A friend of mine whom I consider extremely intelligent and respect recently shocked me when he posted a pro-spanking/paddling status on Facebook above an article about how parents are becoming increasingly angry and abusive to teachers (which I think is awful, because most teachers are amazing humans, and grossly underpaid for what they do).
His comment disappointed me greatly, but as a resident of the southern plains, I am very familiar and uncomfortable with his opinion.
My friend’s disappointing comment:
“When I was in grade school, we still had some classrooms with paddles proudly displayed above the chalk board. Time to bring that back, it would seem. And some way to deal with the awful parents. The next generation may well be poised for failure.”
Excerpts from my rant-tastic multiple comments below this status:
“Multiple studies have been done showing that hitting kids to correct misbehavior teaches them to be more violent and damages their self-esteem. Which seems to be a no-brainer to me. Hitting kids for unwanted behavior means the hitting adult is sending the message that when people do something you don’t like, it’s appropriate to hit them, especially if you’re bigger than them. I believe our job as parents is to model appropriate behavior, not hit children and then tell them that hitting people is wrong.
Also: Respect and fear are *not* the same thing. When I was hit as a kid, all it did was make me hate the person hitting me, and try to be better about not getting caught the next time. Absolutely nothing positive came of it, it only made me feel worthless and mad. And then I acted out more. It was not only not helpful to hit me, it was counterproductive.
Hitting children is lazy parenting, at best, and in my opinion, as morally on par with (and as effective as) kicking puppies. Teach your children well, don’t BEAT your children well. Do 30 seconds of research and read what the many child psychologists, doctors and studies have to say about spanking/hitting/corporal punishment.
Everyone follows the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice concerning everything else, but even though they are very much against spanking/hitting kids because of all the research showing the negative effects outweigh any behavioral modification it might produce, when it comes to spanking, people stop taking their advice. I hear so many people say, ‘Well I got spanked as a kid, and I turned out okay!’ To which I would reply: ‘No, you’re not okay. Because you think it’s acceptable to hit the small creatures counting on you to keep them safe. You’re the one person in the world they look to for protection from violence, and you’re doing it to them.’
I have a 7-year-old son who has never been hit one day in his life because his mom remembers how worthless and angry and helpless and unsafe it made her feel as a little girl. The people who were supposed to be protecting me from bad stuff like violence were inflicting it on me. My whole life, I vowed that as a parent I would never make a child feel that way. And guess what? My son is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Multiple strangers have commented on how he has empathy and compassion far beyond his years. I believe this is because he has been shown empathy and compassion by his parents. Parenting is frustrating, and hard, hard work, but the kids are worth the extra effort. Go punch a pillow in another room and count to ten, then figure out a smarter way to teach them the behavior you want. There are plenty of ways to discipline or punish children that don’t involve violence.”
But it has been eating at me ever since. How could such an intelligent guy think that hitting kids will make the world less violent? I honestly do not understand this mentality at all. I think my friend is incredibly smart and completely right on about many issues… so I was bewildered by this opinion coming from him. Truly shocked.
So a few days later I added, because this is an issue very near and dear to my heart, and because I consider it our job as the big humans to protect and preserve the little innocents who can’t protect themselves, be they human or animal:
“How often do we have to hear about how ‘school bullies are bullies because they’re being bullied at home’ and how ‘those who grow up to be adult bullies were the ones being smacked around by their parents’ before we realize, as a ‘civilized’ culture that violence begets violence? (Go take a poll of the violent offenders in a men’s prison, and ask how many of them experienced violence and spankings if you want to see how well spanking and hitting kids for bad behaviors *doesn’t* work.)
And no, of course not everyone spanked or hit turns out to be violent, but it *is* proven that many of those spanked or hit as children become desensitized to violence and hitting children because of it–obviously–because they then grow up to think that spanking children is the answer to behavioral problems, and then hit their own kids. And onward the cycle of ‘violence is the answer’ goes, and where it stops; well-read, open-minded people who want to learn a better way know.
Example: My dad grew up getting beaten and smacked around, so that was the parenting model he learned. He then shared that with me when I had to ‘go get the belt’ for my spankings as a little girl (a little girl who, as I’ve since learned via psychiatry for my anxiety and safety issues had ADHD, which means I had impulse control issues beyond my brain-wiring/control… but yeah, I guess deserved to be beaten for that, just like depressed people with brain chemistry beyond their control should probably be beaten back into happiness… right? And those autistic kids… let’s just smack them around until they straighten up and fly right, too!).
