Spanking bans, good idea or not?

The title above refers to the choice of some nations to completely outlaw spanking as a tool for discipline for parents.  The choice is generally made by leaders and legislators who equate any spanking at all — any sort of corporal punishment — with child abuse.

I clearly do not feel the same way.  Now, I certainly do feel that if spanking is the only tool a parent has for disciplining a child, he or she is an ineffective parent, indeed.  And I feel that choosing to spank takes wisdom.  (How many aspects of child-rearing do not?)  But to completely equate the spanking of a child by a parent to child abuse without any qualification whatsoever is ignorant at best and dogmatically stupid at worst.

I’ve written about this topic before.  Most directly, you can read my thoughts in these two posts:

But I mention it now because of a Wall Street Journal article I read on the topic that is really balanced, discussing the scientifically demonstrated benefits to children of appropriate spanking and the mistaken thoughts of those who believe spanking is all there is to disciplining children.  You might consider reading it yourself: “Spare the spanking, spoil the report card?” (Subtitle: “What a new study and the Bible say about punishing children.”)

Reading the article should be encouraging to those who believe that spanking is a valid tool for parents who are devoted to rearing successful, happy children, while also serving as a warning to those who wield it unthinkingly and unreflectively.

Actually, it reminded me of another article I had read in, of all places, the Akron Law Review: “The Science and Statistics Behind Spanking Suggest that Laws Allowing Corporal Punishment are in the Best Interests of the Child” by Jason M. Fuller.  (The website contains the abstract of the paper, but the entire paper is downloadable from there.)

As these articles make it clear, those countries that ban spanking outright really have no idea what they are doing and may end up harming more children than they help.

I’ve discussed before other things my wife and I have done instead of spanking (e.g., “Children in Church Services” and “Twilight and Children in Church sure bring ’em in!”), but I readily and happily admit that spanking has also been among our tools in child-rearing.  It’s certainly a topic that deserves more discussion than this blog post will give it, but I really thought that the WSJ article and the Akron Law Review article were both worth passing along.

We have great resources on the Tomorrow’s World website, as well, including our booklet “Successful Parenting God’s Way” and many articles, such as this one by the late evangelist John H. Ogwyn, “What Is Happening to Our Kids?” (which I found by doing a search on the word “discipline”).  Check them out!

(Click to read or order free booklet, "Successful Parenting God's Way"

10 thoughts on “Spanking bans, good idea or not?

  1. Norbert

    After reading the comments and most links plus an episode of “Supernanny”, I’m now of the opinion banning spanking is a good idea, albeit it’s not the best idea. It’s definitely not a black and white idea in today’s world.

    Concidering that parenting is something that does not come as naturally for some as it does for others. I would almost think the solution is to offer a parenting exam, much like a drivers exam, before ever being allowed to spank. To which the word ‘absurd’ comes to mind or perhaps “Looney Toons!” is a better description.

    I’m of the opinion that the idea of banning spanking has in large part been a result of ‘spanking abuse’ rather than it does with abusing children. That there’s some serious humor (not the haha kind) in a world that’s trying to make amends for feeling guilty of not being their brother’s keeper.

  2. Thanks, Norbert. I would have to say that banning spanking is, actually, a horrible idea, which these studies help to illustrate. I can understand a desire to address certain wrongs, but to ban spanking seems as looney to me as a carpenters’ union trying to improve the quality of their profession by banning sandpaper or table saws. When a properly used (in this case, biblically sanctioned) tool provides exactly the results that society is striving to see, how much sense does it make to ban the tool? None.

    As for a “parenting exam,” I agree: total Looney Toons. I think the garbage already floating out there (e.g., the Convention on the Rights of the Child) give us a frightening preview of the sort of ungodly beast such an exam would be.

  3. Clan Leslie

    all i can say is God put it there for us to use as a tool, and used properly can sure make a difference in the life of the child and parents. how many times have my husband and i been asked, ‘whatever we are doing, keep doing it.”, or “how do you get them to do that?”…it is surely becoming a scary world….

