Stop Beating Your kids: Should fear or pain be a parenting tool?

I was fairly well behave kid as a child. I tended to be a quiet sort who kept to myself, and liked it that way, even when my parents awkwardly tried to get me to be less introverted. I have a vague recollection of maybe one or two occurrences in which one of my parents resulted to spanking me, but these are only vague memories and were certainly not the norm.

I have much clearer memories of being spanked while in elementary school. Apparently I had a bit of a rambunctious phase around the first grade, during which I was sent to the principle’s office and swatted on the rear with a paddle on a few occasions.

I alluded to this having happened to my one of my parents a few years back, and was surprised to find them unaware that this had occurred. Either my parents had forgotten the relevant incidents or they were simply never told of them by the school. I to must not have mentioned these events to my parents. My best guess is that I chose not to tell my parents out of fear they would have inflicted further punishment on me for whatever transgression had earned me the original paddling.

Looking back had I told my parents it may have led to them complaining to the school or something more drastic, and maybe saved my hide a little, but my secrecy was exactly the type of behavior one would expect of someone living in fear of more punishment.

Our culture has a long history of keeping kids well behaved with the fear of punishment. I every so often hear allegations that what this or that kid needs is a good whacking on the rear. As one piece of hate mail to a fellow blogger asked: “Did your mommie and daddy pat you on the head and make you “short” when they should have been kicking you on the rear to push you “up?”

To me this approach to child discipline always has some fatal flaw. For one thing, children should not have to live in fear of physical violence. It’s basic human dignity. They will likely spend much of their adult lives submitting to bosses and other authorities, why not let them enjoy a little freedom while they can.

All to often, I have seen parents discipline their kids over the stupidest things: demands the children couldn’t possibly understand, minor questioning of authority (wich is likely a sign of intelligence), or infractions of norms the children do not yet have a sense of. Additionally, I have to ask, why any parents would want their relationship with their children to be one defined by fear?

If we use fear of violence as a motivation for “good behavior”, it inadvertently gives the message: “it’s only wrong if you get caught”. It teaches that one should only be well behaved just enough to avoid punishment, an no more so.

It is far more important that children learn to be good to others, purely for the rewards that come with being good to others. What good is an act of kindness or cooperativeness if it is not genuine, but is motivated purely out of fear? I am told that for young children, it takes a while to develop a strong since of empathy and to understand that the world does not revolve around them. Beating kids for this behavior before they even develop a since of right and wrong cannot be good for ones development.

It also gives the message that it is acceptable to use violence as a means of getting others to comply with your wishes. In deed, I can only wonder how many instances of schoolyard bullying are a reflection of lessons inadvertently taught at home. The line between abuse and what is considered acceptable corporal punishment is an unsurprisingly blurry one.

Unsurprisingly, while threats of spanking or beatings, may make for more short term compliance they, may be harmful to long term moral development, as well as mental health in general. Multiple studies have shown links between being hit at home with aggression in children and adults, though the severity of this has been disputed.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states “Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects.” They summarize their research as saying: “The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults.”

Other pediatrics societies around the developed world take similar if not stronger stances. Needless to say, there are many reasons why one should not take out their frustrations by inflicting violence on their children. One of the most saddening aspects of people beating their children is that they use religion to justify it.  More parents should think for themselves rather than subscribe to bronze age notions of child rearing. There countless other means at a creative parents disposal.

Editors note:  Since writing this piece, this video by John Bush has been brought to my attention, it makes a similar case to the one I make here, but from a slightly different point of view.

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One Response to Stop Beating Your kids: Should fear or pain be a parenting tool?

  1. Annie Marks says:

    What an interesting post. I was raised in a very Southern home in Alabama where my parents spanked me for “misbehaving”. What I was spanked for tended to be minor things that simply amounted to embarrassing my mother or father. It isn’t a secret that social standing is very important in Southern families, and one simply cannot have an embarrassment of a child. Since that time, I have referred to those spankings as being hit, specifically to my aunt. She replied, “Wait, did they hit you, or was it just a spanking?” I confirmed it was a spanking. She went on to say that well, that’s just a spanking, that isn’t abuse. “They didn’t HIT you.” That only added to my confusion as to whether or not a spanking is actually abuse. I’ve been struggling with that question a long time, and I really enjoyed reading this and the linked article, as they both make the point that spanking and beatings are actually detrimental to the child’s psyche.

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