When I was a child I often misbehaved. This seems quite obvious given that I am human, but unlike many children today, I was spanked. An increasing amount of claims have surfaced in the media and other social arenas regarding parenting tactics. A prominent practice, which is often looked down upon, is spanking. Whether or not a parent should spank a child has become somewhat controversial due to the examination of corporal punishment laws as well as psychological studies which have been conducted to determine the long term effects of spanking.
In Sweden, spanking has been outlawed as a form of corporal punishment and, though it is still legal in the United States, there are those who seek to end it here as well.
I can tell you as someone who was spanked as a child that, while I did not enjoy it at the time, I am now grateful for that receiving that specific type of discipline growing up.
Many opponents of spanking claim that physical punishment is not as effective as other punishments, such as grounding or verbally reprimanding a child. Critics, such as Dr. Murray Stratus of the University of New Hampshire, claim that spanking has been linked by recent studies with things like “depression, juvenile delinquency, spousal abuse and lowered mental ability.”
These criticisms are misinterpretations of scientific evidence.
Research regarding the long term effects of spanking children points to various future problems, but these consequences are not related directly to responsible, non-abusive spanking. According to the Family Research Council, “These allegations arise from studies that fail to distinguish appropriate spanking from other forms of punishment.” Activities such as kicking, punching or beating are often lumped together with minor spanking.
These studies are vague, and while they may show the existence of problems in later stages of development, they do not clearly illustrate spanking as the cause. Marjorie Gunnoe, a professor of psychology at Calvin College agrees. “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data,” she said.
What studies are finding, however, is contrary to what critics are saying.
A recent psychological study conducted by Gunnoe determined that people who had been physically disciplined (not abused), performed better in areas regarding “school grades, an optimistic outlook on life, the willingness to perform volunteer work, and the ambition to attend college.” Furthermore, the study found that those spanked had no amount of increased difficulty with “early sexual activity, getting into fights, and becoming depressed,” according to Newsmax.com.
While several questions can be drawn about whether these attributes were directly linked to spanking or not, the point remains that those who were spanked were not subject to any further future consequences than those who were not spanked.
We live in a society where it is perfectly acceptable to disrespect one’s parents, and this idea is not put to rest by effective discipline early on. Spanking is a way to demonstrate the consequences of not respecting authority in the family. I know from personal experience that even the threat of a spanking was sometimes enough to deter a disrespectful attitude or action. But spanking, just like other punishments, should not be used excessively, or on its own.
Discipline must come from a deep rooted desire to help the child learn, not simply to punish. A punishment derived from love, rather than anger, is one that will truly help the child grow and understand, and can foster both respect and trust. In my family, a spanking came as a result of something I did, knowing full well it was wrong. It was almost never a first-time offence. This is crucial. Parent-child communication is the first step, laying down the ground rules and expectations. Only after this, is spanking acceptable and, in my opinion, encouraged. It demonstrates something we learn in the real world all the time: With intentional wrong-doing, there come consequences which are often painful.
I am not saying that spanking is the only way to discipline, and I am certainly not criticizing parents who decide not to spank their children. I am, however, defending the fact that spanking, when done correctly and out of love, is most definitely a valid form of discipline.
By Ryan Stevens