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Spare the rod.
November 14, 2011 2:22 PM   Subscribe

In Sweden, a generation of kids who've never been spanked. 'Numerous studies have been conducted in recent years to support the theory that physical forms of discipline do more harm than good' and the effects of physical discipline linger for adults. Most parents in the U.S. and many other countries firmly believe that physical punishment is an important tool in controlling their children. But in Sweden, there's now a whole generation that doesn't believe corporal punishment has any place in disciplining any child. In 1979 Sweden became the first country to ban physical punishment of children.

'Since then, 30 more countries have passed bans on corporal punishment at home, and even more have banned it in schools, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.'

'The United States and Somalia are the only two countries that haven't ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of people younger than 18.'

'No countries in North America ban physical punishment by parents, but there's a perennial debate about the line between discipline and abuse, and who's allowed to administer it. It flared again last week after millions watched a seven-minute YouTube video from 2004 that showed a Texas judge cursing at his teen daughter and beating her with a belt.'

'While there are laws against child abuse, it's legal in all 50 states for parents to hit their children, and for schools in 19 states to physically punish kids. About 80% of American parents said they've hit their young children, and about 100,000 kids are paddled in U.S. schools every year, researchers said.

Kids are still hit with hands, belts, switches and paddles, said Elizabeth Gershoff , an associate professor of human development and family sciences at University of Texas, despite research that shows it doesn't model or teach behavior parents are looking for, that it damages trust between parent and children and that it can lead to increased aggression.'
posted by VikingSword (162 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
and for schools in 19 states to physically punish kids.

!
posted by Jimbob at 2:23 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


'The United States and Somalia are the only two countries that haven't ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

We suck.
posted by spitbull at 2:24 PM on November 14, 2011 [40 favorites]


Skinnerian Behaviorism 101: Punishment doesn't work. Without removing the impetus for the behavior, all punishment does is temporarily suppress it, to pop back up at a later time. What punishment does do is positively reinforce the punish-er by providing immediate results, however short-lived.
posted by tspae at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2011 [36 favorites]


Hey. We are one of three countries that doesn' t use the metric system.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2011


We suck.

Almost makes you want to renounce your Somalian citizenship, right?
posted by nathancaswell at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


spitbull: We suck.

I didn't realize there were Somali-Americans on MetaFilter (or possibly American-Somalis). Anyway, the first article first says "No countries in North America ban physical punishment by parents," before the fact about the US and Somalia.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:29 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's all kinds of treaties/conventions that the US hasn't ratified that it seems odd. I always assume that has to do with a state's rights issue.

I would like to know who all these "most parents" are that hit their kids. I don't personally know a single person in my generation who thinks that "physical punishment is an important tool in controlling their children." I know a couple of parents who admit to smacking their kids in certain situations - for instance, when the child runs in the street and a mother panics, or in other dangerous situations. Most of those people are then sorry for having done it. So maybe those people would admit to having hit their child, but that isn't the same thing as thinking of punishment as a important tool, I don't think.

Obviously there are parents who do think it's an important tool. And there's no excuse for states that let teachers hit kids. But, wow, this seems like an overexaggeration to me.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


The United States and Somalia are the only two countries that haven't ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of people younger than 18.

In a related story, Texas family court judge William Adams has applied for Somalian citizenship.
posted by George Clooney at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


To be fair, one of these countries has marauding bands of fanatics who destroy entire communities to enforce a vision of ethnic, religious and cultural purity.

The other has the Janjaweed.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [38 favorites]


Most U.S. parents hit their kids? That's fucked up.
posted by mr.marx at 2:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I taught at a school where they gave spankings.
It was a high school.
It was in Texas.
It was pretty ridiculous. The spanking were voluntary. Students chose them over detention or other disciplines.

Still doesn't make it okay.
posted by Seamus at 2:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I want to create a single serving Tumblr call "theunitedstatesand". It will be full of fun facts about the bad or just weird company we keep.

> theunitedstatesand Somalia are the only two countries that haven't ratified the UN Convention Rights of the Child

> theunitedstatesand New Zealand are the only two countries to allow direct-to-consumer advertizing of pharmaceuticals

> theunitedstatesand Brazil are the only developed or developing countries that allow people to drink milk from cows given artificial growth hormone

et cetera
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [114 favorites]


Somalia doesn't have a government to sign the convention. However, lets be honest there are a lot of countries in the world where children are not treated as well as they are here in the U.S.
posted by delmoi at 2:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would like to know who all these "most parents" are that hit their kids. I don't personally know a single person in my generation who thinks that "physical punishment is an important tool in controlling their children."

From the article, and quoted in the FPP:

"About 80% of American parents said they've hit their young children, and about 100,000 kids are paddled in U.S. schools every year, researchers said."

