Is it okay for us to hit our kids? Is the question a lot of parents are asking, especially in light of the new change to the law in South Africa.

i was going to do next week’s Facebook Live video on it, but the conversations were happening thick and fast and so i decided to actually do one today, which is worth watching and reading the accompanying comments to.

Teacher Tom has some helpful thoughts

I’ve had people shrug at my moral stance and insist that spanking “works,” and I’m sure it does. There are lots of things that work that I will never try. If I disagree with you, shouting you down works, but wouldn’t it be better if I engaged you in reasonable debate? If I need money, stealing works, but wouldn’t it better if I worked to earn a higher income? If you’re standing in my way, pushing you works, but wouldn’t it be better to politely ask you to allow me to pass? Indeed, spanking may work, but there are better ways. They just take more effort.

“Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior. But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges. Moreover, the research clearly shows that the gains from spanking come at a big cost. These include weakening the tie between children and parents and increasing the probability that the child will hit other children and their parents, and as adults, hit a dating or marital partner. Spanking also slows down mental development and lowers the probability of a child doing well in school

. . . More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent.” [Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and professor emeritus of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, who has brought together more than four decades of research in his book The Primordial Violence]

I also know that after posting this, I will spend my day reading comments from people who are adamant, even angry at me, for suggesting that they stop hitting children. They will say that spanking is not hitting, a hair splitting argument that makes no sense to me. They will say that spanking is not a problem if done “with love,” an argument that tells me that there are a lot of people who don’t understand love. They will say that spanking is the only way to teach obedience, a goal that I’ve spent my entire professional life rejecting. They will say, “My parents spanked me and I turned out okay,” to which I will respond, “Are you sure? You hit children.”

Read the rest of the article over here.

What Studies have to show

Now some info to share with your mother. The research shows that children do learn from spanking, but they don’t learn what we want them to. One large study showed that the more parents spanked children for antisocial behavior, the more the antisocial behavior increased (Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, l997). The more children are hit, the more likely they are to hit others including peers and siblings, and as adults they are more likely to hit their spouses (Straus and Gelles, l990; Wolfe, l987). Hitting children teaches them that it is acceptable to hit others who are smaller and weaker. “I’m going to hit you because you hit your sister” is a hypocrisy not lost on children.

I also hear “If we don’t spank children, they’ll grow up rotten.” Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Finland and other countries that have banned corporal punishment of children have remarkably low rates of interpersonal violence compared to the United States. Professor Adrienne Haeuser who studied these educational laws in Europe in l981 and l991 said “Children are receiving more discipline since the law in Sweden passed. Parents think twice and tend to rely more on verbal conflict resolution to manage their children”.

You can read the rest of this article over here.

Still, a number of individual studies have found associations between spanking and negative outcomes, even after controlling for preexisting child behavior. So Gershoff says that in spite of the lingering controversy, the safest approach parents can take is not to spank their kids. “Studies continue to find that spanking predicts negative behavior changes—there are no studies showing that kids improve,” she says. And although Ferguson is not convinced that spanking is categorically bad, he is “certainly not an advocate of spanking.” Furthermore, there is a worrying body of research suggesting that parents who spank will later use harsher forms of punishment. “If spanking is not working, and spanking is all the parents are doing, then they’re going to escalate,” Gershoff says.

Read the rest of this article titled ‘What Science has to say about spanking’ over here.

Interesting to see some of the results of the Huffington Post comments and tweet responses after the poll they ran which saw 70% of people disagreeing with the ruling about spanking.

Looking a little deeper into the traditional ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ idea.

In other words throughout scripture the rod was symbolic and representative of strength, power and spiritual transformation. So the real meaning of “spare the rod and spoil the child,” is that if you spare the rod of spiritual knowledge, insight and transformation to your child, they’ll be spoiled rotten.” In other words, without spiritual knowledge your children will be worthless. They need spiritual knowledge and insight in order to be the very best that they can be. Without this “rod” of strength, insight and spiritual awareness they’ll be lost in the world and of no good to anyone.

In other words, nowhere in the Bible does it actually say, “get a rod and beat your kid or they’ll be spoiled.” It’s not literally talking about a physical rod, stick, bat, tree branch, golf club or any other hard physical instrument with which to beat your kid. This is all the speculation and interpretation of minds that know no better and are looking for ways to justify their lack of alternative ways of raising children without beating them. Most of this thinking and actions are based on the way in which they were raised.

Our religious and spiritual perspective and obligation must be the same as that of Jesus. We must abhor violence in any form, on every level, and move to promote love, peace, forgiveness, nonviolence, harmony, and inclusion at every level of human society. In this way we create an environment where child abuse, domestic abuse, gangs, crime, wars can cease to be a part of the human experience. As a result we will have resurrected Eden and recreated heaven here on earth.

Catch the rest of this article over here.

What did you have to say?

When it comes to the parents themselves, this tends to not be a topic that people feel middle-of-the-road on. The responses tend towards one extreme or the other. And i have found that people who are defending hitting their children, tend to do so quite aggressively.

Joe Makka had these helpful words, from a teacher’s perspective:

Children also don’t have fully developed brains so getting them to understand and guide their behavior is a creative endeavor.

Jacqui Tooke had this to say:

The following reflections really shaped how I see discipline: 
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” – apparently the same word “rod” is used in the Psalm “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death your ROD and staff comfort me”
The reflection on this verse is this: The Shepherd used the rod as a form of protection against the wolves and other enemies not on the sheep!” 

