Our reader who wrote the remarkable email that sparked the thread follows up again:
I just wanted to thank everyone, so very much, for the conversation threads and for the editorial care. Reading the emails has been a difficult, emotionally tricky experience – and an unexpectedly healing one, too. I’m profoundly grateful for it all.
The conversation continues:
Wow, this is probably the most amazing thread on the Dish to date, and there’ve been some good ones. And the key is to see all sides of the debate, not just what may be “right”. Publishing emails from those who justify abuse is just as important, so we can see what the cycle of violence produces.
My beatings always came from the by-products of my disinterest in school. I was pretty sharp as a kid, but I never liked the doldrums of doing homework. I’d get report card after report card stating that assignments were not turned in, effort was lacking, etc, even though I usually did well on the tests. The days those wretched reports came (8 times a year) were usually pretty awful. I think your original reader nailed it: no child is equipped to handle such psychological terror.
For instance, I knew that the train from the city to the suburbs arrived in the station at 6:13pm. Calculating the drive to our house: 11 minutes. A minute to put his things down, and then my mom would share the bad news with him: 3 minutes. Then the footsteps on the stairs that didn’t take long. So all afternoon, after arriving from school and finding that goddamn carbon-copied paper sitting on the kitchen counter, I’d wonder if the train would be late, or if he’d stop to get gas, offering me a few more minutes of either relief or terror, not sure which.
If everything was on schedule, I was going to get slapped around 6:28pm. I’d wait in my room, knowing that the door would soon open and I’d have to endure not only the physical hell, but the emotional hell. After one time when he ruined my glasses because they were on my face for the first hit, he’d always tell me to take my glasses off with deceptive calm. After the slapping was over and I’d calmed down enough to think again, there would follow a two-hour discussion of the merits of school and responsibility and such, me sitting there in shame with a prickling face.
Another reader shifts the focus to school itself:
I grew up in the South, but my mom was fairly progressive and my parents were divorced. So my experience with corporal punishment was in school. The teachers, who were often also the football coaches, took great pride in their paddles.
Massive, two-handed affairs with holes drilled to reduce wind resistance, painted in fearsome colors. Or a stack of yard sticks, since they would most certainly be broken if used. Switches weren’t used because, darn it, the kids needed to be clothed (I knew one guy who wore four pairs of underwear when he knew he was in trouble).
My personal experience in the ’60s and ’70s was that some kids had it a lot worse at home. The school paddling stung, but because it was done in front of the class, the embarrassment was also a part of the punishment. In general, I was a pretty good kid, so I only experienced it a few times and don’t really think of it as traumatizing. But the stories of some kids home lives was deeply disturbing to me. My best friend was so beat one day that he asked to be allowed to stand in class. He had to go the the nurse when blood started leaking through his pants.
Now I have my own child. I can’t tell you that I haven’t been tempted to hit him. Especially when he was younger, it seemed like he was deliberately obnoxious. But not so. We found that there were ways to negatively and positively incentivize him that didn’t require embarrassment or pain, like taking away a GameBoy or dessert.
Anyway, our boy now is well behaved, and I thank God I never hit him. If I had, I would have started an escalation that would have required more and more hitting to achieve “results”. Only as so many others have indicated, it rarely has the desired corrective affect; it just relieves the parents tension at the moment. But instead, my son is attentive, and responsive to correction. He now responds most to my disappointment; words aren’t even needed many times.
Another tackles a previous reader:
I just read again more justifications for hitting children as a form of discipline. This line struck me:
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.
First, I truly wonder if this person has really worked in the prison population. My father did for years and it was very clear that the majority of the inmates were abused as children. There were not many (if any) from “indulged” backgrounds. Further, failure to perform physical violence on a child is not a form of indulgence. Indulgence connotes that improper behavior is tolerated without consequence. Such parenting is really neglect because the parent broadcasts to the child that no behavior (good or bad) can raise the parent’s attention. This lack of attentiveness creates no boundaries for children and children clearly suffer without boundaries.
Boundaries include discipline but spanking does not have to be than form of discipline. Spanking sends the wrong message. What children learn is that hitting is an acceptable method of resolving problems. For example, if my daughter hits my son, how is punishing her by hitting her in turn effective? What the child learns is that the bigger and stronger party controls the aggressive behavior.
But many readers are still defending corporal punishment:
Some kids need to be spanked sometimes, period. Not beaten, cut, smashed, bruised or battered, but swatted smartly on their backside. Why? Because nothing else works with some kids and some kids, particularly smart, willful kids, will figure out pretty quickly – as our grandson has done – that they can throw a temper tantrum in public and either get whatever they want or force their parents to leave. Our son and daughter-in-law refuse to swat our grandson’s little behind and stick him in his crib until he comes around. As a result, he plays his parents like a fiddle.
You haven’t been down this road, so you are on the outside looking in. You are hearing from folks whose parents, usually the father, went well beyond what any sane parent has in mind when disciplining a child.
If there is any tolerable reason to strike your kid, this reader has it:
I have been following the thread on spanking with interest. I find the idea of breaking a child’s spirit utterly abhorrent, especially through violence.
And yet, for my eldest son, I had to resort to some tactics I hated. From the time he could walk, he tried to run in front of cars. The moment we stepped outside, if there was a moving vehicle anywhere, he tried to get in front of it. Heavy traffic made him squeal with delight and he would do everything in his power to go and be in it.
The only way, and I mean the ONLY way – I tried everything – to get him to stop running in front of speeding vehicles was to spank him. He’d lunge for the street, I’d yank him back and whack him on the butt (hand only, his clothes on, not hard enough to bruise, but hard enough to get his attention.) He’d wail in protest. Rinse and repeat. For a year and a half. He finally, around his fourth birthday, figured out that he was not supposed to run in front of cars.
Did I break his spirit? I think you could say that the part of him that took joy in the glory of several tons of metal bearing down on him is probably gone forever. I look at it as doing what’s necessary for him to make it to adulthood, or at least to an age where he can puzzle out the harsh consequences of the laws of physics for himself.
Update from a reader with a strong counterpoint:
I’m calling bullshit again. This parent says that she spanked her son for a year and a half when he tried to dart into traffic, and it sounds like this happened pretty much every day. Well, obviously spanking DID NOT WORK. If it did, then after two or three spankings, he would have learned to not run into traffic. Instead, what likely happened was that traffic lost its attraction for him around age 4 (just as knocking over block towers probably became less interesting around age 2). Spanking her son had NO effect on his behavior.
I would have recommended she get one of those leash things and then test him every two or three months without (and with another adult to run interference if he dashed for the traffic again).
Another is on the same page:
There are products specifically designed for this! Many children try to run off and there are restraining systems built for it, thus eliminating the need for spanking. If that parent could stop them with their hand, they easily could have put a leash on him before going outside.
Yes, it’s a parent’s job to keep them from harm. But not to inflict it.