The parents clearly state that they hit their kids. About 80% of the parents in America.
posted by VikingSword at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


He remembers being spanked exactly once in the United States, after melting G.I. Joes in a frying pan

Sometimes the crime is worth it.
posted by benzenedream at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2011 [23 favorites]


'The United States and Somalia are the only two countries that haven't ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

In their defence, they have signed on to both optional protocols of the CRC, which are about preventing the use of soldiers under 18 and about preventing the sexual exploitation of children.

Here in Canada, there is still some corporal punishment. If I remember the case properly, it's only allowed for kids between 2-12, only bare hands, and only the legal guardians (aka not teachers). I think we even have a reservation at the CRC about that aspect, but I'm not positive.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:36 PM on November 14, 2011


Feh. I was beaten as a child and look at what a fine, well-balanced, pleasant person I turned out to be.
posted by Decani at 2:43 PM on November 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


I got spanked at school in 7th grade (in Texas, natch). I chose that option over detention mainly because it meant that your parents wouldn't necessarily be informed of the offense or the punishment, whereas with detention you had to take a note home and get it signed. I don't know anyone in my immediate friend circles who spanks their kids, but I know plenty of religious folks who still deeply believe in spare the rod, spoil the child. There are dozens of facebook groups that are like "thank god my parents spanked me---I needed it!" and shit like that.

If you hit a kid, you have failed.
posted by mattbucher at 2:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


To be clear, we (the USA) suck because we won't ratify the UN declaration, irrespective of corporal punishment issues more particularly. And Somalia is already a known example of suck. I give them the benefit of the doubt, since I can imagine a declaration on the right of children TO EAT would have more immediate relevance to the situation there.

I was just being sour. Sorry. There are so many nasty things at which the US leads the world, or stands apart from the rest of the world. Defending the rights of children to physical safety would seem to rank up there with uncontroversial issues, but I forgot the UN was planning on invading the US and subjugating its citizens in concentration camps. So I guess we really can't go along with them. Plus, Israel, right?
posted by spitbull at 2:52 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I firmly believe that children should be given an equal opportunity in this and be given a handicap to balance out their odds with whoever is trying to spank them. So if they are 6, they might get a small bat, by 12, all they get are sparing pads. By 14 or so, they should be equal in match or devious enough to bring their own weapon.
posted by Hactar at 2:53 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


That video brought back for me several terrifying memories of seeing kids beaten with paddles in my elementary school. It was not discipline, it was vindictive violence and the power of the strong over the weak, and 8 year olds can tell the difference. NC outlawed corporal punishment in the public schools around the time I started jr high.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:55 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]



Probably the same people who hit their pets.
posted by notreally at 2:57 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


"To be fair, one of these countries has marauding bands of fanatics who destroy entire communities to enforce a vision of ethnic, religious and cultural purity.

The other has the Janjaweed.
"

This is really easy to do, but the Janjaweed militias haunt Western Sudan, the other African country that starts with an S, not Somalia. Incidentally Somalia has promised to eventually ratify the treaty while we continue to simply give the world our characteristic middle finger.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I once remember a discussion in a college class about spanking. I'd never been spanked, but I had taken psych classes that discussed stats about spanking, saying kids who got spanked were more likely to be violent (Which seems reasonable). However this other kid had been spanked and insisted that it 'made him who he was'. He didn't seem to understand the concept of a control in a scientific experiment. There was no way to compare him to a version of himself that hadn't been spanked.

So my conclusion is that spanking makes you bad at science.

Also, this all happened in a Chinese Literature class. I guess the teacher was talking about Chinese views on spanking compared to western ones, but this kid was American.
posted by delmoi at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


But wait! There's more!

But then again, maybe not!
posted by IndigoJones at 3:00 PM on November 14, 2011


As an elementary school student in Texas circa 1972, I preferred the school administered spanking, as it meant my dad wouldn't do his own when I got home, and they were much meeker than he.
posted by No1UKnow at 3:01 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


But he also remembers understanding and agreeing with the Swedes' assessment: If parents are hitting, it means they've lost control, and might need to learn about other options.

THIS.

Long-term resident in Sweden and "foreign" observer of the culture and this is what the ban is all about. Of course there is concern with children, but the concern is that they be raised properly. Children are by no means moody-coddled in this country.

The bigger societal pressure in Sweden is on adults to conform. It has been decided in the 1960s by some competent people in the government that hitting children is bad and thus this is the social norm and anyone who deviates from this has some sort of problem and this becomes the reason most Swedes don't hit their children.

As a brute and a foreigner, Swedes ask me my own reasons and I say "Well, it IS against the law and I have a violent nature and so it is easy for me to decide that even if it were good for them, I should never strike a child. Period. Full stop. End of story."

"You who are so even tempered, would you strike your kid if the science said it was beneficial and the law was changed to permit it?"

That question always gets an awkward rejection usually based on the idea that science could never come to such a conclusion.
posted by three blind mice at 3:03 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


The problem with this whole business is this unspoken assumption:

"If you pass a law against something, then it stops happening."