Another negative about using spankings, hitting and other forms of corporal punishment with children, aside from the fact that they are too immature to emotionally process what is happening to them, is that the violence tends to escalate. You’re mad, you want to hit them, because yes, they’re frustrating as hell sometimes and you’re human–I parent an ADHD-brained boy, I get it, believe me–but when you’re angry, you sometimes take violence too far. It’s the worst time to use corporal punishment, BUT young children don’t learn well from punishment that doesn’t happen immediately after the bad behavior (I’m one class away from a psychology degree… this is basic child psychology stuff).
So the whole ‘I never hit my kids when I’m mad… I wait until I cool down’ argument means that those parents might as well not punish at all, because younger kids can’t psychologically connect the spanking to the bad behavior. Too much time has passed between the two. (This is basic child psychology, again. Check it.)
Also, as you desensitize yourself to the violence, it can get harsher each time. And you’re modeling bad emotional coping behavior for your child (‘I don’t like that! I hit you now!’), and desensitizing *them* to violence from an early age, which leads to, hey, guess what? More violence.
My pro-spanking dad hit me with the belt as a kid, and eventually, when I grew up with the low-self-worth that evolved partly from living my first five and most formative years in a violent, unsafe, volatile environment, I became the classic self-destructive and rebellious teenager that kids who get smacked around and feel unloved and unworthy (and have untreated ADHD) often become.
My frustrated dad who thought the answer to poor behavior from children was to hit them (because that was what he was taught) at one point beat me so violently I had two black eyes, one swollen shut, all of my teeth were loose, I had a chipped front tooth, my cheeks and lips were swollen, and my outfit was so covered with blood gushing from the cuts inside my mouth from my teeth hitting/cutting my lips that it had to be thrown away. It looked like someone had been murdered in it.
And that’s how violence escalates from ‘go get the belt to ‘I’m beating you up with my fists in a way that will send social workers to our house after your teachers report your battered, bruised face to the authorities.’
And you can say, ‘Well, I would never take it that far,’ but please realize that’s exactly what my dad would have said before he beat the shit out of me. He was angry. He was human. He lost control. And our child-parent relationship was never the same. Do you want your children to have scary, violent childhood memories of being hit by their should-be protectors, or memories of consequences for poor behavior that involved non-violent methods and thoughtful intelligent lessons taught by the people they still respect, rather than fear? People will get all up-in-arms over someone beating their pet dog in public, but somehow this same treatment is okay for little children?
In short: Don’t even start on that path of violence. Hitting, spanking, smacking, punching: it’s all violence and it’s not how intelligent people handle their emotions or express displeasure with the behavior of others. What gets you arrested on the streets should not be acceptable in your home, and especially not be done to a child. Violence of any kind leads to nowhere good, friends.
I tell this story not to garner sympathy, and I have forgiven my father because he was doing the best parenting he could with what he was taught by his own father. And that was violence. So I decided that I am going to stop this cycle of violence with my own son, and raise a kind, gentle, compassionate human who knows that violence is not the way civilized people get what they want from others.
And so far, it’s working great. We have never experienced violence or hitting from him, he’s never hit another kid (except to defend himself in kindergarten from a fourth grader who was bullying him physically), and he is shocked when other children hit, because that’s what they’ve been taught at home is the solution to getting what you want from someone or how to show displeasure with another human. When a classmate told him he gets spanked, my son was shocked, and asked me about it, ‘Why do his parents hit him? Hitting people is wrong!’
We have actually had to enroll him in karate to teach him self-defense, because he’s a non-violent, kind-hearted boy growing up in a world where the other little boys have been taught that hitting people is acceptable behavior, which makes him the first one the cowardly bullies at school and on the school bus go after (his bright red hair doesn’t help either, nor his ADHD… he stands out, making him an easy target).
So if anyone out there thinks that not spanking my kid is going to lead him to become a violent criminal, I would challenge that the truth is actually the opposite. If you teach your kids violence, and show them that violence and hitting people who do things we don’t want them to do is okay, then you’re actually desensitizing them to violence and creating a more pro-violence society. I think we all agree that violent video games and movies desensitize young children, and that’s why they carry ratings. So how is experiencing violence at the hands of the people in the world you are trusting to protect you from violence not also desensitizing them to violence? (And traumatizing… children don’t have the emotional perspective or maturity to process being hit by their protectors. All they know is that now they have no one in this world left to trust and protect them from harm.)
And how is it acceptable that if a stranger were to hit your kid for poor behavior, you’d legally prosecute them… but it’s okay for you to hit them? I’d argue that is *less* traumatizing to be hit by a stranger, because they’re not supposed to love you and keep you from harm. That’s our job as parents.
If anyone wants to look into this on behalf of their children, there are countless child psychology experts, doctors and scientists who’ve done extensive research and studies on this topic available on the Internet, all of whom agree that children learn violence from their parents, and that spanking and hitting creates more violent children and bullying behavior, rather than more well-behaved children, as so many people mistakenly believe. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends strongly against spanking children for this reason.
