Is Spanking a Child an Appropriate Form of Discipline?
No civilized parent ever wants to spank a child. Yet quite a few do.
The numbers suggest that even though parents generally oppose physical punishment, at least half have occasionally spanked their young children.
An ABC poll, conducted in 2014, found that 65 percent of Americans approve, in principle, of spanking children and that 50 percent had done so at home.
Similarly, a 2014 national survey of 2,538 adults by General Social Survey found that 7 in 10 participants believe a “good, hard spanking is sometimes necessary to discipline a child.” The results, published in the Washington Post, also revealed that millennials (ages 18–29) were more likely to endorse occasional spanking (74 percent) than previous generations (70 percent for ages 40–49, 64 percent for ages 65+).
Even some opposed to physical punishment consider a spanking perfectly acceptable when the safety of the child is at stake. A child, for instance, who reaches to touch a hot stove or darts into the street, might need to be admonished immediately and forcefully.
“Spanking is not fun for me. I get no enjoyment from it, I get no sense of power, no sense of ‘victory.’ But I do feel it is necessary at times,” a parent writes on the Cincinnati Mom’s Blog. Those times, she says, include: “repeated offenses where my child’s safety is in danger, lying, and repeated acts of disobedience after other forms of discipline have been used.”
Proponents of occasional spanking say that it can provide an instant solution when dealing with an unruly preschooler. But experts maintain that spanking due to anger is not acceptable. It’s better to take a step back and consider other deterrents such as “timeouts.” Spanking, which may teach children to fear, rather than respect, parents, can warp a child’s view of proper interaction and even lead to violent outbursts down the road.
“We know that it doesn’t work and we also know that it reinforces behaviors that, in the long run, we shouldn’t be reinforcing,” says Dr. Elisabeth Guthrie, associate clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center.
“Choosing not to spank is a great choice, but it is important to decide what to do instead,” wrote psychotherapist Andrea Nair in The Atlantic. “Spanking might scare children into stopping a behavior, but it does not get them to think rationally or want to cooperate. It also doesn’t teach people how to manage big emotions or develop conflict skills.”
According to Positive Parenting.com, spanking perpetuates violence in society. “It takes its toll on a child’s self-esteem, dampening his enthusiasm and causing him to be rebellious and uncooperative.”
What constitutes “spanking” is subject to debate and can skew the numbers. While some might consider an open-handed tap to a well-padded bottom perfectly fine, they may vehemently oppose striking a child to cause pain, use of a belt, or a slap to bare skin.
“I believe spanking genuinely confuses children,” psychologist and TV host Dr. Phil McGraw, (Dr. Phil) wrote on his site. “I believe they think to themselves . . . ‘OK, let me get this right. You are supposed to love me, nurture me, and protect me from harm, and now you are standing there, five times my size, and hitting me and inflicting physical pain? Hmmm . . . I don’t get it.’ Will spanking suppress behavior in the short term? Yes. Does it teach a lesson that can be internalized and used later in the form of self-discipline? I don’t think so.”
Proponents of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy often note that they were spanked as children and turned out just fine. Some say it helped them gain a respect for authority and understand there are consequences to their actions.
“I think those people saying they turned out OK are lucky,” says Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a Connecticut-based psychologist specializing in parenting, teens, and family, who says spanking instills feelings of shame and embarrassment. “They might have turned out ‘more OK’ if they weren’t spanked.”
What do you think? Have you ever spanked a child? How did your child react? Have you ever resisted the temptation, and what form of discipline did you employ instead? Please share your thoughts with our readers.
Seth Livingstone is a veteran writer and editor who has spent much of his career in sports journalism covering multiple Olympic Games, Super Bowls, World Series, and Daytona 500s. He covered the Boston Red Sox throughout the 1980s and 1990s before joining USA Today and Baseball Weekly in 1999. He maintains his membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America and is a Hall of Fame voter. Seth holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northeastern University and has also worked as a substitute teacher (all grades and subjects). He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and has two grown children.