Um, yeah. Whatever you say.

We have a generation in Sweden which grew up under a law banning spanking. But that doesn't mean that the kids were never spanked.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:10 PM on November 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


If 80% of American parents hit their children, then there are almost certainly some of those parents on this site. It will be interesting to hear their perspectives.
posted by desjardins at 3:12 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the deal with spanking-as-abuse? By that I mean, what's the reasoning behind saying that spanking is always, by definition, abuse?

I have actually been meaning to ask this for a while and couldn't think of a good way to do it. Here goes.

How I always hear the conversation going is like this:

A: "Spanking is always abuse. It teaches kids that violence is a way to relate to others, and it violates the child's rights."
B: "Stuff and nonsense! I was spanked, and I don't think I was abused."
A: "You've simply internalized the values of your abuser, old chap."

At this point, B has nothing to say, not because he has been proven wrong, but because A has an made a textbook no-true-scotsman out of him. It's kind of frustrating because it doesn't actually show whether spanking is alway abuse, it just ends the argument.

I certainly agree that spanking can be abuse. I can even stipulate that a great deal of spanking as practiced crosses the line into abuse. But I don't understand why it is necessarily abuse, by definition.

I want to understand, in part because I was spanked as a kid, and I, like B in the example, don't think the spanking was abuse. (Different to B, I actually do identify some of the things my parents did as abuse, but I don't think spanking was one of them.) I kind of figured that when I eventually had kids, spanking would be on the table as a potential punishment. I don't yet have kids, but I want to understand and process the reasons why it's never okay, by definition, to spank your kid.

Anyone?
posted by gauche at 3:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [20 favorites]


I don't hit my kids to punish them.

I hit them because it makes me feel like A BIG MAN.

(Seriously, though, I don't have kids, wasn't spanked growing up, and am a bit puzzled that there's even a controversy about this. You're not supposed to hit kids, full stop.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Swedish Ban on Corporal Punishment: Its History and Effects:
The effects of the law upon behavior are difficult to demonstrate, as no large-scale longitudinal studies have been conducted. There is evidence from two qualitative studies that although Swedish parents tended to be rather permissive in the early 1980s, this has changed and they now are generally quite skilled in using democratic childrearing methods (Haeuser, 1988, 1990). Further, rates of child abuse appear to have declined; the number of referrals to St. Göan's Hospital in Stockholm, which receives all child maltreatment cases, had declined by 1989 to one-sixth of the 1970 rate (Haeuser, 1988). By the mid-1980s, Swedish rates of physical discipline and child abuse were half those found in the U.S. (Gelles & Edfeldt, 1986; Haeuser, 1988), and the Swedish rate of child death due to abuse was less than one-third the American rate (Gregersen & Vesterby, 1984).

As the primary purpose of the law was to alter public attitudes, this is an important variable to examine, and longitudinal data are available to permit such an analysis. It will be recalled that by 1971, the proportion of Swedes who thought that corporal punishment was sometimes necessary in childrearing had declined to 35%. By 1981, two years after the law a passage, this proportion had decreased to 26%(SIFO, 1981). In 1994, a national survey was commissioned by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and carried out by Statistics Sweden. This study revealed that only 11% of Swedes now support the use of corporal punishment in childrearing (Lundgren, 1994). (For a more detailed description of this study's findings, see Edfeldt & Durrant, this volume.) Therefore, over the course of three decades, public attitudes have undergone a major shift; whereas a majority of Swedes believed in the necessity of corporal punishment in 1965, only a small minority support its use today.
I think we can safely assume that a generation of Swedish children weren't spanked, Chocolate Pickle.
posted by simen at 3:20 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't remember my father ever hitting me, but I grew up fearing him, not respecting him. No, I have no interest in recovering any memories, I'm just saying that a good sociopath doesn't need to hit.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:21 PM on November 14, 2011 [16 favorites]


Stop being a pussy.
posted by knave at 3:22 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


We have a generation in Sweden which grew up under a law banning spanking. But that doesn't mean that the kids were never spanked.

It's not necessarily that the law forbids it and therefore nobody does it. It is more like what three blind mice and simen says - the societal pressure on parents to not spank their children is the key. Sure, some people might do it, but it's definitely not approved behavior from your peers and from anyone you speak to. If you even hinted at spankings to someone in my extended family, you would get an earful or a blank stare. it's Just Not What You Do.
posted by gemmy at 3:25 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


After seeing the texas judge video i think spanking bans make sense. The problem is that parents who don't have control can justify their behavior as "spanking", whereas while people who might 'do it properly' are out there, it's obviously possible to raise kids without spanking.
posted by delmoi at 3:28 PM on November 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


