Questioning the morality of spanking

GUEST POST BY: Maria Bangs

summer Sometimes people ask me how I came about the decision not to spank my son. Most people listen respectfully while I explain how 93% of the science agrees that spanking children does more harm than good. They nod when I tell them that when we look at behaviour modification theory, negative reinforcement, also known as punishment, is not a very successful means of modifying behaviour.

However, I’ve found that social science is often met with a lot of skepticism, and it’s because we don’t live in a vacuum, and other areas of intersectionality may play a heavier role than spanking in one’s emotional well-being. I have also found there is a heavy dose of cognitive dissonance involved because for the most part parents love their children, and as children, most of us love our parents, and it’s difficult to examine a common parenting practice often perceived as benign or even necessary, or consider that it may be unnecessary, or even harmful.

After all, I know plenty of people who were spanked and who spank their children, who are “fine.”  Some even say a spanking was good for them. Most will attach caveats to the methodology of spanking, as though there is a specific way and time and procedure, so as to avoid damage. And when all of these things are lined up, spanking is good for children.

This was the first reason I decided never to spank my son.

If there has to be alignment of the stars for a spanking to be beneficial, that is indication spanking is a slippery slope. I don’t want to be anywhere near the slope, for risk of falling down it.

When we made the decision never to spank our son, we removed the option from the toolbox of means for modifying behaviour. When it’s not even an option, when there is no contingent, there is no behaviour from my son that could warrant a spanking, there is no need to ever spank my son.

The next thing that happened, once we made the decision to parent with gentle discipline, was that I became extremely skeptical of spanking altogether. If behaviour modification could be successfully achieved without spanking our children, why do we continue? Further, why are children the only people we can legally hit? And with paddles or other objects, no less. It then became a question of morality.

Was it morally acceptable to put hands to the most vulnerable person in my home, even when he deliberately did something he wasn’t supposed to? Would that be acceptable for my husband to do to me, or me to him? How could I model values such as kindness, patience, gentleness, understanding, and grace, if I didn’t extend those at all times to the most vulnerable person in my home?

I am modeling behaviour for my son, and I never want him to think that physical punishment is a good way to wield and yield power. Rather, I want to teach him that authority comes with great responsibility, integrity, and character, so that if he ever finds himself in a position of authority, he will know how to treat vulnerable people.

Additional resources on spanking:

http://www.parentingscience.com/spanking-children.html 

http://www.violence.de/prescott/bulletin/article.html

 

Maria Bangs is a social justice activist, attachment parent, and blogger at www.barreloforanges.com. When she’s not championing human rights, you can find her playing in the snow or surf, reading a good book, or on Twitter @barreloforanges

Note: How do you feel about spanking? Please, let’s support each other and suspend judgment towards each other from both sides while we discuss this very emotional and important topic.  -Dawn

 

 

6 Comments

  1. You know why I have chosen not to spank? Because it is wrong, because it did not work on me , because it is wrong, because it hurts, because it is wrong, because I do not want my child to look at me and think of pain and because it is wrong!

    • Dawn

      I don’t spank anymore because I never wanted to in the first place. It was a suggestion by an MD. It didn’t work.

      Even though I never wanted to, I’m generally open to being mutable in parenthood if it is in my child’s best interest. Or if I think it is. Being mutable is OK and great, but not if the change goes against that inner voice.

      I never thought much about the morality of it, because I was spanked (though rarely) when I was young. And it didn’t hurt. It also didn’t scare me or make me not trust my mom. I just didn’t want to spank. I wanted to be more like my mom in how she normally parented- via talking things out.

      Now though, I have considered the morality of it, having done it… and having it not feel right, even though it was not a strong spanking at all and there was no physical pain (given that I din’t do it hard.) It just didn’t feel right. It felt like a boundary violation.

      A lot has changed me over the years though. I’ve learned so much about trusting that voice. The same voice that told me it was a boundary violation told me not to vaccinate my child. I didn’t listen then, and my daughter paid the price. It’s the same voice that told me not to circumcise my son. I didn’t listen then either, and my son paid the price.

      One thing I’ve learned from all of these earlier choices, though: ALWAYS listen to that voice. It’s always been more right than any professional advice has been.

  2. Random Momma

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This has given me the courage to speak up about how I feel on the issue. I don’t know why I haven’t before. Everyone around me seems to enjoy speaking their mind about how much they spank. You hit the nail on the head & I have often wondered the same thing-why is it only legal to hit kids?! In every other aspect of society people would be appalled if we went around hitting others. It mystifies me that small, vulnerable children are the only “acceptable” people to hit. Way to go. I absolutely love this post & will share it often. My daughter saw someone hit their kid on the hand as discipline the other day and completely lost her mind crying. She was literally terrified. I realized a loving adult that I told her she could trust had just been her first example of hitting a child. I wondered how I’d teach her not to hit if adults in her life were giving her that example. It is so, so, sad to me to see this dichotomy. 🙁

    • Dawn

      I think the reason why Maria was able to give people the courage to talk about it is because of her terminology. I think that when talking to people about it, not using the word “hit” or “abuse” makes it easier to have a discussion.

      I think, just as with any of these parenting topics, that MOST mothers would do anything for their children, hate corporal punishment and don’t want to spank but feel it’s a duty because it’s just always been that way.

      I think offering people alternative parenting techniques that work better anyway is also a productive way to invoke change.

      I also think that Maria’s gentleness and truthfulness about her reasons is profoundly helpful in that it calls to mothers in a way that so many anti-corporal punishment writers miss.

      That said, I do realize that there are also many parents who lose their tempers and actually hit-hit their children as well. I think that’s where the slippery slope comment also comes in.

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