A sentence I’ve said all my life that shocked my peers: I’ve never been spanked. When that came out of my mouth, people always said they were jealous of me. I always responded by saying that my mother didn’t need to spank me, and also she didn’t feel it would punish me as well as other means of punishment. Despite this, I do think spanking can be an effective form of punishment, if it’s not done in excess, and if it’s not your go-to.
An opinion my mother always held, and I agree with, is that it depends on the child. Different children need different forms of punishment. If you’ve ever heard of the “five love languages,” then you know people communicate emotions differently. The love languages include “words of affirmation,” “quality time,” “touch,” “gifts,” and “acts of service.” The idea behind this is that people give and receive love differently. I personally think other emotions can be treated the same way. Some people are more impacted by physical punishment than words, and others are more impacted by restrictions on what they are able to do. For example, when I was a kid, if I got in trouble, I got yelled at for a period of time and then sent to my room. I didn’t have a television in my room, so I had very little to do. I was left in my room to think about whatever I did. For me, that punishment was enough, because I was left with my own thoughts, which usually strayed to whatever my mother had said. However, this might not work for some children. Some children may need different punishment, and sometimes that may include physical.
I don’t think there is anything ethically wrong with spanking a child every once in a while, as a form of negative reinforcement. It may be equally as effective as not spanking your child, and may yield positive results. For instance, a study done at Calvin College, surveying 2,600 people, said that students that were spanked as children perform better in school. This could be because spanking tends to instill fear of the parent performing the spanking, as well as respect. It is very difficult to spank your child, and only expect them to respect you; they’re going to fear you as well. If you’re okay with that, then I think it’s an acceptable form of punishment, as long as it’s not done in excess.
In 2014, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was controversially charged in severe abuse of his 4 year old after beating him with a switch. In my opinion, this is excess, and crosses the line from “a form of discipline,” to “beating.” I think spankings and beatings are different, and that’s because they are. The definition of a spanking, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the act of slapping, especially on the buttocks for children.” The definition of a beating is “an act of striking with repeated blows so as to cause injure or damage.” I’ve heard many people talk highly of beating their future kids, or of the beatings they received as children. Adrian Peterson defended his own act, saying “My kids will know, hey daddy has a biggie heart but don’t play no games when it comes to acting right.”
A quick spanking when a child says something bad, draws on the walls, or any other undesirable behavior is understandable. You don’t know the child’s personality yet, and it’s a quick, easy means of punishment. However, when that hitting goes beyond one or two strikes, it’s excessive. The child gets the point; there is no need to go overboard, especially when spanking has not been proven to be ANY more effective than other forms of punishment. The study at Calvin College is only an example of one study; there have been many more, although they haven’t found a lot of valid results one way or the other.
According to the American Psychological Association, corporal punishment typically makes kids more aggressive in the long term. In an interview done with children ages 3 to 7 from more than 100 families, children that were physically punished were more likely to turn to physical resolutions to problems with peers and siblings. Along with these cons to physical punishment, it instills fear. Some parents and pro-spanking people may see fear as respect, but you can have one without the other. The easiest way to have one without the other is by using forms of punishment other than spanking.
For a lot of people, they can’t fathom a form of punishment that isn’t spanking, because that is all they’ve known. However, there are many other ways to correct a child’s behavior, and those ways are just as valid and effective. Talk to your children like they’re people, explain why what they’re doing is wrong, and force them to think about it. You’re treating your child with respect, while still correcting the undesirable behavior. Spankings are an option, not the default.