Thankfully, the media paid next to no attention to the fact that last April 30 was “End Spanking Day” as proclaimed by a group calling itself EPOCH—End Physical Punishment of Children. My former graduate school advisor and continuing mentor forwarded an e-mail to me from one of EPOCH’s members.
|Photo: Anita Nowack
These people don’t like the idea of spanking children; therefore, spanking is bad. And they’ve had minor success in their attempts to persuade activist judges and state legislators—most recently in California—to make unconstitutional rulings from the bench and introduce bills into the legislature that would outlaw parental spanking.
It rarely fails that, when I open the floor for questions at a speaking engagement, someone will ask if I believe in spanking. My response is always that whereas I don’t believe in it in the sense of promoting it, I do feel that there are times when a spanking is the optimal response to certain misbehaviors. Over the years, I’ve written several columns in which I’ve said essentially the same thing, and those columns never fail to provoke near hysteria among the usual suspects.
Unfortunately for us all, the cultural debate over whether to spank or not to spank has devolved into a shouting match between extremists. On the right, we have folks who believe that God insists that parents spank.
Having done considerable research into the various uses of the word rod in the Bible and consulted with Old Testament scholars, I can say with confidence that when used in the context of the discipline of children, the word rod is clearly a metaphor. It does not exclude spankings, but it doesn’t prescribe them. Saying that, however, apparently convinces some folks that I’m an agent of Satan.
On the left, we have people who believe that a swat to a child’s rear teaches that hitting is OK and is child abuse of the most egregious kind. The fact is, child abuse actually increased in Sweden after the passage of laws banning parental spanking.
Futhermore, research done by people who have no ideological axe to grind supports the view that occasional spankings cause no psychological harm. One long-term study of parenting outcomes, regarded as one of the best in the field, found that children who are spanked occasionally score significantly higher on measures of well-being and adjustment than children who have never been spanked. (Please not the emphasis on the word occasionally.) The research also finds that spankings work best with young children, and lose their effect after the age of five.
An so, with that introduction, the rest of the story: The parents of a 22-month-old child recently wrote to tell me that after eight months of frustration over his habit of biting they solved it in two weeks by, yes, spanking him. Up to that point, they had justified his biting by saying, “He doesn’t bite hard,” “He never breaks the skin,” “He hugs after he bites as if to say he’s sorry.” They finally came to the realization that if he knows it’s wrong to bite, then he’s old enough to control it. So they began spanking his bottom when he bit. He had three spankings in one day, and then one or two the next week. “End of problem,” his mother wrote.
Sometimes, fire really is best fought with fire.