When Does Spanking Become Child Abuse? Ctd

Before our discussion thread continues, here’s a followup from the reader who sparked it:

I could have never sent that email without having read the post from your reader about her rape – the courage to say what happened, what it felt like, what it set in motion … and the trust to send it. No, I wouldn’t have had the personal courage without her example.

And I’d have to guess that neither of us could’ve done it without what you and your Dish team have made. No matter what else is true, how often I disagree with you, I know The Dish is a place of real integrity, staffed by people of real integrity. And unlike the reader who responded that she learned to respect her mother while being “punished,” I learned no such thing. For me, power and force aren’t the cornerstones of personal (or familial) authority, and my genuine respect can’t be either demanded or commanded. (I perform that respect in my social and professional lives, of course, but that’s different.) You and your team, and what you do every day, how you do it: that I respect and trust.

Thank you for making a safe and honorable place for me – and so many others – to share the personal details buried beneath these important debates. It boggles the mind, how much work and care it must take to maintain The Dish’s culture. It’s why I subscribed on day one, and why I will continue to support you all however I can.

My thoughts on the matter here. Meanwhile, another reader points to some gray area:

The stories about spanking and whipping and beating children have been awful and difficult to read. As the father of two children, I spank both of them, so I feel compelled to write in.

This message is difficult to convey without the context of my life history. I come from a solid middle-class family.  I was spanked as a child.  My brother was spanked as a child.  It was never a beating.  I never felt like I was abused.  I was spanked with a paddle – actually a converted cutting board that hung on the kitchen wall.

I recall only one time I was spanked in anger, by my father, and I was probably nine or ten.  What I remember most about that incident is that he was so frustrated because he, as an only child, always had a difficult time understanding why my brother and I fought so loudly and frequently; we were indeed duking it out downstairs in the playroom.  And so he came downstairs, yanked me off my brother, popped my on the bottom one good time, got my brother up and popped him one good time – and then it happened.  The paddle broke.

I tell you this in all honesty: it was incredibly funny and my brother and I stifled laughter.  There was my father – proud, wonderful, loving, incredibly frustrated at that particular point in time, and completely deflated because his prop – the one he was using to make his point – literally fell apart in his hand.  He just looked at the paddle, saw the stifled laughs on our faces, threw the paddle to the ground and implored, “Why can’t you two just get along?” and sent us to our rooms where we could mercifully laugh in private.

Let me tell you, I have told that story many times (and with a good bit of embellishment) while my brother and I wiped tears of laughter from our faces.  We were always loved.  We were never beaten.  We were never abused.  But boy were we spanked.  And I’ll defend it as effective to my dying day.

And I spank.  I spank my five year old because he’s five and he needs a daggum spanking to get his attention sometimes.  Every once in awhile, so does my three year old.  I have never spanked them multiple times in an episode.  I have never left a mark.  I have never spanked them with the intention of striking fear into their little hearts. It doesn’t happen on a daily, or even weekly basis.  I’ve never used a belt or a switch or a paddle or anything other than my open palm.  But I have occasionally spanked hard enough that it hurt a little.

And I am a damn good parent.  I love my children immeasurably.  Unconditionally.  Unabashedly.  I live for my kids.  They are wonderful kids.  They get spankings.  And I’m not the only parent I know using spankings to discipline children (in an appropriate way, in my opinion).  So I think it’s vitally important to distinguish between spankings and abuse.  Certainly, spankings can be used in an abusive manner, but there is a difference.  The stories you have shared are horrific and I cannot imagine ever inflicting that kind of pain and suffering on any child.  They weren’t spanked.  They were abused.  Plain and simple. To lump spankers like me (and so many I know) with the parents described by your readers is completely unfair.  Can we have a conversation about whether there are more appropriate ways to punish kids than by spanking?  Sure!  And I’m happy  to have it – until you accuse me of abusing my kids simply because I admit I spank, and will continue to spank, my kids.

Another reader who defends spanking:

You wrote, “Hitting people, especially when those people are small and defenseless and dependent on your care, is such a lazy and cruel way to discourage bad behavior.” Really?

I am a mental health therapist who has worked for some 14 years primarily with children and families.  When I first started, I worked for a foster care agency providing mental health services to foster children and their biological families.  Many of the children I worked with entered care with severe conduct problems, including repeated incidents of running from home, stealing, sexually abusing others, using drugs and alcohol, prostitution (i.e.,  submission to sexual abuse for money or a place to stay because the child is on the run), etc.

While some of the children were victims of substantiated abuse and neglect, there were other children who had not only never been physically abused, they were never really even disciplined. And I noticed that some of these children were among the ones with more severe cases of conduct problems both in terms of severity and chronicity.

It turns out that there is research that shows that for children ages 2 to 7 especially, spanking is an effective disciplinary technique. And this is especially true for children who have strong personalities and are difficult to discipline because, among other things, they refuse to submit to whatever consequence they are given as a result of their misbehavior.  When normative spanking is defined as two swats on the butt with an open palm, administered to get the child to comply with, say, a time out, children rapidly learn to comply with time out such that the parent can actually successfully use disciplinary techniques besides spanking.

Every child is different.  Some are compliant, some are not.  Some will work for praise; others could care less.

So a lazy parent is not one who spanks to obtain control over their child (and by the way, control over your child is a prerequisite to effective parenting if you are to successfully guide your child through childhood to adulthood).  It is in my experience that a lazy parent is one who simply allows the child to do what they please in lieu of actually having to discipline, especially when discipline means the parent having to take steps they would prefer not to take, such as a spanking.

Indulgence is not a kindness.  It is a parent’s job to raise an adult, not a life-long child incapable of tolerating frustration or following rules.  If you think the results of spanking are bad, you should visit some of my former indulged clients in prison.

Those who are interested in knowing more about the impact of spanking on children may want to look at Robert E. Larzelere and Diana Baumrind’s article “Are Spanking Injunctions Scientifically Supported?“, 73 Law and Contemporary Problems 57-88 (Spring 2010).