Apply the Rod or Spoil the Child It is the natural scheme of life. Human beings produce children and thus are classified as parents. It is and has always been the parent's job to raise and nurture the child, to teach it right from wrong, and to protect it from the harshness of the surrounding environment. However, when the child strays or behaves in a destructive manner, what steps should a parent take to correct such behavior? Some psychologists suggest that a good old-fashioned spanking is just the ticket. Others say that such action will emotionally damage the child later in life. With the parent ultimately responsible for the child, it's hard to know what is right or wrong when your 3 year-old is beating his head against the floor in a full-blown temper tantrum. 25 years ago, parents would have picked the child up, spanked it, and taken care of the tantrum effectively. Today, parents are more apt to try anything other that a swat on the behind. Reason, however, doesn't impress a 3 year-old so the behavior is often ignored because passive parents don't want to risk mentally scaring their child. The experts have basically made a huge issue out of something very simple. If spanking is as harmful as they say it is, then every human being over the age of 30 is a mental case. Spanking is not the answer for everything, but in some cases it is the only answer. The growing trends for passive discipline in the United States stem largely from the revelation that there were people out there that severely abused their children. As more and more abuse cases were brought to light, laws were changed to protect the child.1 Psychological issues soon began to crop up and spanking soon came under fire, being called a form of child abuse and in some cases punishable under the law. Researchers have studied the effects of spanking and the effects are not to be taken lightly. First of all, the experts claim that spanking doesn't teach a child self-direction. The child learns to do what the parent says or else face the consequences. This leads to other issues, including lying and cheating to avoid a spanking, which in some cases result in a spanking as well. Instead of regulating the behavior, it just trades one form of bad behavior for another. Second, and probably the most talked about consequence of spanking is that it can lead to hereditary violence. In other words, a child who is spanked could display violence with siblings and classmates, and as adults with spouses and their own children. Psychologist Terry Luce of the University of Tulsa2 says his research in aggressive behavior shows that children as young as pre-school age will hit other children as a result of being spanked themselves. Spanking also sends a disturbing message. It tells the average child that hitting is a way to solve problems and that it is all right for a big person to strike a small one. Another effect experts say spanking can have is that it erodes the parent/child bond. A large part of that bond is the child's desire to please the parent. The more the parent spanks the child, the less likely it is for that child to want to please the parent. Desensitization is also a factor here. Parents that spank may feel they have to spank longer and harder to get the same message across and eventually the child stops responding all together. Along with this, a child may be too young to understand the lesson that a spanking is trying to get across. Also, spanking your child can lead to a gradual increase in the severity of the abuse. Sociologists say that one-third of the parents that spank children with an open hand on the bottom move on to using belts and paddles, then to hitting on the face and head, then to punching, kicking, and beating.3 The number one cause of infant death according to Luce is parents who beat them under the guise of discipline. Still, in spite of all of this, every state in the union has laws that allow parental corporal punishment.4 Finally, a study published by the American Medical Association in 1997 suggests that the more a parent uses corporal punishment on a child, the worse his behavior will be over time. Report author Murray A. Straus who is a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire says that this is the first study that has been able to prove that spanking is not as productive as people think it is.5 Straus used data from 1986 to 1990 collected from interviews with 900 mothers. The research showed that over that 4 year span, the behavior of the children whose mothers didn't spank them was better. Mothers who spanked their children once or twice a week had a higher instance of misbehavior in their children. The highest of all were mothers who spanked their children 3 or more times during the week. Their behavior actually got worse over that 4-year period of time. In addition, anti-social behavior, which Straus defined as lying, cheating, bullying or being cruel to others, was 14 percent higher in the frequently spanked group from 1986 to 1988.6 In short, spanking is said to be the easy way out, taking care of the problem for the time being, but having adverse effects down later in life. People who are against spanking have come up with a variety of alternative methods of teaching children right from wrong. Experts say that one of the reasons people spank is because they are unaware of alternative methods of changing undesirable behavior. Since each age group responds differently to different stimulus, these alternatives are broken down in that way. For infants, the best way is to keep it simple.7 If a child is about to touch something dangerous, grasp the infant's hand instead of slapping it. If the child has something that it shouldn't have, parents can try trading the item for a toy instead of taking the item by force. The child will only hold on tighter if you try to pull the item away. For toddlers, the key is diversion. Avoid direct clashes wit!
