The Question of Spanking
Spanking a child is a controversial issue. On one side of the debate are people who believe spanking is a necessary component of parenting. On the contrary are people who think spanking a child is destructive. Somewhere in the middle are people who believe spanking is legitimate only when used correctly. Part of the reason for the debate is that some parents and experts define spanking differently. To some, spanking means slapping a child on the rear-end, while others believe it is a form of corporal punishment that does not cause injury. By showing how each perspective of spanking supports their claim and defining spanking, one will be able to form an opinion.
In order to conclude an argument, it is first necessary to define any vague or ambiguous terms. Spanking is an unclear term in need of explanation. To some spanking means to slap a child on the buttocks, while others believe it is a mild form of corporal punishment which does not cause harm to the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines spanking as “one or two flat-handed swats on a child’s wrist or rear end” (Rosellini 52). The New American Webster Handy College Dictionary also agrees with the AAP when defining spanking as “to strike with an open hand.” Spanking does not infer a sustained whipping from Dads belt, but a mild form of corporal punishment that does not cause injury.
Spanking is alive and well today despite the antispanking prohibition. In a poll sponsored by Working Mother and the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World in Florida, 7,225 adults and 2,599 kids were surveyed (Hickey 48). When asked “When should parents spank their children,” 51 percent replied “When they think it’s necessary,” 30 percent said “Only in extreme circumstances,” and only ten percent answered “Never”(Hickey 48). Twelve percent of young adults, ages 18 to 34, which responded to the poll, said spanking should not occur; in comparison with the seven percent of both the 35-49 and 50-64 age groups which responded “Never” (Hickey 48). The poll asked “Which of these is (or was) most often used in your family to control children’s behavior?” As the prevalent choice, 37 percent responded “Taking away privileges,” 23 percent said “spanking,” 18 percent replied “reasoning with the child,” four percent said “bribes” and three percent answered “assigning extra work” (Hickey 48).
A different study headed by Rebecca R. S. Socolar, a clinical assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, took a poll of 204 New York, NY mothers (Jet 15). The poll asked if a child less than one year old should be spanked. As a result, 81 percent of the mothers disagreed with spanking a child less than a year of age, and 19 percent believe a child under a year of age should be spanked (Jet 16). Then when asked if a child of 1-3 years old should be spanked, 26 percent disagreed with spanking at that age and an astounding 74 percent agreed with spanking a child of this age(Jet 16). When asked about the harshness of the spanking, 92 percent said they do not leave visible marks of damage while only eight percent say they do leave a mark upon the child (Jet 16). The results of both polls show consistent finding with the research of sociologist Richard J. Gelles, PhD, and director of the Family Violence Research Program at the University of Rhode Island. He Believes “Hitting children is so taken for granted in out society that almost all parent view spanking as an inevitable part of raising children”(Working Mother 48). He believes this ideology will remain apart of our culture because it is infused within each of us since birth (Working Mother 48).
The American Academy of Pediatrics determined in a 1996 conference on corporal punishment that spanking could prove useful if used as reinforcement of other disciplines (Rosellini 52). S. Kenneth Schonberg, a pediatrics professor who co-chaired the AAP conference said “There’s no evidence that a child who is spanked moderately is going to grow up to be a criminal or antisocial or violent” (Rosellini 52).
Spanking continues to be a prevalent form of child rearing because parents believe it “will teach children not to do things that are forbidden, stop them quickly when they are being irritating, and encourage them to do what they should” (Ramsburg 1). Some parents feel mental disciplines (i.e. time-outs) are not effective enough, while other parents spank because it is a culturally ingrained practice (Ramsburg 1).
The beginning of the antispanking movement had much to do with a new understanding of the science of behavior and the rise of smaller families (Rosellini 52). In the years before, families passed down the idea “spare the rod, spoil the child” which warranted the act of spanking as a form of discipline (Rosellini 52). Then in the 1970s and 1980s psychologist and child-development authorities promoted the radical notion “that kids are equal members of the household” (Rosellini 53). This development, along with numerous publications, such as Thomas Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training, helped legitimize such ideas.
