Why you should care
Because the line between discipline and abuse can be thin.
Welcome to Third Rail With OZY, our electrifying TV show where we debate provocative hot topics each week. Last week, we asked: Should parents spank their children? You answered, and here are your thoughts, edited for clarity.
Nick Johnson, Birdseye, Indiana
I grew up with parents who spanked me and my siblings. The spankings were never out of control, and after the discipline they would hold us and explain why we were punished and how to do better next time. My dad actually handed the paddle to me one time and said to spank him. I don’t remember my transgression, but he said he failed in teaching me the right thing to do and that he deserved the punishment. It was a hard thing to do — I remember being in tears as I gave him that wallop, thinking I was the one who messed up and he didn’t deserve this. That really stood out as a powerful lesson of humility and pardon.
Steph Barret, San Francisco
No. It is barbaric, unnecessary and an abuse of power. Yes, I am a mother. And yes, I have never hit my kid. My kid respects me. In fact, we have a solid, loving relationship.
Michael Murray, High Point, North Carolina
I was a troublemaker as a kid, and timeouts and getting grounded didn’t work. I got spanked all of twice my entire childhood, because it worked. There are 7 billion people on this Earth, and none of them are exactly the same.
Mary McDermith, Mountain View, California
A fast swat on the bottom of a kid who is out of his own control can right the world for a kid. But prolonged yelling or refusal to speak to the child or timeouts longer than three minutes can do real damage and break the bond just as surely as a beating. Adults should always remember that the goal is to teach, not to frighten or take adult vengeance on a kid who has made an error in judgment.
I was spanked as a kid. The anxiety of being spanked was always greater than the spanking itself. Spanking failed as a deterrent for my bad behavior, and I just planned better to get away with things. Now I have two kids of my own: a 4-year-old daughter and 19-month-old son. On a recent trip my daughter was getting out of hand, so I decided to try spanking her with calm deliberation and love, but assuring her it was punishment for her behavior and not me [being] angry at her. I spanked her hard enough on the backside and legs for it to hurt and turn red. However much I tried (and I tried in different ways), it never felt like it was going to work.
It broke my heart, but not for the visceral reasons most people might cite — I wasn’t troubled to see her distressed, crying and upset. But I was appalled to see her behavior afterward: She would try to overcome my apparent loss of regard for her with overly solicitous behaviors, sucking up to power and authority with overt obeisance. This was sickening to me.
Bob Brookhart, Pinellas Park, Florida
It makes no sense trying to reason with a child. It is an unrealistic expectation to think the child understands. Pain is nature’s way of getting your attention that something is wrong. Discipline is God’s way of dealing with disobedience; thus, spare the rod, spoil the child.
Having worked with children on a behavioral unit and having witnessed how spanking is looked upon as abuse, I know spanking your child can get you in trouble. I’m from the old school, when parents had a right to parent their children, and that included spankings when necessary. I see this as a cultural divide: When a white person hears “spanking,” they hear “abuse.” I was spanked, never abused. It’s time parents take their rights to parent back.
Charles Mcvinney, Boston
I personally believe people who hit their children should be charged with assault and treated accordingly.
Holly Davee, Thayne, Wyoming
Depends on the kid; they are all different. What works with one may not work on another. Some learn from it, while others become more rebellious. You need to really understand your child to decide.
Melanie Spozio, Wright City, Oklahoma
I was whipped in my time, and a lot, and I survived. It made me stop and think before doing something dumb and taught me common sense. As a parent I use whippings as a last resort, because I believe in communication beyond the talk of why they are in trouble. Don’t talk at your kids; talk with your kids.
Mia Andrews, San Francisco
I’m the daughter of a nondenominational pastor; I am his eighth child of 12. Your question created an immediate and passionate emotional response from me; over the past several years, I’ve learned how utterly dysfunctional my household was. There was more than spanking — the perpetual fear of the belt was terrifying, and I am still feeling the echoes of that experience in my everyday life. I don’t have children, but I have three dogs, and I’ve realized how instinctive aggressive methods of discipline have apparently become to me, and it has taken work to soften my approach and use more patient methods of training.
The thing is, if anyone yells at me or threatens to hit me, I become frozen and terrified. I have come to realize that these responses have stemmed from being subjected to physical discipline as a child. Let me be clear: I don’t believe that there are never circumstances under which a child needs a swift smack on the bottom. However, spanking is violence, and do we really want to be violent toward our loved ones, toward those who we have a responsibility to care for and protect? I think generally, we shouldn’t spank our children; not as a rule, but as a standard. I think my issue was that spanking was the default, and not conversations; this is what caused trauma and dysfunction.
Why are children different than anyone else, such that physical punishment is supposedly OK? It’s completely inappropriate to hit my wife, husband, colleague or friend; why not small children?