  4. Norbert

    There are differences and similiarities in perspective between the church and the rest of the world. I agree that within the church having to teach a ban on spanking is beyond a horrible idea. While within the world even the strictest driving exams haven’t stopped irresponsible driving habits. Because, as with all tools there will be people who use them irresponsibly. Even those within the church aren’t given some absolute divine immunty to that.

    And indeed there is an extemely dangerous intersection there for men like yourself Mr. Smith between church and state. Where in some places the laws exist holding men in pastoral positions accountable for not coming forward and reporting child abuse.

    As a hypothetical situation, what happens to a pastor who promotes and encourages spanking, where later it is a school, a hospital or some other social agency that becomes aware and shows that a couple under his guidance is excessively disciplining their child?

    I believe and did have in mind that spanking is the best idea but only if it is taught WISELY, the why, when and how to spank or not to spank. Which takes a lot of courage to explain from a pulpit nowadays. Seeing that there may be a possiblity where circumstances can be turned around and they attempt to devour those who advocate it.

    So I’m of the opinion to discuss spanking nowadays, it is necessary in one breath to advocate it but in the next breath to ban it.

    Eph 6:4 & Col 3:21

  5. Steve

    Our family practiced spanking. We had strict rules about its application, however. Our preferred method was time-outs and take-aways. Spanking was restricted to the child hurting a playmate, or creating some kind of imminent physical danger.

    You don’t slap a kid because he spilled milk. That’s abuse. You have him clean it up (with your supervision and help). It’s not a big deal.
    “Uh oh!”

    Hitting a playmate over a toy is a different matter, though.

    We always spanked in a structured way. Explain to him why he is getting spank. Tell him how many spanks. Bend him over your knee and count them out. Start easy then build up. Make it sting, but never never abuse him. Then make peace afterward (which might take a few minutes).

    Thankfully, spanking only occurred once in a blue moon. And we never had to spank them after they started school. They’re teenagers now, making straight A’s in honor classes, are popular, other-minded, and have sound reputations. They weren’t damaged.

    However, I’ve seen other families where parents hit their kid over every little thing. It makes my blood boil. You know?

  6. Hi Mr. Smith,

    Consider one thing that arose out of the Victorian era’s ethic: “caning” schoolboys and “tanning” older boys in boarding school (in England). I’m not English of course, but thanks to Ann Thwaite’s excellent biography of A.A. Milne, I learned more than I ever thought I’d see about the practices as they existed during A.A. Milne’s and Christopher (Robin) Milne’s youths.

    I wonder how much of that (and the abuses that often went along with such corporal punishment) was a mirror of what was going on at home. If there is, no wonder there was so much overreaction to corporal punishment. A.A.’s father was a teacher and an excellent one; he only used the cane when he thought a boy was in real danger of being lost (as he put it). And not everyone needs that kind of severity, as my fifth-grade teacher knew and exercised. I see no harm in hinting at an episode in his class: somehow, several of us boys were being punished and somehow I was one of them. For me, he realized, just the humiliation of trying to punish myself was more than enough; for the others, stronger measures were needed.

  7. Greetings, again, Norbert. (And my apologies for taking so long to moderate comments after this busy weekend.)

    I agree with much of what you are saying, except that the discussion of banning spanking still makes no sense, religiously (within the church) or secularly (outside the church). I agree that spanking may be abused, as may, as you point out, the freedom to drive a car. And we in the ministry are accountable for teaching the whole counsel of God: the biblically promoted merits of spanking are best grounded in the biblical model of parenting. We should strive to teach the “whole counsel of God.”

    But none of your breaths should be spent on banning it, for the evidence would be against you. Both the Bible and dispassionate scientific studies (studying populations not in the church, mind you) support the wise use of spanking in the home. To advocate its ban on the basis that some will abuse it is a slippery slope that does more harm than good and that represents an argument that few use consistently. (Some will abuse it, so we should ban alcohol. Some will abuse it to justify hatred, so we should ban the Bible.) In fact, there is no form of child discipline that cannot be abused to the point of harm, so where does the banning stop? Logically (not to mention, biblically), you would be in a losing situation.