The black lady comic Wanda Sykes, married to a white French lady, says that they adopted two white kids, but when the kids act up in public, she finds herself looking all around at the white folks, afraid to physically punish the kids...while funny, spanking in Am is probably now a matter of race, education, class. We have yet to outlaw it of course, but then we are strict about our pot laws.
posted by Postroad at 3:29 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forgetting for a moment the mental effects of being paddled/spanked, what are the physical effects of a blunt object being slammed into the hip joints of a growing child?
posted by Malice at 3:31 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The survey question says 80% of parents "have hit", which to my mind is very different from "do hit". My parents each hit me a couple of times -- literally a couple, as in I was swatted on the backside maybe once or twice when I was a toddler and each of them slapped me when I was 12 or 13 (different incidents, but both times I was being particularly snotty and pushing them as far as I could. Turns out I pushed too far.) I was more shocked than physically hurt in each instance I can remember, and they were as upset as I was or more so.
It's not something they're proud of, and not something they would advocate anyone do. But if surveyed, they probably would have answered in the affirmative that they had, indeed, hit their child. To lump that in with "people who hit" on a continuing basis muddles the issue pretty dramatically. An extremely rare and momentary loss of control is very different from a deliberate, thought-out choice to use corporal punishment -- or from a regular, ongoing pattern of rage and violence.
posted by katemonster at 3:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


Stop being a pussy.

That's pretty much the best parody I've read in a while. It is a parody...right?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 3:35 PM on November 14, 2011


Has anyone ever by chance studied whether the Swedish ban on corporal punishment (a) changed swedish practices and if so (b) what effect it had on child outcomes using some relevant counterfactual for identification? I remember researching this a while back and thinking that regarding (a), the law may have been more a consequence of changing practices than the law causing changing practices. But it's been forever.
posted by scunning at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2011


Banning corporal punishment apparently leads to a massive growth in copyright infringement, so there's that.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:45 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


Spanking is a world that is so utterly foreign to me. I'm not sure who I understand less, the parents who feel the need to discipline their children (especially when attempting to punish violent tendencies) with violence, or the children who apparently require violence in order to temporarily cease misbehaving. Of course, my family is a particularly unusual one in terms of getting along; I can count on two fingers the number of times in my entire life that my parents even raised their voices to me, and I never really felt the need to misbehave either (these are probably functions of each other). Disappointment was always a big enough "threat" - though never one that was spoken or even really implied. I feel as though with reasonable expectations, along with a certain sense of permissiveness and trust, should be enough. Whenever I tell anyone about the utter absence of fighting in my household, though, they always look at me like I'm from some strange planet.

(OT - I'm sorry, but "Never Been Spanked" sounds like a really bizarre and possibly adult version of that Drew Barrymore movie...)
posted by ilana at 3:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Related: A fantastic TV series running in Australia at the moment is The Slap. Watch it if you can.
posted by unliteral at 3:57 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Skinnerian Behaviorism 101: Punishment doesn't work. Without removing the impetus for the behavior, all punishment does is temporarily suppress it, to pop back up at a later time. What punishment does do is positively reinforce the punish-er by providing immediate results, however short-lived.

If we're speaking Skinnerian-ly, punishment simply refers to the delivery or removal of a stimulus contingent on a behavior that makes that behavior less likely to occur in the future. Yelling at your kid is also a punishment, as it delivers a presumably aversive stimulus contingent on an unwanted behavior.
While it's true that a punishment involving physical pain (like spanking) "temporarily" suppresses behavior, it's not necessarily true that it doesn't work. In fact, it works pretty well- that's why people keep resorting to it. It's immediately reinforcing to the person doing it, and if you keep doing it, it can quickly suppress the behavior for long periods of time. Of course, there are some side effects involved (side effects that outweigh any potential "benefits"), such as the punisher (parent in this case) becoming an aversive stimulus and potentially creating fear and increased aggressive behavior in the punished person. I don't have kids, but if I did, I would never want to be the source of physical pain for them- no matter how much it "works".
posted by chela at 4:04 PM on November 14, 2011


I certainly agree that spanking can be abuse. I can even stipulate that a great deal of spanking as practiced crosses the line into abuse. But I don't understand why it is necessarily abuse, by definition.

I don't think spanking is always of abusive intent or meaning, but there's a very real question of why we even allow one group of people to use physical force against another. Other such examples, such as the police and the army, are (notionally at least) structured and regulated according to context. Police officers aren't expected to stop dangerous drivers and give them a stiff ten with the baton, but rather use force only when it is needed. There are simply no other relationships between people where physical chastisement is the norm. So when we say spanking is always abuse, it's not that every act of spanking is abnormally harsh or sadistic, rather that the relationship that allows spanking is abnormal. Imagine if your boss hit you for coming to work late or not answering the phone in the correct manner. Unthinkable, isn't it?