Another reflection that has shaped my parenting: “discipline” comes from the word “disciple” and not from the word “punish”. How Jesus discipled his disciples is a model for how we discipline our children. 

This is a very sensitive and personal decision. There are very different views on smacking. At the end of the day I think all parents are really trying their best, with the most sincere desire to see their children become the most well-adjusted people.

Stephanie Wainright added these thoughts:

I think the biblical advocacy for spanking needs some further explanation and exploration. I feel this is used as justification for hitting children. “The rod” on our day can be a different form of discipline but I don’t think people think about it that way. 

I’m guilty as a parent for not disciplining in the correct way. Still figuring this thing out. Sometimes you feel like a smack on the bum is the only choice. Parents need to learn a few more tricks and tools in this department.

Jannie Du Plessis added this:

After we got to the point of understanding God’s concepts of grace and justice… Spanking might have its place, but there are many many and much much more effective ways to create relevant consequences to detrimental behaviours… It has to be timely and appropriate to the child’s age, behaviour, and personality. Giving pep talks to a two year old that keeps pulling on electric wires is a good example of inappropriate. But an immediate slap on the wrist together with removal of the temptation (sometimes by distraction) sounds like appropriate to me. And yeah, I did get the t-shirt.

Michael Mountjoy had these thoughts:

An observation that I’ve had is this: the pain from spanking or caning or discipline is something the body becomes accustomed to. So, gradually the action becomes less effective. To ensure compliance one smack with open hand becomes two, which becomes three, which becomes sets of ten. This is a situation of diminishing returns, in that the more you continue to do an action, the less effective the action becomes.

Pain is a poor long term motivator, and at some point it stops working altogether. Instead of instilling discipline we start instilling resentment and loss of respect. 

Whats more we condition ourselves by the act of spanking as much as we condition a child. Condition ourselves to react with misbehavior or lack of discipline with violence. Condition ourselves to distance ourselves emotionally from our children when they act up. Condition ourselves to solve every problem with violence and pain.

Amy Mountjoy [some relation] had this very interesting argument to add:

A point worth pondering here:

Children are new human beings who have no skills. These skills need to be taught. As such, they’re bound to mess up and make mistakes. They don’t understand boundaries, or inside voices or how to fit into society or danger until it is taught to them. When they eventually mess up, spanking a child forms negative associations. When these associations turn into fear or intimidation there is a high risk of the child, over time, losing their will to try. Losing their desire to learn. Over my seven years of teaching I can say that my learners who fail do so because they don’t try. They don’t try because they’re scared of failure. Because they are used to making mistakes, and having mistakes met with disappointment and anger.

Mistakes ought to be celebrated.

Has anyone tried disciplining with high praise and celebration? And no, I don’t mean ‘everyone is a winner, yay’.. I mean, woohoo! You failed! You’re just like us, Mom and Dad. Welcome to the family! You’re one of us! You’re part of humanity. Let’s learn from this mistake!

And Ryan Walton:

We don’t spank in our home. One of the reasons is that we don’t want to communicate that physical force or violence should is the solution to correct behavior. This has all sorts of implications for the way they view the world. I can’t say “don’t hit your sister” and then turn around and essentially use hitting to solve my own relational issues. We believe that we have more imagination than that when it comes to resolving conflict.

For me, Michelle has one of the strongest arguments with this comment:

My feelings are that if my husband hit me and then told me he loved me and did it so that I could learn from my mistakes I would not feel very loved. We can’t treat children as if they are different from grown ups. They deserve to be treated with respect and kindness just as adults do. Michelle Simon-Kühn

But what does the Bible say?

A lot of my friends and followers on here are Jesus-following types and we tend to hear the ‘Proverbs 13 verse thrown around a lot, although to be fair usually just the first half of it, and the whole verse reads:

‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.’ [Proverbs 13.24]

i think with this we can read up on some of the articles i have linked already, but also realise that this one solitary verse has been the thing so many parents have held on to for so long as permission to hit their kids. And so we need to really try and be more sure what the verse is saying, but we also need to be pretty sure we understand what scripture is saying as a whole.

If we look at the life of Jesus, He tended to move away from violence at every possible opportunity – the woman they wanted stoned [Jesus as the only sinless one who could do the stoning chose not to condemn and let her walk away cautioning her to also walk away from her life of sin], Peter cutting off the ear of the guard who had come to arrest Jesus [Jesus heals his ear] and Jesus calling for people to turn the other cheek and calling for forgiveness for the people who were crucifying Him as well as rebuking His disciples for wanting to call down fire on a town.

Would Jesus want you to hit your kid? i’m going to go with no. Would He want you to be more creative and find the best solutions available – probably sought through community and not just figured out by yourself – and raise your child in love and respect? i’m going to go with yes.

Be careful to discipline your child is what the second part of that much-used verse has to say and i believe this is where parents and teachers and authority figures can do a whole lot better and be a whole lot more creative in terms of the how and even the why.

Edit: Christie Mae Roberts came by and added this super helpful article titled: Five Decades of Research confirms: Spanking produces similar outcomes in life as physical abuse, which pretty much says what it is about.

How about you? Are you for or against parents hitting kids? If you are against it, what alternative methods have you seen to provide the best results? Share some tips in the comments section for parents who may be struggling to figure out the best discipline for the young ones they love. 

[I have compiled a list of suggestions from parents who use alternative methods which you can read here]

discipline children spanking