    I will say that your comments might make more sense if the scientific studies that show the benefits of spankings focused on the church, but they don’t. They focus on the general populous. Neither the Bible nor the science justify the banning of spanking. So, to one who bans it must be asked, “where is the justification? And how do you approve that your ban doesn’t produce more harm than good?”

    I appreciate your comment and concern about the situation of pastors, and I, too, am required under the law to report abuse, and I do obey the law in this regard. However, the United States does not consider a reasonable spanking by a parent to be abuse, so why should I care if a hospital, school, etc. becomes aware that I teach what the Bible has to say on the matter — all the more since I have taught the matter in the complete context of loving, biblical parenting? If you think I should worry about such an outcome more than the possibility of having to face Christ in the Judgment and explain why I did not teach His whole counsel to His people, including His inspired words on the matter of spanking, then you don’t seem to understand what God expects of his teachers. I must advocate the truth. God help me if there are those who, as you say, would devour me for it, but God help me all the more if I hold back from teaching His word to His people.

    I appreciate, as well, your reference to Eph. 6:4 and Col. 3:21, though they do not help your point. In fact, the father who takes those verses seriously will consider all godly means of training his children in love — and he will pray that his country would not be so stupid as to ban any of them.

    Thanks, again, for your thoughts!

  8. Norbert

    I see your points Mr. Wallace and understand them, it seems I did not express my thoughts as clear as they should have been. Seeing I did not mean a whole hearted literal ban on spanking should be taught. The two breaths are meant to be complimentary, there will be times to spank and times not to spank depending on the circumstances. That is a judgment call parents have to make.

    One time my father was going to spank me because I broke into our locked house damaging a window. He stepped out for a little while, so when he returned I fessed up. But my grandmother stopped him (the word “rebuke” better describe what she said) because she was aware of something that he did not concider. I did it because she had needed to get inside. He was rather repentant afterwards. 🙂

    I also remember a single mother who would not spank her child, not because she did not believe in it, but because spanking wouldn’t work on her son. It only produced a reaction contrary to to its’ intent, so it was a self imposed spanking ban.

    After she explained the situation about him and from what I understood, it seemed the child would no longer cry because her ‘ex’ had done and taught things “to toughen him up” from a very very young age. So the child’s mind was set against physical pain as something to fight against and not to learn from. Taking away his TV privledges or favourite toys was a different story.

    And concerning the hypothetical, it is only a hypothetical to relate ideas about the issue of spanking bans. And I am very familiar how passionate I can be too when contemplating hypotheticals that would directly affect me. Especially when I concider wether or not my own hypothetical answers would actually be the reality, a scripture comes to mind.

    “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Heb 12:4)

    The verses after are rather interesting concidering the issue under discussion.

  9. Hal Smith

    I was surprised at the article “The Science and Statistics Behind Spanking.”

    I thought of how much time the person devoted to all those footnotes about hitting children instead of writing about something positive- like copyright laws for example.

    I was also surprised the article didn’t have much to do with judicial arguments, like whether it’s legal for corporal punishment to be banned. The article barely mentions the main legal controversy about corporal punishment today, which is the abolition of corporal punishment in schools. It’s ironic that it was published in Ohio the same year Ohio banned corporal punishment in schools, yet the author doesn’t even discuss it. He only drowns the proposed “House bill” in his footnotes as “But see H.B. 406 (Ohio 2008) (proposing to ban spanking in schools).”

    Regarding legal arguments, our Common Law system comes from the the United Kingdom, which uses a “reasonable chastisement” standard. If practically all Americans come to believe htting children at home or school is wrong, then the reasonableness standard would go against hitting children. The article admits as much.

    The author’s completely social arguments go against most of the research on hitting children, which is better suited for a social publication anyway. People should be able to see through his common-sense-type arguments. He says that children shouldn’t be protected like we protect people’s neighbors, because we do not have the same relationship with our neighbors. But some abusive parents have the same relationship with their children as strangers, or far worse. And other places like jails, schools, and orphanages do have the same legal relationship with children as parents. Thanks to God and to the reformers that the author derides we abolished corporal punishment of prisoners and orphans in the last 150 years!