(Also the practice of "spanking"—even the word itself—gives cover to those who wish to abuse their child.)
posted by Jehan at 4:07 PM on November 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


I remember a lot of the calmly delivered lectures from when I was a kid - what they were about, what I had done wrong. I remember the absolute grief I felt whenever my dad would do that thing with the sad look and the "I'm disappointed in you" line. But I honestly don't remember the reasons for 99% of the spankings I ever got. I just remember how it felt, physically and emotionally. Couldn't tell you what I learned from it other than "Don't make Mom mad."
posted by katillathehun at 4:11 PM on November 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


gauche: “I want to understand, in part because I was spanked as a kid, and I, like B in the example, don't think the spanking was abuse. (Different to B, I actually do identify some of the things my parents did as abuse, but I don't think spanking was one of them.) I kind of figured that when I eventually had kids, spanking would be on the table as a potential punishment. I don't yet have kids, but I want to understand and process the reasons why it's never okay, by definition, to spank your kid.”

Setting aside a lot of other stuff, I don't think that either intent of the actor or the way the putative victim feels about it have any bearing on whether a particular act is abuse.
posted by koeselitz at 4:13 PM on November 14, 2011


Couldn't we say "spanking is always wrong" without saying "spanking is always child abuse?" That seems like it would eliminate some of the repetitive, tedious arguments around this.
posted by naoko at 4:15 PM on November 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is an issue of cultural change, and to the extent that non-spanking societies reduce the incidence of actual abusive child-beating, it is a moral victory.

But my parents--who did spank me on rare occasions when I was being a little shit--are not moral failures because of it, and it is wrong to conflate child abuse with spanking.

I don't have kids, but if I ever do, I will certainly use more words than my parents did when disciplining mine. But I will not unequivocally rule out spanking, and I would see it as an invasion of privacy and infringement of parental rights if there were a law banning it.
posted by General Tonic at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I spanked my kids some but I stopped before Sweden passed that law. I spanked my oldest the most- a few times for bad behavior, my second just for things like running in the road (a two year old cannot understand danger well). My youngest was born in 1975, I think I maybe spanked him once, I remember he laughed, he's one of those people whose pain threshold is unusual, doesn't get novocaine when he gets work done on his teeth. I didn't stop spanking because he laughed, I stopped because I knew it was wrong.I am not Swedish.
posted by mareli at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


naoko: “Couldn't we say ‘spanking is always wrong’ without saying ‘spanking is always child abuse?’ That seems like it would eliminate some of the repetitive, tedious arguments around this.”

Yeah, that makes sense, naoko. "Abuse" is a pretty loaded word with lots of excess baggage, and it's often hard to tell what it means at all.
posted by koeselitz at 4:17 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why can't we spank naughty adults and not get charged with assault?
posted by Bubbles Devere at 4:20 PM on November 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


gauche, how about instead of using the term 'abuse', we use 'assault'? It seems severe, but how we would view one adult doing the same action to another adult?
posted by Feisty at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Glad to learn that the number of states that sanction corporal punishment in schools is down to nineteen! I thought it was stuck at twenty-three.

Please don't hit kids, not yours, not anybody else's.
posted by emhutchinson at 4:26 PM on November 14, 2011


Spanking's both barbaric and ineffectual, but good luck trying to persuade anyone of this who likes the idea of spanking. Oh man, they'll bring out all the self-delusional big guns to protect their prize practice.
posted by shivohum at 4:27 PM on November 14, 2011


I'm not sure who I understand less, the parents who feel the need to discipline their children (especially when attempting to punish violent tendencies) with violence, or the children who apparently require violence in order to temporarily cease misbehaving. Of course, my family is a particularly unusual one in terms of getting along; I can count on two fingers the number of times in my entire life that my parents even raised their voices to me, and I never really felt the need to misbehave either (these are probably functions of each other). [...]. Whenever I tell anyone about the utter absence of fighting in my household, though, they always look at me like I'm from some strange planet.

And when I used to tell people about the "fighting" in my household as a kid, they told me "it takes two to fight". There was always the assumption that the spanking or shouting was about misbehaviour, and I internalised that. I assumed that my brother and I were just worse behaved than most kids. As an adult, I learned that in many households, knocking over a water glass at table, or accidentally waking a napping adult by talking when you didn't realise they were asleep didn't result in a half hour yelling, slapping, door-slamming, wall-punching reaction from the grown-ups.

I suspect that in a different household, I might also have been able to count on two fingers the number of times my parents raised their voices to me. And it wasn't about "apparently requiring violence in order to temporarily cease misbehaving."
posted by lollusc at 4:28 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have never been physically disciplined nor have I even physically disciplined a child. What makes spanking especially weird to me, though, is the particular flavor of humiliation associated with hitting someone with less power on their buttocks. It's creepy.
posted by Morrigan at 4:32 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


I would see it as an invasion of privacy and infringement of parental rights if there were a law banning it.

I would counter by saying that your right to swing your hand around ends where someone else's body begins. In my opinion, the phrase should be parental powers.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm utterly pacifistic and against physical violence and punishment in all forms. However...