Please, before you hit your kids, do 30 minutes of research, and maybe consider that just because it happened to you, and you turned out okay, that doesn’t mean a damned thing. I also grew up in the 70s and our car didn’t have seatbelts: and I turned out okay. I’m here. But the fact that I survived that doesn’t mean that seatbelts haven’t been proven to save lives. We’ve learned new things in the field of child psychology, just like we’ve learned new things in every other field. Stop assuming that just because it happened to you and ‘you turned out okay’ that means there might not have been a better way, or that you somehow magically know more than the thousands of child psychology experts and intelligent doctors who’ve extensively researched the subject of using corporal punishment on children. Your children’s psychological well-being is worth a few minutes of opening your mind and doing a little research. It’s 2013, not 1950. Things have changed, and we’ve learned better ways to modify behavior that don’t involve violence.
And think about what kind of relationship you want to have with your children, because it took me until my late 30s to make peace with my parents and their parenting methods. Having a child helped, because I now understand that exhausted and frustrated people do things they regret, and parents are humans who make mistakes like anyone else. But like I said above, I’ve been the mother of a high-maintenance ADHD-brained little boy for 7 years, and I haven’t resorted to violence once. I have had to put him in his room for a time-out so I could calm down many, many times, but I’ve never hit him. Because hitting is wrong. Period. And every adult in his life talks about what a kind boy his is and his great big heart. He’s going to make the world a better place; he’s not going to become a violent criminal because I don’t spank him. Quite the opposite.
Or… you can continue to think that hitting kids and threatening them with creepy corporal punishment mementos above a teacher’s desk is going to do anything but make them and the rest of the civilized world think you’re a violent a-hole who lacks the intelligence to come up with a more creative and less archaic form of behavioral modification. It’s a free country.
And then I added a postscript, because this particular friend with strong parenting opinions has no children, and I’ve noticed that people who don’t have children often have the strongest opinions about how parenting should be done. This may be because many of us don’t realize until we have children that much of what you get is just a roll of the genetic dice (sorry Nurture… Nature wins), and that children are not little robots to be programmed (or beaten into submission); they’re emotionally complex and unique human beings just like us.
Shocking concept, I know. But like many other non-parents, I had to have a child to truly understand that. And that parenting is really, really exhausting sometimes, which is why non-parents make snide remarks about how kids shouldn’t be allowed on planes (as if they didn’t ever go out in public as children, or were always perfect little angels) and parents feel only sympathy for the parents on the plane with the unhappy, poorly-behaving child, and rather than self-righteously complaining–as if they themselves were never an emotionally immature human being having a bad moment–they instead search their purse for a snack they might offer. So I added:
P.S. I would also like to add, as a woman who had all kinds of pre-conceived notions about how parenting should be done and what parents were doing wrong nowadays–and then had her first child at 35–if you don’t have kids, you have NO IDEA what parenting is like OR how you will handle any part of it. Not even if you’re the best aunt or uncle in the world and you babysit constantly. Talk to me after you’ve been through an exhausting pregnancy, birth, and the equally exhausting first few years of a child’s life; especially if you also have a neurologically atypical child. I promise you, in a completely non-invalidating-your-opinions and non-condescending way, and purely from personal experience, that until you actually *have* a child you have no idea what parenting is like OR what kind of a parent you’ll be. At this point, I would look at an essay about how I thought parenting would be from before my son was born, and I would laugh and laugh. And then I would scrawl ‘WHATEVER WORKS’ in exhausted large-print black marker over the top of that pre-parenting essay. Just trust me one this one.”
And then I got worried that some parent who spanks would think I think they’re a terrible person or invalidating them, rather than realizing they are most likely yet another decent person modeling the parenting behavior they were taught by their own parents, and not realize that I’m just hoping to maybe open their mind to a different way of discipline because I care about children. So I added:
“P.P.S. I’m not trying to challenge or respond to anyone with the above information, I just want to respectfully share my experience in case it might speak to anyone interested in this subject, because it’s something about which I care deeply. I don’t like what corporal punishment did to my self-esteem and I try to share my experience hoping to prevent other kids from growing up feeling worthless and unsafe. So my apologies for the ranting: I only rant because I care, I promise.”
I would also like to point out that the parents described in the article my friend shared who were beating up the teachers are obviously people who think that violence is the answer to ‘I don’t like what you’ve done’ and are possibly the parents of the kids who also think assaulting teachers physically is an acceptable way to handle a disagreement.
Remember the 80s pot smoking commercial, anyone? The pot smoking teen shouting at his dad: “I learned it by watching YOU!”
- Research on Spanking: It’s Bad For ALL Kids (psychologytoday.com)