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October 31, 2013 at 10:04 AMComments: 5 Faves: 0

Spanking: Good or Bad?

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

"Spare the rod, spoil the child," was once an oft-heard axiom in parenting. In other words, spanking a child for punishment is helpful in preventing unsavory behaviors. Many consider this sentiment "old school," as more recent "new school" opinions and data suggest that spanking causes more harm than red, painful buttocks. Opinions vary widely on this topic. As a doctor and a father of four children, I want to do, and advise, what is right.

Pro-Spanking

Any view that I have encountered over the years that supports spanking emphasizes correct usage of the punishment. In other words, spanking must be consistent with the transgression and take place in a controlled setting. Parents who are merely frustrated or angry shouldn't be spontaneously spanking their kids. This punishment must consistently take place in the same location, such as the buttocks or the back of the hand. Additionally, most proponents advocate that love must be expressed after the spanking is delivered and perhaps even before in a "sandwich" fashion. 

Many people advocate backup spanking. In this model, a child is punished with something at the outset (such as 'time out' or withholding privileges). If the child remains uncooperative or defiant, a spanking is then delivered. It's argued that this technique also allows parents to contemplate, plan, and defuse any of their own frustrations or anger. Some studies have shown that among children with overly punitive parents, overly permissive parents, and those who practiced backup spanking, the latter group fared better in their discipline and emotional adjustment. It should be noted that any such study invites criticism of bias, small sample size, and sample variability.

Anti-Spanking

The anti-spanking camp has gained momentum in recent years. Research is emerging linking adults who were spanked as children to an increased prevalence of various problems. It's argued that kids who are spanked grow to see this form of hitting as a solution to a problem. 

This claim is supported by data that shows that people with a history of being spanked are more prone to commit crime, assault others such as hitting classmates on a playground, or hit parents or spouses. A study last year published by the National Institute of Health based on epidemilogic data from over 34,000 adults showed that being spanked as a child increased the prevalence of adult mental illness. A study published last week in the journal Pediatrics took a close look at 2,000 nine-year-old children and the punishments they had received in earlier years. It showed that kids spanked even occasionally around the age of five exhibited more aggression and a lower vocabulary. 

Societal Views on Spanking

31 countries have banned corporal punishment in the home, but the U.S. is not yet among them. Large associations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have weighed in against the practice of spanking. Still, about half of American parents report having spanked their children.

My Personal Views

My older children have been spanked. As a young parent, I received a lot of the "spare the rod" philosophy when I asked for advice. As I've read more and paved my own way as a parent, this maxim seems outdated given the risks, benefits, and alternatives. However, I don't chastise parents who spank their children, as long as they combine it with love consistently. Admittedly, though, it is hard to pushing anger out the door in laying down discipline. As such, I tend to place the act of spanking children on a slippery slope (spanking vs. hitting, spanking vs. abuse).

Alternatives

The most popular discipline tool presently is called "1-2-3 Magic," which is outlined in a book by psychologist Thomas Phelan. The technique involves a systmatic counting of one to three and then putting the child in time out. For more information, check out the website.

In Conclusion

Spanking is the most talked about and controversial issue in parenting. Different parents have different views, and different research proves different points. The only sure thing in this whole mix is that children will misbehave. While I hesitate to give a strong view on either side of this controversy, I do think it's important to kick anger out of any disciplinary technique used and to focus on the big picture with our little loved ones - teaching them about the consequences for their poor choices or behaviors while preserving love throughout.

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5 Comments

  • I'm not sure I used time out with my kids, I don't remember it!

    When I was growing up I never even new what grounded was until I was in high school and some of the kids would say "I can't I'm grounded," I had to ask my parents what that meant.

  • My parents rarely spanked, but I remember what I did and that I deserved it when it happened. I remember that my father never did when he was angry either. I never punish my children when I am irritated. I wait. I tell them, they will be punished later, let them think about it also.

  • I don't think most parents that spank their children could be called "abusive," but I do think there is a better, more effective way to correct bad behavior in a child. I prefer the "Love and Logic" approach. Consequences that fit the behavior logically.

    For instance, my daughter was throwing a tantrum one day, ran into her room, and slammed her door, breaking her mirror. Rather than spanking her, it made more sense to me that she have to clean up the mess, earn money doing chores to pay for a new mirror, and put the new mirror up.

    Spanking condones physical violence against other people in a way (rather than using words to express displeasure) and couldn't teach her what that taught her. We face many negative consequences of our actions as adults, but spanking isn't one. Love and Logic requires more thought and effort on the part of parents than spanking does, but I feel it's worth it to prepare her the world she will one day have to navigate on her own.

  • I have discovered that after all I had thought I had taught my children, it was all about what I view was good for them....As I see my grandchildren grow into there teenage years, I see they are very well adjusted young people....I have also seen their parents both be active in there lives and that also covers training to do things, using your moral sciences, We do some things because it is necessary, and some because it is right....I really love teaching children at an early age, it is easier to learn right from wrong.....At any age you can understand the moral science, and what is necessary, physical punishment only causes you to use when you have no more ideas.....

  • I cover the main tenets of the Love and Logic approach in my article "Love and Logic Parenting: 7 Tips for a Better Parent/Child Relationship" for anyone who is interested: https://www.smartlivingnetwork.com/parenting/b/love-and-logic-parenting/

    This is based off a set of books called "Parenting with Love and Logic" that I highly recommend. There is a book for any age and stage of development you child may be in. :)

    I agree with Donna, the younger you start, the better!

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