I wonder what the research studies references in the original post might be. Recently I had a reference question at an academic library, the student seeking research studies on spanking as a behavior modifier, dated in the last 5-10 years. Two librarians searched for over an hour in multiple databases and the most recent thing even discussing the issue was from 1971 or so. No one funds research actually examining spanking now in that context, only the negative effects on spanked children's learning, brain function, and emotional health. Or if they do, they are not publishing it.
posted by Riverine at 4:36 PM on November 14, 2011


I would counter by saying that your right to swing your hand around ends where someone else's body begins.

Yes, but you also don't have the right to determine another adult's religion, diet, bed-time, vocabulary, etc.

And there just is a difference between swatting your kid's butt then sending them to their room and punching a shopkeeper because you're angry. How can you even pretend to confuse the two?
posted by General Tonic at 4:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


True. The shopkeeper has a realistic option to defend himself.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:48 PM on November 14, 2011 [14 favorites]


You actually can't "determine a child's religion" if practicing that religion would be harmful to the child - such as people who refuse medical care for religious reasons.

You can't determine a child's diet if that diet would be harmful, such as starving the child.

There are several situations where "determining a child's bed-time" could be considered abusive.

So no, parents DON'T have absolute free reign over their children.
posted by muddgirl at 4:50 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't have kids, am not likely to anytime soon and haven't given a lot of thought to how I would raise them if I did have them.

Having said that, I remember being smacked as a child and frankly I remember it working. It was rare and a last resort, but when needed it worked far better than words in cutting through whatever bullshit I was trying on and my memories of being smacked are not at all traumatic.

Being a fairly pacifistic person by nature I can see the ideological appeal of "never hit, ever", but my more pragmatic response is more, "eh, it worked on me".
posted by deadwax at 4:55 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Corporal punishment is a trenchant meme. That's why it's so difficult to explain to spankers and spankees why this parenting strategy is inferior.
posted by polymodus at 4:55 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, but you also don't have the right to determine another adult's religion, diet, bed-time, vocabulary, etc.

And there just is a difference between swatting your kid's butt then sending them to their room and punching a shopkeeper because you're angry. How can you even pretend to confuse the two?


Well all that depends doesn't it. , There are situations where one adult would be legally able to decide those things, aside from religion, for another adult to one degree or another. As far as I know, none of those institutions allow for physically striking the adult.

There's also a difference between punching a shop keeper and swatting their butt, but you can get arrested for both. My usual turn of phrase is "right to swing a bat," but I softened it to hand, precisely because I didn't want to equate the two.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:56 PM on November 14, 2011


I was spanked as a child and I think there are different degrees of spanking. What that judge did to his daughter was something different than smacking a 4 year old on the hand for turning on the stove.

I hope I won't spank my kids, but I do think there is a difference between violence against children and discipline. Maybe there is not but I do not want to think of my parents as abusive people because I have a reflexive disdain for playing the victim in someone's narrative.
posted by Silo004 at 5:08 PM on November 14, 2011


Hell yes, Sweden.

But the next question is: what right do you have to make a person at all?
posted by curious nu at 5:11 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would see it as an invasion of privacy and infringement of parental rights if there were a law banning it.

I've never heard a convincing argument for "parental rights" as distinct from those that enable them to fulfil their duty to protect the child in their care. Do you defend the right to spank because you believe that spanking may be in the child's best interest, or because you believe that there is a set of parental rights that do not relate to that interest?
posted by howfar at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's why it's so difficult to explain to spankers and spankees why this parenting strategy is inferior.

I defend the right of parents to spank their children, AND I understand that spanking is inferior to other methods of discipline.

My qualm is with the state proscribing a normal, non-abusive form of discipline, especially when it can be easily shown that spanking does not necessarily damage children or the adults they become. I am a case in point. There are others upthread.

I am an atheist, but I would never support a law banning teaching the lies of religion to children. Even really bad ones, like Mormonism.

I know about healthy diets, but I would never support a law telling parents what they may not serve for lunch. Even hot dogs.
posted by General Tonic at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do you defend the right to spank because you believe that spanking may be in the child's best interest, or because you believe that there is a set of parental rights that do not relate to that interest?

I simply believe that--short of abuse--parents are the only ones who should determine what is in the child's best interest.

Not you. Not the state. Just Mom and Dad.

This is a matter of practicality more than anything.
posted by General Tonic at 5:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


But the next question is: what right do you have to make a person at all?

Because eugenics works so well
posted by delmoi at 5:18 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


short of abuse--parents are the only ones who should determine what is in the child's best interest...This is a matter of practicality more than anything.

I'm sorry, that's simply not a convincing answer. What does 'practical' mean in this context? Any answer that does not refer to moral and political considerations is going to be necessarily incomplete. A purely 'practical' approach might allow parents the right to maim their children on a whim, if it would be simpler to administer.

