Tuesday, May 12, 2009

To Spank or Not to Spank, Is that the Question?

My mom was a fan of using the wooden spoon (she especially preferred the spaghetti stirrer with the hole in the end of it – she must have believed it gained velocity that way), my dad preferred the belt (it was always handy to him no matter where we were). My grandma was a “softie” and would only use a flimsy fly swatter, but my grandpa was the king of the spanking. He would have me pick a switch from the big weeping willow tree alongside the house. If I happened to pick the wrong switch, he’d send me to pick another, only this time the end result would be worse.

Let me qualify this first paragraph. My family was not abusive. This was simply the way a parent disciplined their children in that time. My principal in elementary school used a paddle and I knew many friends that received their punishment with an assortment of tools ranging from the rolled up newspaper (you thought it was only for puppies) to the traditional open hand. However, I only received a spanking when I earned it. Apparently I was a slow learner, because I earned it a lot.

I have shared my stories at speaking engagements and I have heard many of you respond with your own stories. However, as time has passed, spanking has become a controversial topic. To spank or not to spank, is that the question? Many groups advocate that spanking is abuse, while others believe it is the only way our children learn. The truth is, I don’t know. As you have already heard, I was spanked nearly on a daily basis, but I also believe many times my behavior warranted it. However, my wife and I chose not to spank and have found that other means of discipline have been effective for us. It is certainly a personal and a family decision. This morning we asked my 3 year old his feelings on the topic and he said, “Spanking is mean!” I suppose if I was potentially on the receiving end, I would argue that point as well.

I am guessing many of you experienced discipline the way I did, through good ol’fashioned spankings. While some of us support spanking as a “right” for parents to discipline their child, the real question should be, does it work? Would it surprise you that a recent study at the University of Michigan of over 100 years of research shows that in the short term, spanking can correct bad behavior, but in the long term, it can make kids more defiant and aggressive? It’s true. Imagine the confusing message that is being delivered, “Don’t hit your sister and as a punishment, I am going to hit you!”

Many pediatricians advise against spanking children as a method of discipline. But whatever method of discipline we may choose, there are a few simple suggestions to make it more effective; Keep the rules simple. After you set the rules, be consistent and enforce them. Be a good role model because children learn by your example. Show that you can deal with frustration and anger without resorting to violence. Use time-outs so a child can learn the consequences of misbehavior. Emphasize rewards for good behavior instead of always punishing a child for bad behavior. Punish in private to avoid embarrassing the child, be firm and don’t punish in anger. Provide a positive, supportive and loving relationship. Use positive reinforcement. When punishment is necessary, use time-outs and other alternatives to spanking or physical punishment.

For more information about disciplining your child, contact us at 472-9876 or email at mryerson@unitedwaybc.com.


  1. So,

    I've been following this blog for a short time now, and I've been meaning to comment, but haven't found the time. Sorry for the late conversation on this post.

    I don't care what the University of Michigan found. The fact is that we can make academic studies say anything we want to as long as we control the study. Likewise, people ignore any study they want to...here is an example.

    #1. I get really angry when I see a scientist dispute global warming. We have scientists who say it exists and those who say it does not. Yet, I remember back when we used to get snow, real snow, in Cleveland. It stayed on the ground. People had to wear coats and little kids played in it. Remember those days? I do. Where did that snow go? I'm not sure, but it makes me a bit hesitant to agree with a scientist that wants to say that global warming is a myth.

    Likewise, I remember a time when kids didn't bring guns to school. So when I hear an academic say spanking doesn't work, I have to laugh.

    I spank my kids. I do it for their own good and I do it for the good of the people around them. I am glad my parents spanked me.

    Is it the only means of discipline that I use? Of course not. I try to be judicious and use all of the disciplinary methods at my disposal. But sometimes, nothing says behave like a "good ol fashioned spanking".

  2. Dear Reverend;

    Thank you for your frank and forthright comments. However, I think you might have misinterpreted my blog. I had hoped to communicate the title question, "To Spank or Not to Spank, is that the Question?" as my focus.

