Recently, Charlie over at HowToBeADad.com wrote a post that dealt with spanking children. He spoke up when he saw another dad who was too cavalier in hitting his own kid at the park. While Charlie didn’t specifically comment either way on corporal punishment as a whole, many of the commenters on that post had no problem letting their feelings on that issue be known. And to many of them, spanking in any form is on par with full-fledged child abuse.
I have some thoughts on that.
First off, let me just tackle the argument that corporal punishment in every form is tantamount to child abuse. Unfortunately, seeing people equate spanking (particularly when it is a controlled and predictable consequence for the child) with full-on physical abuse only serves to render the term “abuse” completely meaningless. That’s akin to saying that scolding a child = verbal abuse. Look up photos of abused kids and tell me that the results of those beatings are even on the same planet as a typical spanked child.
We can disagree on this issue without resorting to hyperbole. If parents who yell at their kids are not automatically verbally abusive, then parents who spank are not automatically physically abusive. This sort of thing is all a matter of degree. If we can’t agree on that basic premise, then the entire debate is utterly meaningless.
With that said, I will fully admit that this is not a cut-and-dry subject from either perspective. Both sides have good arguments, and every parent (and prospective parent) should take the time to think this issue through. In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I am not against spanking, and I don’t believe that a loving family will damage a child by using it as a part of their disciplinary process.
The VAST majority of discipline that my son receives is completely non-physical. Unfortunately — try as we might — there are times when he will not respond to the usual methods, and we are forced to resort to spanking. People can tell me with all the hysterical fervor they can muster that I’m an abusive father and that I’m damaging my child (even my child’s future wife and kids *gasp*), but I know how my child responds, and sometimes a physical consequence is exactly what he needs.
It amazes me that we can sometimes fight with him for 45 minutes using timeouts and other reasoning techniques, but a couple of swats on the bum and an explanation of the reasoning behind the spanking will snap him out of misbehavior in 30 seconds. He’s not afraid of me afterward. I always take the time to explain how this was a consequence he chose because he refused to control his behavior when given the chances beforehand. It’s not some bad scene from a horror film, it’s a powerful teachable moment.
Discipline comes in many forms, and every one of those forms can become abusive if taken too far or used improperly. Singling out physical discipline for social damnation is not helpful. I think the best way to articulate my feelings on this issue is to quote one of the comments I most fervently agreed with on Charlie’s original post:
“Whichever form of discipline is used should not be satisfying to the parent’s upset emotions in any way and I think that is a better measuring stick for determining the health of a means of discipline.”
~ “Nia” on HowToBeADad.com
She nailed it.