I think your position conflates two different arguments. The first is that, as parents typically have the best interests of their children at heart, parents should typically be allowed to determine what is best for their children in any given situation. The second is that parents have a right, distinct from the best interests of their children, to determine the course and conditions of their children's lives. The first argument is practical, the second political.
posted by howfar at 5:26 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, two links to sensationlitic CNN articles with carefully chosen quotes that convey a certain point of view on an emotionally charged topic. I wish there more meat to this post.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


curious nu: "But the next question is: what right do you have to make a person at all?"

delmoi: "Because eugenics works so well"

I think curious nu might be arguing something more like, well, I'll just quote from David Benetar's Wikipedia entry: "coming into existence is a serious harm, regardless of the feelings of the existing being once brought into existence, and that, as a consequence, it is always morally wrong to create more sentient beings."

I find it to be one of the more interesting strains of voluntary extinctionism, but that might just be from it reminding me of the Alpha Centauri quote where Sister Miriam Godwinson asks why a perfect God would create a universe at all.
posted by Copronymus at 5:38 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the benefit from no-spanking laws comes not from the idea that one or two spanks in a lifetime is abuse, but because if the norm is "no spanking" instead of "maybe spanking once or twice" then the tail end of the curve for the most aggressive parents moves from "whipping the crap out of my teenage daughter with a belt" to "spanking a couple times." That is, it's not about the harm of mild spanking, but about shifting societal norms such that the worst physical abuse becomes even further from the norm, thus decreasing its rate of incident.

I simply believe that--short of abuse--parents are the only ones who should determine what is in the child's best interest.

Not you. Not the state. Just Mom and Dad.


Yeah, the problem with this is what Mom and Dad thinks is best for the child can get totally warped by whatever is fucking up Mom and Dad and results in a fucked up child.
posted by schroedinger at 5:39 PM on November 14, 2011 [17 favorites]


Setting aside a lot of other stuff, I don't think that either intent of the actor or the way the putative victim feels about it have any bearing on whether a particular act is abuse.

That ... seems like a strong statement. It seems like you're saying that I don't have any say in whether an act done to me is abuse or not. I kind of feel like there's a nuance there that maybe you're missing.

I get that there are issues around whether children can make actual, informed, meaningful consent to things that are done to them, but it seems to me that consent is a pretty big part of whether an act is abuse or not. And I'm not, right now, trying to decide whether I, as a child, made meaningful consent to being spanked when I was particularly out of line or not, because I don't know how to figure that out.

What I'm trying to figure out is whether it was always inappropriate, the way that I now understand some other behaviors of my parents to have been always inappropriate, for my parents to spank me. And I don't know, but I do think that my opinion on the question matters, if only to me.
posted by gauche at 5:52 PM on November 14, 2011


I was spanked a single time as a kid. It was the summer of 1988 in rural Texas and I had done something to seriously piss off my dad. I would have been about seven. I remember that he was infuriated and didn't know how to punish me because what I had done was so far outside the realm of my usual childhood insanity.

After some parental discussion it came about that there as to be A Spanking. This was new, and terrifying. For some reason, and maybe this was my dad's brilliance, it was turned into this pathetic ceremony. I waited in my room until the appointed time at which my poor mother knocked on my door and solemnly escorted me to the living room where my dad waited in a chair. I was already Completely Losing My Shit.

We had a decorative cutting board with a handle that normally hung from a nail because my mom was basically Martha Stewart had seen such a thing in a magazine once. Dad had removed it and now held it in his hand like a paddle.

"You will be spanked three times," he said.

I had to lay over his lap and he raised the decorative cutting board up in the air. I was sobbing uncontrollably. Then, he let the thing drop, using the force of gravity to gently whack my bottom. It was ridiculous.

You have no idea how much I freaked out. Screaming. Wailing on the floor. Writhing and spazzing out. He might has well have severed my foot with a clever. It was so bad he stopped at a single whack and my mom took me back to my room.

My dad and I have retold our versions of this story to eachother for over 20 years since. We usually laugh until we cry. Inside, my dad was devestated at having gone through with something he never wanted to do, knowing that I was actually a pretty delicate child. And I had been traumatized, however little, for life.

The funny thing? To this day, neither of us can remember what the hell I'd done to deserve it.
posted by joinks at 6:01 PM on November 14, 2011 [19 favorites]


I do enjoy the comments that start "I don't have kids..." and then profess to know what is right or best for a child.

I know it's the oldest saying in the world, but if you haven't raised a child, THE GIBBERISH COMING OUT OF YOUR KEYBOARD/MOUTH IS MEANINGLESS.
posted by kuanes at 6:01 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I didn't realise that was the oldest saying in the world. Seems kinda cumbersome.
posted by howfar at 6:10 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Damnit. This is going to be a thread I need to stay out of, isn't it?

Physically hurting other people is wrong. Always. No caveats.
posted by schmod at 6:15 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know it's the oldest saying in the world, but if you haven't raised a child, THE GIBBERISH COMING OUT OF YOUR KEYBOARD/MOUTH IS MEANINGLESS.