    What else needs to be said? That our lives and laws should strive for compassion?

    If relationships should focus on painful punishments as much as the author has, why not continue your pain into your marriage relationship, as unfortunately many people do?

    In the most frequent uses of corporal punishment, students are beaten with thick boards called paddles for infractions like lateness, which many people continue in their professional life.

    Remember, the New Testament of Love and forgiveness fulfills and replaces the Old Testament of revenge and punishment. While the Old Testament said to cane children and stone prostitutes, Jesus stopped a prostitute’s execution, and said if you hurt a child, it would be better for you to be tied to a huge stone and thrown into the ocean.

  10. Greetings, Hal Smith, and thanks for stopping by.

    I’ve removed the website link you provided, as I’d rather it not receive any traffic from this blog however accidental it might be. It’s clearly perverted (however unintentional this may be) and created by folks with no balance or understanding of the topic of this blog post whatsoever. Perhaps they have been abused or assaulted and are having a hard time putting things in perspective — I don’t know. Perhaps it means to attack actual abuse masquerading as spanking (understandable) while conflating the two (not helpful) — I don’t know. Regardless, the website is so unhinged as to be absolutely useless in actually discussing parental spanking, which was the topic of this post.

    I won’t dignify your “blend abuse and spanking together by calling it all ‘hitting'” by discussing it too much, here, as I doubt it would do much good, but it might be educational for others. It’s rather like describing tousling your child’s hair as “fondling” — intentional deception by crafted vagueness. Effective misdirection with the simple-minded, perhaps, but not honest and lacking integrity. (That’s why you see it in political campaigns so often.)

    Your initial critique of the article seems odd, to be honest. You seem bothered that the author discussed a topic different than the one you felt he should discuss, and that he was more interested in determining the truth about what’s best for children instead of what’s legally permissible to ban or not ban. How much sense does it make to criticize an author for writing about a topic that differs from the one you’re interested in?

    Of course, the fact that he doesn’t discuss the topic you want him to discuss has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of what he says, nor with the statistics and scientific studies he discusses. And it’s interesting that you mention research, but somehow the scientific research he refers to is just “completely social arguments.” I guess the research of those whose conclusions differ from ours isn’t, somehow, “real research.” A good approach for propaganda, but not for finding the truth of a matter. If you have a logically defensible case, little tricks like this shouldn’t be necessary.

    You seem to assume that spanking and having compassion for children are mutually exclusive. You seem to assume that choosing spanking as a form of discipline implies “relationships… focus[ed] on painful punishments.” Stating your assumptions hardly makes them true, and I hope you will have the wisdom to question them one day. Your future children and future relationships will appreciate it.

    As for your misunderstanding of the Bible — Wow. I suspect that you consider yourself a Christian, but you certainly don’t seem to know the biblical Jesus Christ, the Man you misquote — who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8) and who was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:4, see here) — an Old Testament which you deride and yet which He loved dearly. In addition to not really knowing the Old Testament, which can make one wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), you don’t even seem to understand the New Testament, given that it upholds the Old Testament (e.g., John 10:35). You don’t even seem to really understand love, which is rooted in God’s commandments (e.g., 1 John 5:2-3).

    But, you do know your assumptions. Got them down pat, it seems. And like the high school debaters I used to have in my math classes (and whom I loved very much), your assumptions seem to be all you need.

    If you have been abused by someone falsely claiming to “spank” or “discipline” in love, I am sorry that you have experienced that, and I do hope you are overcoming that experience and that those who hurt you are unable to hurt you or others anymore. I can understand how such an experience would cause one to become confused about the true nature of loving parental discipline and to become hardhearted in accepting actual scientific results that refute your confused conclusion. But until that confusion is cleared away for you, you’d probably find a more profitable location for irrational anti-spanking propaganda elsewhere.

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