One of the recurring discussions that pops up on my social media feeds and blog rolls is one that people have strong opinions about: hitting or spanking kids to punish them. One of the most common exchanges/memes I see in regards to spanking goes like this:
“I got hit and I turned out fine.”
“Do you think it’s ok to hit kids? Then you’re not fine.”
I have problems with both elements of this exchange. While I agree that thinking it’s ok to hit children means you probably aren’t a paragon of ethics, I don’t think the response really gets to the heart of the matter, which is this: hitting someone is a Bad Thing. It hurts them. You do not need to show any additional harm beyond the actual hitting. You don’t need to show that it causes psychological damage later in life. Hitting another person all on its own is inappropriate.
The ONLY way that spanking advocates could show that they are correct is by a. showing that the benefits outweigh the negatives or b. showing that hitting their child does not actually harm the child at all. B seems fairly impossible since you are physically striking the kid. Maybe there’s some level of spanking that doesn’t actually hurt the kid at all, but then why are you doing it if the point is to punish?
Because once again, hitting someone else is IN AND OF ITSELF a harm. It is actually the most basic definition of harm most people can come up with. It causes physical pain and/or suffering. I do not know how else to explain that hitting someone is not a good thing, and that the age of the person is not relevant.
So we move on to a. The ONLY way that spanking would be justified is if it turns out it is actually a super effective disciplinary method that works SO MUCH better than any other way of raising your kid that it outweighs the immediate harm you’re doing the child.
It’s pretty easy to look around and see tons of amazing, awesome people who didn’t get hit as children. It’s easy to find studies that show negative outcomes of spanking in terms of its use in discipline. It doesn’t make kids better behaved: it makes them more likely to lie, more aggressive, and more reliant on external forms of punishment than internal morality. Really the only benefit you’re getting is kids whose immediate compliance is faster.
So yeah, it’s possible there are long term consequences to spanking that damage someone’s mental health. But it also doesn’t matter. Because you’re hitting someone. You’re hitting someone who’s defenseless and trusts you. That’s bad. And we don’t have evidence that hitting someone is a miracle cure for bad behavior.
So no matter how many awesome people did get hit, it doesn’t matter. Because the only thing that could ever justify hitting a kid is if there is literally no other way to discipline them. And that is just very clearly not the case. So next time someone brings up “well I turned out fine,” point out to them that it’s completely irrelevant! Lots of people turn out just fine with all kinds of disciplinary styles! The fact that your defense of your parents’ child rearing style is “it didn’t fuck me up,” says that you know it’s bad and are looking for an excuse.
No more excuses. There is no evidence that spanking turns out people who are better. And all other things being just about equal, not hitting people is better than hitting people.
Great post. The point that smacking is of itself harm is the point most often overlooked.
Reblogged this on Critique of Popular Reason.
Awesome, thank you!
This is an issue that really could use some better reasoning and yours is dead on. Just telling people they are shitty parents because they spank their kids not only fails to actually address what spanking actually is, it is also factually incorrect.
When I was a kid, I actually went to a parochial school for a few years, where the discipline tools included being spanked with a paddle, by the principal. At that time, the science suggesting that spanking is actually a bad idea, was very controversial. Leading experts in child rearing supported spanking. Most psychologists (though in the eighties the list of dissenters was growing) still supported spanking. And the message was very much couched in terms of spanking helps your child learn to function in this world, therefore it is an expression of love. There were rules for it, not the least being that spanking in anger is a bad idea, you should wait until you are calm. But spanking was very much a recommended tool for discipline.
And that is what we are struggling against now. Most parents who spank, grew up with that message. Telling someone who grew up with the understanding that *their* being spanked was intended to and effective in helping them develop into a decent person, that spanking their child = shitty parenting/abuse/means they don’t care about their kids, is only ever going to alienate the hell out of them! Accepting that they are doing what they do because they believe it to be an important aspect of loving their child, is critically important if you want to actually change their mind, rather than just basking in moral superiority.
I spanked my kids early on, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I reserved it for safety issues, making it a “wow, this is a REALLY bad thing to do, because my parents actually hit my behind if I do it,” sort of tool. But once I was shown the evidence against it, had it clearly explained as being what it is, I stopped. It wasn’t someone telling me I was a bad parent for doing it. Believe me, on the two occasions people came at me for how I was disciplining my child, one literally screaming at me about how I was abusing him, all that was achieved was to seriously piss me off. But someone I know refusing to use the word “spank” and instead calling it what it is, “hitting,” made a HUGE impact. Even though the scientific literature generally makes a distinction between hitting and spanking, largely I suspect, because most parents who do it are making a distinction between them, that was what really drove it home to me.
I really want to encourage parents who hit their kids to stop doing so. Not hitting my kids doesn’t make me morally superior, or mean I love my children any more than people who do. It doesn’t mean that I am a less lazy parent than people who do. It merely means I have looked at the evidence and accepted that rather imposing body of science that very clearly asserts that hitting children or otherwise causing physical pain, has no positive effect and indeed generally has a lot of negative effects. In my case, it also means that I had to work past a lifetime of indoctrination into the idea that hitting one’s children is a necessary tool for discipline and means that you love your child.