids. They spank because they have been taught that in order to truly love their children that they must. How sad.
There is at least one more study I think you will find important to our discussion. It is a 2008 study by Dr. Martin Teicher, a neuroscientist at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Teicher studied the consequences of corporal punishment on brain scans. I read an article yesterday called, Is Being Pro-Spanking A Sign of Brain Damage (You can see the scans on the link). It said:
In 2008, he and his team completed a five-year neuroimaging study of the impact of corporal punishment on the brain. He scanned the brains of 46 mainly middle-class, well-educated subjects, half who had been corporally punished and half who had not. “All the subjects that we looked at were hit at least once a month, through several years of childhood,” he said.
The consequences are not abstract or only visible on the brain scan. His work and that of other researchers shows that spanking is associated with aggression, delinquency, low IQ, mental-health problems, and drug and alcohol abuse.
I have spoken to my now teenage kids. I told them I was wrong. I asked them to forgive me. I am sharing this with you now in the hope that it is not too late for some of you and by extension for your children. Please join me in saving our kids from “love” that does not look or feel like love.
[Want to know something scary/sad/screwed up? I learned a little speech in a Christian parenting book that I used to use before I spanked my kids. First I would talk to them calmly about what they had done. Then I would ask them to tell me why they were being punished. Then I would explain that God expected me to train them in how to obey me so that they could obey him. Next, I would tell them I AM SPANKING YOU BECAUSE I LOVE YOU. Then I would spank them. Then I would hug them and hold them while they cried (often crying myself) and tell them I loved them. How screwed up is that? I actually taught my kids that this was love. Being hit by the person who loves you the most. Hitting someone to help them obey is actually loving. WTF? As Lord Davos said to Melisande in Game of Thrones, “If your Lord commands you to burn [hit] children, your Lord is evil.” I no longer believe in a God who drowned almost the entire human race, demanded genocide or commands us to hit our children to prove we love them. That god is an asshole and a monster. I believe in the God who is love; The God who commands us to love each other; The God who contains no darkness; The God who forgives; The God who restores; The God who makes all things new. I reject any teaching or practice that affirms a God whose love demands pain and suffering to be satisfied.]
One of my favorite people in the world introduced me to something called Conscious Discipline. I only wish I would have known about it when my children were young. On their website they describe it this way:
Defines discipline not as something you do to children, but something you develop within them.
Teaches new skills to the adult first and the children second, empowering you to become the mindful parent you want to be.
With Conscious Discipline, we can learn to discipline differently than we were disciplined, break the cycle of “do as I say, not as I do,” and discipline our children without permissiveness, aggression or guilt.
There are of course other options out there for parents who are ready to stop spanking, or even better, to never start. I don’t care which one you choose, any of them will be an improvement over striking your child with the arms you should only use to love them.