    Is it right to debate a very personal issue on a "general" or broad scale? I believe the important question for any parent on the issue of discipline is "what works?" When a parent is focusing on creative ideas to discipline their child, more than likely the outcomes will be positive and effective. However, we must weigh and measure the short term success against the long term impact. If a child gets the message, "when I am in power, and I want people to do what I say, I hit them," I am not sure we've been successful in teaching that child.

    Unfortunately, the sad reality is that we have many young parents who simply don't know how to discipline their child. My experience in working with many of these families showed me that many times a parent that did not have the training or role models that would show them how to discipline their child would adopt one of two methods; 1. Yell at their child with very little to no follow up. This often leads to the child ignoring the parent and the parent giving up, i.e. - no discipline (as you discussed in your well-thought out comment); 2. The parent feels that they can "beat some sense into their child" and the result is abuse. Neither of these options are effective and ultimately lead to another generation of parents with no real parenting skills.

    The goal of my blog was an attempt to give parents who don't have the proper skills a few more tools in their tool box (and if nothing else, contact information as a resource they can use for questions). As the old saying goes, "If you only use the hammer, everything looks like a nail." I have no doubts, Rev., that your use of discipline on any given day varies from situation to situation and is ultimately effective with your children. Unfortunately, not all parents are as skilled as you. My hope is that parents will explore new ideas and embrace research that might suggest that the technique that use, MAY not be the most effective and they might want to consider other alternatives.

    I love you Reverend and love your willingness to comment. I look forward to many more debates in the future!

    By the way, I just read a research study that said 85% of all statistics are made up!

  3. "When I am in power, and I want people to do what I say, I hit them..."

    Now, THIS discussion is getting interesting.

    You see, now we are in to a discussion of "might makes right" and I assure you that I do not fall on that side of the coin, even when I feel that I must spank.

    Perhaps it is the enormous amount of spankings that have occured in our country to make it the war machine that it is today.

    Don't like our American ways? We will embargo you, even though you are a third world country. (Cuba)

    Don't dig our style of government? We will supply your militants so that later, they can turn on us and fly planes into our buildings. (Middle East)

    Don't agree with everything we do to our enemies? You are our enemy. (The last administration to the rest of the world when they dared to question our tactics)

    Spanked or not, the children of this country (and maybe all the children of the world) are learning that "If I am in power and you do not do what I say, I hit you..."

    So spanking may be the least of our worries.

    I find it amazing how many self-proclaimed God-fearing Christians subscribe to this mentality when declaring their allegiance to the messiah that taught love, peace and grace.

    So what is the difference between this and spanking?

    Maybe nothing.

    Maybe everything.

    I would suggest that a good old-fashioned spanking teaches several things, not the least of which would be: "Decide in your mind if what you are about to do is worth the consequences."

    The human brain is complex, and it learns through the applying (or not) of many punishments and rewards. Just as I believe tha God is a God of balance, who "gives and takes away" I too, am charged ot raise my child in such a manner. Rewards and punishments that run the entire scale of discipline...and spanking fits in there just fine for me.

  4. VERY interestesting points Rev. In fact, if we go a step further and we don't deny those in power (government, media, etc.) have major influences on our children, than we are in bad shape. Domestic violence will be the norm, anonymous sex will be an everyday event, power will always be abused, and husbands will be a sitcom character that is overweight, stupid and married to a good-looking smart woman (alright, so in my case this last one is true).

    Nonetheless, if we believe we can change the course of this impending disaster, than we must somehow hit the brakes. Hitting the brakes cannot start with a governmnet mandate or a church revival, it MUST start in the home. That is my hope for this column and blog that someone who would "whip" their child because they were mad at them will think twice about the potential consequences. You, and I hope, me probably will be okay in this area since we understand the importance of discipline and how it should be applied.

    As far as our recent administration and the "you are either for us or against us" mentality, many would argue that he was not spanked enough as a child!