Debate Over Spanking Children

Amy Finley
Little boy crying after receiving a spanking

Is spanking children an acceptable form of discipline? Read the pros and cons of using this parenting tactic before you make your decision.

Modern Controversy over Corporeal Punishment

In recent decades, experts in a variety of fields have turned a critical eye toward the use of spanking as punishment. As more information is garnered about a child's psychological and emotional development, the use of physical punishment to train a child has come under attack with increasing frequency. Spanking is one of the biggest sources of debate when it comes to the politics of parenting. There is much controversy over whether or not spanking a child is acceptable as discipline, with some parents standing by this method, and others staunchly advocating against its practice. Both California and Massachusetts have attempted without success to pass bills that would ban spanking as a form of discipline and make it illegal for parents to inflict physical punishment on their children. Paddlings in schools are still legal in 23 states.

Arguments against Spanking Children

Many family advocacy groups, psychologists, and other health professionals consider spanking to be inappropriate and recommend against its use. Arguments against spanking as a form of punishment include:

  • Spanking is not respectful of the child.
  • Spanking can be humiliating and harm the child emotionally and mental.
  • It teaches children that violence is acceptable and may increase violent tendencies, aggressions, and misbehaviors in children.
  • Use of spanking can be contradictory and confusing for a child - a spanking as a punishment for a child who was hitting, for example.
  • Arguments that spanking is a form of child abuse.
  • Spanking can cause severe rifts in the parent-child relationship and cause long-term emotional effects in the child.
  • Spanking on bare buttocks borders on or can be considered sexual abuse.
  • Spanking children does not teach an alternative method of behavior to prevent the wrongdoing from occurring again - in other words, it doesn't keep the child from making the same mistake twice.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in fact, spanking is considered the least effective disciplinary method parents can use.

Support for Spanking

Proponents of using spanking as a form of discipline argue that for some wrongdoings, children experience natural consequences -- and when they don't experience consequences, a parent should spank as a means to impart a negative association with the wrong behavior. Proponents also say that spanking allows a parent to immediately halt a dangerous behavior, such as a child running into the street. Many advocates of physical discipline believe it is acceptable as a traditional form of discipline, and/or that spanking is a necessary means of communicating a message about negative behavior to young children who may not understand verbal explanations.

Some of the strongest supports of spanking are fundamentalist religious groups. Pro-spanking Christians (as well as others) mistakenly adhere to the old adage "spare the rod and spoil the child." It's important to note, however, that Biblical passages referring to the "rod" and child discipline do not necessarily support physical punishment. There are arguments that the rod is used figuratively as a metaphor for guidance rather than an object used to inflict physical pain.

Non-Abusive Spanking

Spanking children excessively when a parent is angry over minor and many other scenarios can be considered abusive. If a parent chooses to spank as a form of discipline, he or she may want to consider the following tips to avoid disciplining in an abusive manner.

  • Never spank a child in anger.
  • Never spank a child in front of others or with the intention of humiliating or embarrassing that child.
  • Avoid multiple spankings.
  • Reserve the punishment for serious offenses.
  • Spanking is typically considered inappropriate for infants and children older than age 5 - babies cannot understand and older than five the child typically experiences humiliation.
  • Make sure the child understands exactly what wrong behavior s/he is receiving the spanking for. Discuss the issue calmly and discuss ways the behavior can be corrected in the future.

Alternatives Methods of Discipline

Parents may resort to spanking children because they were disciplined in that manner, they don't know any other method, or out of frustration or anger. There are, however, many ways to effectively discipline without physical punishment. Alternatives to spanking include:

  • Time out or temporary isolation
  • Ignoring the behavior when appropriate (i.e. whining)
  • Loss of privileges
  • Doing extra chores
  • Facing natural consequences or making retribution for actions
  • Verbal reprimand
  • Behavior Checklists

Although it's important to discipline children for doing wrong, it's also extremely important to use positive reinforcement. When you catch your children making the right choices, praise and encourage them. Make a habit to spend quality time with your child and encourage him or her in the things s/he is doing well. Enforcing the positive behaviors a child exhibits is often the best way to reduce negative behaviors before they occur.

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Debate Over Spanking Children