The book Beating the Devil Out of Them, by Irwin A. Hyman and Murray A. Straus, crystallized the antispanking general agreement. Straus, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire, gathered that spanking is a “‘social problem’ that can doom a child to a lifetime of difficulties ranging from juvenile delinquency to depression, sexual hangups, limited job prospects and lowered earnings” (Rosellini 55). Straus goes as far to say that we should pass a law forbidding spanking (Rosellini 58). He goes even further toward the extreme to assert “that spanking helps foster punitive social attitudes, such as support for bombing raids to punish countries that support terrorists” (Rosellini 58). T. Berry Brazelton, MD, emeritus professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, believes “spanking says that you believe in using force as a way to settle disputesand that children should listen to you because you’re bigger and stronger than they are”(Hickey 48). Brazelton says spanking is punishment which only teaches children only suffering and to be afraid (Hickey 48). Spanking generates more hatred in the child for being humiliated, and for suffering, than a clear understanding and recollection of why he/she is being punished (Nelson 58). Drs. James P. Comer and Alvin F. Poussaint said, “By being hit by you when you are angry, children learn to hit others when in turn they are angry (Jet 17).
The AAP suggested that according to researchers, “spanking may be the least effective discipline” (Ramsberg 1). When tested with the assumption children would learn a lesson after being spanked, and need to be spanked less. Nonetheless, the research results indicated that families who began spanking before one year old are as likely to spank when the child is four years old (Ramsberg 1). These results affirm that spanked children are not learning their lesson. Spanking may not be effective because it exemplifies no other optional behaviors (Ramsberg 1).
Between the black and white of this issue is a gray area which has found errors in research and believes spanking should be used only selectively. John Rosemond, family psychologist, author, speaker, and director for the Center of Affirmative Parenting (CAP) in North Carolina, caters neither extreme of creating laws against spanking or “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Rosemond attacks the claims of sociologist Murry Straus because he is an often-quoted representative of the antispanking movement. Rosemond believes that Straus’ research does not prove spanking is problematic (Rosemond 21). Straus’ research conclusions are based mostly upon adults who, as teenagers, were spanked (Rosemond 21). Straus also fails to distinguish between beating and spanking (Rosemond 22), which does not allow a distinction between child abuse and child discipline. Rosemond believes Straus is looking for certain results with his research to further support his position, therefore obscuring results.
Rosemond feels spanking is appropriate when used appropriately. He believes “not to give numerous threats or warnings or to build up to a spanking”to a child (Rosemond 50). He thinks it is important to not allow your child’s unwanted behavior to grow to the point of spanking (Rosemond 50). Do not hesitate or warn before spanking, he recommends (Rosemond50). Rosemond believes one should spank in anger (the very reason you are spanking), but not in a rage (Rosemond 51-2). He believes it is important to “use your hand, and your hand only” because the idea is to communicate, not to cause the child pain (Rosemond 55). “Follow through with a clear, stern message and, if need be, a restrictive consequence of one sort or another” (Rosemond 57). Rosemond brings a rational appeal to spanking. His approach views spanking as an intimate act of communication, not a savage form of child abuse
The question of whether to spank or not has been the most controversial child-rearing issue of the past three decades. Though no end in sight, after analyzing my research of the extremes of spanking, I conclude in the gray area. John Rosemond proved the most logical approach to spanking. He has studied both sides of the issues and points out the inconsistencies of each side. Rosemond supports his point of view with grounds of disagreement and agreement and fills gaps the gap of the gray area connecting the opposing sides.
Hickey, Mary C.. To Spank Or Not To Spank. Working-Mother. v. 14 Jan. 91, p. 48-9.
Nelson, Gerald E., Lewak Richard W.. Who’s the Boss?: Love, Authority, andParenting. Boston: Shambhala Publications, INC.
Ramsberg, Dawn. The Debate Over Spanking. ERIC Digest. Mar. ’97.
Rosellini, Lynn. When To Spank. U.S. News and World Report. v. 124 no14 Apr. 13 98, p. 52-3+.
Rosemond, John. To Spank or Not to Spank. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1994.
Socolar, Rebecca. Survey Says Some Mothers Still Believe That Spanking Is Good Discipline, Jet. 30 Jan, ’95.