h the child, which will only frustrate both parties. Something funny or unexpected, such as tickling a cranky child, or offering the child something different to divert its attention from the undesirable behavior are excellent ways to ease the situation. In older children, their minds have developed enough that they can listen to reason, so the most widely used alternative is "time-out". Also, since this age group has begun to reason, the punishment should be appropriate and reasonable. The parent should explain why the child is being punished, and what the correct form of behavior is. For children of all ages, good behavior should be reinforced and supported. Hugs and praise go a long way. The idea of spanking a child for wrong behavior can be traced as far back as the Old Testament of the Bible, and this is one of the premises that parents base their decision of disciplinary tactics.8 Also, spanking seems to be hereditary. In other words, "my parents spanked me and I turned out just fine, so what's the problem?" While these seem to be shallow reasons to spank a child, there is a certain grain of truth in the latter statement. Anyone who can read a newspaper or turn on a television can see the outbreak of violence among the youth of today. Children born in the last 10-15 years have been involved in crimes ranging from fighting and vandalism, to murder and arson. In fact, since 1991, the juvenile crime rate has risen 20 percent and violent crimes among youth have risen 12 percent.9 That period of time, coincidentally, coincides with the beginning of the passive discipline movement. It doesn't take a degree in sociology or psychology to see the correlation here. The point is not that spanking can prevent juvenile violence. The point is that spanking presents the child with a viable consequence for his actions. A child must be taught this lesson because when he reaches adulthood, there will be consequences for everything he does.10 Therefore, the premise that spanking is a short-term solution is totally unfounded. Aside from the need to teach children that there are consequences to every action they commit, there is really no proven positive to spanking. The reason for this is that there has never been a need to defend it, so no positive research has been done. According to Montgomery, Alabama pediatrician Den Trumbull, when you look at the anti-spanking research, it doesn't quite ring true.11 For instance, Dr. Straus' research that stated that spanking caused anti-social behavior was widely criticized by Trumbull. First off, the mothers polled in Straus' study ranged in age from 14 to 21, which is a long way from a true representation of motherhood in America. Moreover, those mothers that did spank did so on an average of twice a week and some of the kids were as old as nine. These factors all suggest a dysfunctional environment in the minds of most pediatricians and psychologists. In addition, Trumbull observed that limiting the age group of children studied to children between the ages of 6 and 9 can also slant the results of the study. By that time, children can understand the consequences of their actions and for them, frequent spanking can be humiliating and traumatic, thus causing worse behavior later.12 It is interesting to note that while opponents of spanking are spending so much time studying the negative effects, the percentage of people polled seem to largely favor spanking. According to a Harris survey13 of 1250 adults conducted between February 6th and February 9th shows that 81 percent of mothers and 80 percent of fathers have spanked their children. The poll also shows that younger parents are less likely to spank their children than older parents and only 12 percent of adults say that it is never appropriate for a parent to spank a child. In addition, a 1994 survey of psychologists found that while 75 percent of the respondents were against spanking and 55 percent believed it to be an abusive act, 48 percent of those polled said they had spanked their own children. The bottom line is, that while spanking is being blamed for the rising child abuse rate, and spanking is being performed less of the time, child abuse is still up. The professionals, while they obviously mean well, have chosen spanking as a scapegoat and the slanted research that has been done isn't likely to change that assessment. Opponents of spanking have come up with a lot of different methods of dealing with naughty children, but what about those times when a time out or rationalization doesn't do any good? For example, a 5 year-old child is eating lunch and after finishing, he demands a piece of cake. The parent says that there is no cake and offers an alternative. This does not please the child and a tantrum ensues. The parent tries to divert the child's attention, but is unsuccessful. After that, the parent tries the ever-popular time out. The child continues his tantrum, hitting and screaming as the parent tries and exhausts option after option. In the end, one of two things will happen. Either the parent will rush to the store and get the child the cake, or will allow the tantrum to continue.14 The former option will stop the tantrum, but it will teach the child that a tantrum is the way to get his own way. The latter option is much more dangerous, because as the tantrum continues, the parent's nerves begin to fray, and eventually they can lash out physically and hurt the child. In the instance just described, a couple of well-placed swats on the bottom would have served as an effective means of defusing the