What Does Spanking Teach?

I clicked onto Facebook and was greeted by one of those old-timey drawings of a family, smiling as they gathered around a book together. The caption reminisced about the good ole days when parents could beat their children “so they learned to respect others.” The 61,000 LIKES under the picture made my stomach hurt. They confirmed just how many people still believe that spanking is a necessary component of raising respectful kids.

“My parents spanked me, and I turned out ok,” is the common explanation from parents who spank. My parents spanked me, too, but I don’t remember feeling respectful when they hit me. I do remember feeling humiliated and afraid. I don’t hold it against them. They were parents of their time, and didn’t know what to do differently. But there is too much research available to today’s parents, discouraging the use of spanking, for society to continue to excuse this practice.

positive parentingElizabeth Gershoff, a leading researcher on spanking in the United States, says, “There’s no study that I’ve ever done that’s found a positive consequence of spanking, Most of us will stop what we’re doing if somebody hits us, but that doesn’t mean we’ve learned why somebody hit us, or what we should be doing instead, which is the real motive behind discipline.”

Spanking is nothing more than using physical force against someone who can’t defend himself. If an adult hits another adult, we call it assault. If an adult hits a child that isn’t theirs, they’re likely to be arrested. We never call hitting “an acceptable way to handle a problem,” except when a parent hits their own child.

Furthermore, if a child hits another child, or if a child hits a parent, we speak sternly: “Don’t hit! Hitting is wrong! Use your words!” Yet somehow, if our words are delivered along with a spanking, it’s ok. How confusing that must be for children!

Spanking is easy, and as Gershoff said, parents do it because they think the child is “learning a lesson.” Perhaps. But which lesson?

*If you decide to do that again, make sure you don’t get caught.You need to be smarter/sneakier.
*Making a mistake can be dangerous. Hide your mistakes or make excuses so you don’t get blamed.
*If you’re older and bigger, it’s ok to hit those who are younger or smaller.

NOT spanking is harder because we must take the time and effort to find and use other strategies. Do we want to teach in a way that evokes fear and avoidance? Or do we want our kids to trust that they can tell us when they’ve made a mistake and need help making amends? If they won’t come to us when something goes wrong, who will they go to?

We can teach without hitting. And when we do, we are more likely to achieve that happy family of the Facebook post because we will be modeling the respectful behavior that we want from our kids.

Eva Dwight is a parent and family coach. For more information, go to www.creativecoachingconversations.com.