Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Spanking: the Problem or the Solution?

From babysitting, to daycare, to outdoor education, to nannying, I've cared for children, ages 2+, in almost every capacity spanning nearly two decades.  I've been required to take courses on age-appropriate discipline techniques for some of my jobs & courses on how to recognize signs of abuse. Legally, spanking was not an option even though some parents trusted me enough to give me permission to spank if I felt it was necessary.  Spanking is so far removed from my bag of discipline techniques at this point, I don't feel it's an appropriate way to discipline our son, Klaw.

I shared the article, Mothers' Spanking of 3-Year-Old Children and Subsequent Risk of Children's Aggressive Behavior, from the Journal of American Pediatrics on my personal Facebook page and asked for people's thoughts. The scope of the article is incredibly limited; it involves the discipline of 3 year olds and the behavior of 5 year olds.  That's it.  You can't draw long-term conclusions from that limited amount of information, even though the article's abstract points to that.  I'm sure most people will only read the abstract (I'm a cynic).  The conclusion within the actual article states that "this study adds to the growing body of
literature suggesting that parental use of CP may lead to increased child aggression." (emphasis mine)

When I asked my friends to define spanking, the general consensus was that an acceptable spanking involved an open palm & a swat on the child's behind.  Using a paddle or belt, swatting any other part of the body, or leaving a mark took the spanking to an unacceptable level.  Most of the people involved in the discussion had spanked at some point or did not have an issue with spanking as a form of discipline, even if it was one they would not choose to utilize.  A concurrent discussion on Twitter had far more people that did not agree with spanking as an acceptable form of discipline, even though several did not consider parents who spank to be abusive.

It's a fallacy to state, "I was (blank) and I'm fine; therefore, (blank) is fine." I don't think that's a good argument to use defend most things, especially where children are concerned.  For example, I was spanked and I'm fine.  My mom & Nana did not abuse me by spanking me.  I am not damaged by it nor was I traumatized by it.  This does not mean that every child who is spanked is also fine.  An acquaintance on Twitter and some Facebook friends absolutely feel that the corporal punishment they received as children was both abusive and traumatizing.  My experience does not trivialize the realities of their experiences.

NurtureShock was introduced to me through Twitter and it touches on a ton of parenting issues and research.  The relevant part about spanking rang true for me: "their data suggested that if a culture views spanking as the normal consequence for bad behavior, kids aren’t damaged by its occasional use." I grew up in a culture, community, and family where spanking was a routine part of discipline.  It wasn't a shock if I did something wrong and got spanked.  I was spanked by other parents and caregivers, as were many of the children in my community.  It is very possible that some of the kids I grew up with do feel that they were abused by being spanked; I'm just not one of them.

On the flip side, I can say with certainty that it's a fallacy to state that everyone who spanks is abusive and everyone who is spanked is abused.  Another study by Dr. Marjorie Gunnoe is attempting to determine both positive & negative outcomes from children who were spanked & were not spanked on a much larger scale.  The first round of research provided some interesting information:

those who’d been spanked just when they were young—ages 2 to 6—were doing a little better as teenagers than those who’d never been spanked. On almost every measure. 
A separate group of teens had been spanked until they were in elementary school. Their last spanking had been between the ages of 7 and 11. These teens didn’t turn out badly, either.
Compared with the never-spanked, they were slightly worse off on negative outcomes, but a little better off on the good outcomes.
Only the teenagers who were still being spanked clearly showed problems.

This is not some groundbreaking conclusive report, but it does show a different side of the coin and it covers a much larger span than just two years of growth. It doesn't disprove the loads of research finding negative consequences to physical discipline. It also does not change my decision to not spank my child.  It definitely doesn't mean that only spanked children will be successful.

Discipline issues are not simply resolved by spanking or not spanking; any parent or caregiver who has dealt with a sensitive child or a child with sensory issues understands this to the extreme.  However, spanking is a very controversial topic that immediately puts people on the defensive and divides parents instead of bringing us together.  The real issue in discipline & perhaps the most difficult aspect of it, whatever method you choose, is consistency.


I lean towards the concept of natural & logical consequences as a form of discipline.  It is what worked best for me caring for and educating other children before I even knew there was a name for it.

What is your biggest challenge disciplining children?  What have you found that works best?  How does your discipline style compare with the way you were disciplined as a child?
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