situation. It would have demonstrated to the child that temper tantrums will not be tolerated and it will put the parent in control of the situation instead of vice versa. However, in many families, the children are in control and that is more damaging mentally than the spanking supposedly is. If they try controlling authority figures like parents, they will ultimately try the same thing with law enforcement authorities, schoolteachers, and peers. Society doesn't tolerate such behavior and in extreme cases, the rebellious child could go to jail. When you look at it that way, a slap or two on the behind doesn't sound so bad. There are many governments throughout the world that have passed laws restricting or even eliminating the right for a parent to use corporal punishment as a teaching tool with their children. It seems that people believe that psychologists are the be-all and end-all of understanding human behavior. However, with every person in the world having a different personality, it's hard to come up with something that works all the time in every situation. The problem with spanking is not that it is abusive, but that it is done at inappropriate times. There are two keys to the effective use of spanking in the home. The first is proper administration. This means that when all other means of getting through to the child have failed, and the child still won't cooperate, then and only then does the parent resort to a spanking. For example, lets say that someone breaks the law and a policeman sees the act and instead of hauling that person to jail, simply beats him up.15 That is the same as ineffective spanking--there is no justice, only hitting. What if that same policeman does his job properly, reads the perpetrator his rights, brings him before the judge and the judge sends him to prison? That was a properly administered punishment and is more likely to have the desired effect. The second key is not to spank the child for every little thing he does wrong. There should be a set guideline and this guide should be followed. The severity and the repetitiveness of the infraction should be taken into account. For example, if a child simply tells the parent "no", the child doesn't necessarily need a spanking. Children that age are just using their vocabulary and we all know they just love to use a new word over and over. One way of handling that situation is go and get the child. That tells the child, "yes, you will." A spanking should be administered to a child who continually and deliberately disobeys or disregards authority and when other means of guidance have proven ineffective. The debate rages on, and we ask the age-old question, "who is right?" The experts believe they are right. The pro-spanking people believe they are right. The answer is that both are right, and neither are right. By that I mean that it is all a matter of choice. Every individual or couple that raises a child has the choice to do what they feel is best for them, their family and the young life involved. Therefore, if a parent chooses to spank, then that parent should not be looks down upon or arrested because of that decision. Conversely, if a parent chooses to use passive methods of discipline, that should be his choice as well. I believe that the two forms go hand in hand, and one cannot be effective without the other. The statistics show that more people condone spanking as a form of discipline, but if a child is spanked every time he makes the smallest mistake, then the studies done concerning mental damage of the child start to make a lot of sense. Part of teaching in any society is drilling the idea into the child's head, but also allowing for a certain amount of mistakes and miscues along the way. Passive methods of discipline are able to accomplish this very effectively. However, whether we are talking about a two-year-old or a ten-year-old, the basic needs are the same, because no matter what style you prefer, one thing has got to be present, and that is love. A child can sense love at virtually any age, and if discipline is administered without love, the child knows it. If that happens, you can give them all the time outs and spankings in the world and it won't do any good. That is where the abuse comes in. In my opinion, discipline without love is abuse, from the slightest unkind word to the worst beating. A loving parent can use all forms of punishment effectively. So instead of arguing about which method of child rearing is more effective, lets all just love our kids with all our hearts, teach them right from wrong, praise the good and correct the bad, and never let them doubt for a moment that we love them. Love is the common factor in the whole argument, and sometimes "tough love" is the best way to go.
Bibliography 1) Child Victims and the Law, National Victim Center. http://www.nvc.org/infolink/info56.htm 2) Barbara F. Meltz, the Great Emotional Spanking Debate, Star Tribune, 5/29/95, pp. 1E. 3) Law Enforcement and Child Abuse by Patricia A. Graves, and Suzanne M. Sgroi, http://wchat.on.ca/web/asarc/law.html. 4) Brigid Schulte/Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Spanking kids may make them worse: Study is first to document corporal punishment doesn't aid in discipline, The Dallas Morning News, 8/15/97, pp. 1A. 5) Phillip Greven, Spare the Child: the religious roots of punishment and the psychological impact of physical abuse, 1st Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. 6) Sandlin Supports Local Solutions To Fight Juvenile Crime, http://www.house.gov/sandlin/coljuvj.htm.