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Spanking is by no means essential to discipline

October 8, 2018

Here are some more musings over coffee.

From the truth vs. “your truth” department: The former is grounded in verifiable facts; the latter is the deceptive product of emotion. The latter, unfortunately, is usually represented by the loudest, most agitated mob.

From the “for example” department: Every so often, the issue of spanking rears its always ugly head and begins snapping at my heels. The latest example comes from a PTA group in Connecticut that has marked me “unfit for human consumption” because I supposedly (according to said group) believe in spanking. But I don’t “believe” in spanking. I am not zealous concerning spanking, pro or con. As concerns this thing we now call parenting, I long ago realized that unless my beliefs could be supported by a preponderance of anecdote, verified sources of wisdom or good research, they were not worth sharing with others.

Concerning the volatile subject of spanking, the best research — meaning that which most closely adheres to the scientific method and is not contaminated by researchers’ feelings or preconceived notions — says that spanking, in and of itself, is not the harmful thing the mental health community has been claiming, zealously, for the past 50 years.

The research in question — the interested reader can look it up online — has been and is being done by professors Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University and Diana Baumrind of the University of California, Berkeley. They have found, independently and conjointly, that children who are occasionally spanked by parents whose love is unconditional score higher on multiple measures of well-being than children whose parents claim to have never spanked.

The operative words in the previous sentence are “occasionally,” “spanked,” “unconditional” and “claim.” In other words, the research findings in question certainly do not apply to children who are regularly beaten by parents who are motivated by anger rather than genuine and steady caring.

Concerning parents who “claim” to have never spanked, Baumrind discovered, somewhat to her own surprise, that many such parents admit in confidential interviews that they have occasionally exploded toward their children in physical and emotional rages. She advanced the proposition that occasional, moderate spankings can and often do serve as a disciplinary “safety valve,” thus preventing abuse.

All things considered, spankings are by no means essential to the proper discipline of a child. In fact, proper discipline is not constituted primarily of proper consequences. That is evidenced by the fact that parents of the most well-behaved children use consequences sparingly, in fact. Many an obedient, respectful child has never been swatted.

From the “other side of the proverbial coin” department: I do not agree with those in the Christian community who claim that biblical verses referring to “the rod of discipline” enjoin parents to spank. As I have said on many previous occasions — both in this column and elsewhere — there is a distinct semantic difference in the Bible between “a rod” and “the rod.”

While the former is a reference to a stick-like object used, for example, as a symbol of royal authority or means of herding domestic beasts, the latter is clearly metaphorical.

The Bible is not prescribing spankings for misbehavior (nor, however, does it eliminate that option). It clearly says what I say at every possible opportunity: The proper discipline of a child is accomplished not by “consequence-delivery-systems” but by parents who project a calm confidence in the legitimacy of their authority and focus, first and foremost, on teaching their children to think correctly and contain their emotions.

And that’s my last word on the subject … in my dreams.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at questions@rosemond.com; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.

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