To Spank or Not to Spank

This year in Fantasy Football, I managed to draft Adrian Peterson in the first round, excited at the riches of fantasy points he was going to reap for me. And now of course you might have heard that he’s going to trial for child abuse–specifically for using a switch to spank his son hard enough to leave welts (some of which might have even drawn blood). Besides the havoc this is wrecking on my fantasy football team, this has brought the question of corporal punishment back into the focus of the nation.

Peterson claims he was simply using the same form of spanking and punishment that his father used on him. He hasn’t been hiding from what he’s done at all–he’s stuck with the story all along. I’m going to leave aside the specifics of his case (since, again, I don’t like to talk about things I don’t know anything about), but the principles behind it are certainly up for debate. Is spanking okay? If so, is it okay to use something to assist that spanking–a spoon, paddle, ruler, or switch?

Naturally, a whole slew of experts have popped up to say spanking is unnecessary and an example of bad parenting, even though the statistics say the majority of Americans favor spanking, though how much they do depends a great deal on their religion, race, political views, and region.

But just because a lot of Americans believe something is good doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. So where do I fall on this spectrum?

I have spanked two of my children. (The third (MC) is too young to get anywhere near where she might need to be spanked.) When Denisa and I first had kids, my goal was to never spank them. I felt like it was mean and harsh, and there seemed to be so many other better options out there. What changed my mind? Kids who wouldn’t listen to anything else.

As soon as I type that, I picture a group of you looking for the nearest torch or pitchfork. I accept that spanking is taboo for many these days. But I did it anyway. I haven’t had to spank my kids much. A handful of times total, I’d say. But for each kid, it’s been an important part of their upbringing. A time when they’re doing their best to push the envelope. When they feel like they can get away with anything. And for each child, I’ve sat them down ahead of time and told them what spanking is and given them plenty of warning about what they would have to do to warrant a spanking. The line was clear in their minds, and then they purposefully called my bluff.

Each time, I didn’t spank them hard at all. This wasn’t something I was doing to inflict pain. I think the psychological effects were more than enough on their own. I don’t hit my children. Ever. And yet there I was, spanking them. (Yes, I realize there’s a disconnect there.) After a few incidents with each child, they realized Dad was not kidding when he said he’d do what he said he’d do, and they stopped pushing the envelope.

So for me and my family, spanking has worked and worked well.

That said, I personally would never use a “spanking aid.” I feel like spanking itself is more than enough to get your point across. But at the same time, the very fact that I think spanking in some situations is okay while others think it’s never acceptable makes me realize there’s a spectrum there. A range of “acceptable” that varies based on personal opinion. So is it possible Peterson thought what he was doing was acceptable? Certainly it is.

Society needs to decide where that line is. It can’t simply be a matter of personal opinion. Otherwise, child abusers can just say “I was punishing my child and that’s how I was punished when I was a kid, so what’s the problem?” That doesn’t work.

Having spanked my kids, I can definitely see where things might completely fall apart on you. Spanking is an immediate punishment. It takes no thought, and it can easily become something that’s there more for the parent than the child. “I am mad at my child. I am angry. I spank him. Now I feel better.” If that’s what it becomes, then I see no difference between that and child abuse.

I felt awful each time I had to spank one of my kids. Spanking was a punishment I thought a long time about. It wasn’t casual, and it wasn’t convenient. It was and is the exception to the rule. And as long as it stays there, I think it’s an acceptable tool. (What would I have done if it hadn’t worked? I have no idea. It’s a situation I’m glad I wasn’t placed into.)

The biggest thing to remember when it comes to punishing a child is to be clear about why they’re being punished, and to be clear about what the punishments will be ahead of time. If one of my kids didn’t understand something was wrong before they did it, then they don’t get punished. If I hadn’t determined a clear punishment ahead of time, I work out something suitable with the kid in question–come to an agreed upon punishment.

And then I stick to it. My kids know 100% that if they break a rule, they’re getting the punishment. These days, that typically means they won’t be able to watch TV or play video games, or dessert is taken away. That’s enough to keep them honest, thankfully.

Do I agree with what Peterson did? Personally, no. Do I see how he might think he was right to have done it? Yes, I can see that. Should he be punished for it? That’s a matter for the courts to decide.

What do you think? Not of the Peterson case in specific, please. But spanking in general? I’d love to hear different input on the subject. Just keep it kind and courteous.

2 thoughts on “To Spank or Not to Spank”

  1. Honestly, I think it depends on the child. I would say that spanking is not appropriate for most children. However, I’ve worked with some children where it seems like it might be appropriate.

    I know one child with severe autism with sensory issues. He gets spanked/hit because his sensory issues prevent him from registering other methods of trying to reach him. He also get forcefully pulled out traffic or away from stairs or away from objects that he will use to harm himself or others. He’s elementary age now and doesn’t talk and has little awareness that other people exist. He regularly intentionally hits himself. I doubt getting spanked is hurting his self-esteem. Mostly it just tells him that he was doing something dangerous and after getting spanked he usually just lies down is still for a brief while.

    I’ve also worked with two children who have very little empathy towards other human beings. One has conduct disorder, and the other… well is probably just a bona fide narcissist. I feel that these children need harsher discipline than most children and that could include spanking if it helps them learn to empathize more with the pain they cause others.

    The problem is that we tend to think of all children as being perfect and innocent, but at the same time with a fragile self-esteem that needs to be nourished. This is not always the case. There are special circumstances, so I think a blanket policy that no child should ever be spanked is just naive.

    That said, a child should never be spanked just because the parent or care-taker is frustrated with him or her.

  2. Some great points, Jeff. Thanks. I was surprised by how many people have viewed this page and how little I’ve gotten in the way of feedback or comments. Maybe it’s a pretty taboo subject. Not sure.

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