The experience of the (now grown) child count for nothing?
posted by rtha at 6:15 PM on November 14, 2011 [23 favorites]



I know it's the oldest saying in the world, but if you haven't raised a child, THE GIBBERISH COMING OUT OF YOUR KEYBOARD/MOUTH IS MEANINGLESS.


So the fact that I was once a child means I can't comment on children's issues? How about the fact that I was a beaten child? Does that get me a pass? Or is anything I say still going to be labeled as gibberish by a complete stranger who knows not a damn thing about me or my life experiences?

How about we stop telling people what they can and can't comment on? If it bothers you, there is this thing called flagging it and moving on, it works pretty well. Give it a whirl!

I would like to know who all these "most parents" are that hit their kids. I don't personally know a single person in my generation who thinks that "physical punishment is an important tool in controlling their children."

Maybe I know your share of people who hit their kids, then, because I share an office with two other women and they both are staunchly in favor of striking a child who "needs" it. It's sickening, because officemate #1 is more vocal about what she feels is her god-given right as the person who birthed that child, and the child she uses corporal punishment on is her pre-teen daughter, who has been diagnosed as severely bipolar and severely OCD. Officemate #1 keeps spanking her 12 year old daughter in an effort to make her stop acting out, and somehow it's just not working. I'd tell her that getting a beating never made me obey, it just made me angry as hell, and actually being REASONED with at that age had a much greater effect on me, but she discounts any experience that isn't her own. (I'm so fucking glad I move out of that office on Friday, otherwise I'd flip out and throw a car at this woman. My god, she is a trial.)

Of the people I have met who believe striking a child is just fine, every last one of them received corporal punishment as a child and were raised in rather militaristic households with very strict rules and regimens. Anecdata, that's all, but it's interesting.
posted by palomar at 6:16 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


"You who are so even tempered, would you strike your kid if the science said it was beneficial and the law was changed to permit it?"

Once I was bitten by a dog, and I yelled at the dog. I felt so bad about yelling at the dog that I cried. Hitting a child would feel orders of magnitude worse.

Regardless of what science says and the law permits, I don't think I could strike a child, nor would I be inclined to. And on the flipside, I suspect that those who do strike children are inclined to do so regardless of what science says and the law permits.

I feel fortunate that my feelings on this issue appear to be on the right side of science, regardless of what the law permits.
posted by compartment at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, I just remembered, officemate #2's youngest child (actually a teen in her first year of college) is on the Asperger end of the autism spectrum. So it's very dismaying, that the two people I know who are most vocal about corporal punishment being a great thing are the two people I know raising children with rather robust mental health issues. And both of these women will bitch at the drop of a hat about the nanny state we live in and how the government won't allow them to discipline their children "properly" and how dare anyone tell them they can't hit their child, after all what else are you supposed to do when the child gets expelled from school for stealing or hangs up on you when she's in the throes of a total Aspie meltdown after a very bad first day at college classes?

(I just don't even bother, anymore. I'm out of that office in 4 days and moving in with people who don't actively suck, there's no use opening my mouth and voicing my opinion because they will not hesitate to tell me to shut up since I don't and won't have children. They've done it before.)
posted by palomar at 6:23 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


how about instead of using the term 'abuse', we use 'assault'? It seems severe, but how we would view one adult doing the same action to another adult?

Sure. Assault is probably a more specifically apt term, since it is by definition the unconsented and offensive touching of another.

I feel like the standard that you articulate ("one adult doing the same action to another adult") is a hard one to support. Being punished is not really a part of the adult experience, which is why I think it's obviously abuse when one adult does something to punish another. But surely not all punishment of children is abuse. Sending your kid to their room for the afternoon is probably not abuse, but putting an unwilling adult in a room for any period of time almost certainly is, for instance.

I am kind of struggling with this analogy, primarily because I can't even really imagine any kinds of punishments going on as between adults. Like, I don't know what it would mean for my wife to put me in a time out or my boss to make me stand in the corner.* It would be weird.

It wouldn't be weird, it's not weird, when parents appropriately put their kids in time out or make them stand in the corner. Even when the kid doesn't consent. It seems appropriate to me.

So I'm trying to understand the line between these two things, and I'm not sure that the line is "would this be appropriate if an adult did it to another adult."


* The only context I can imagine this sort of thing in is that of particularly punishment-oriented BDSM, and I understand that consent is of paramount importance in those circumstances.
posted by gauche at 6:30 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why can't we spank naughty adults and not get charged with assault?

You can with the right naughty sexy partner. I guess the difference is the ability to consent.
posted by fruit sandwich at 6:35 PM on November 14, 2011


I know it's the oldest saying in the world, but if you haven't raised a child, THE GIBBERISH COMING OUT OF YOUR KEYBOARD/MOUTH IS MEANINGLESS.

Currently raising a child & was once one too. I got hit on a daily basis. I won't go into any detail but suffice to say it did not do me any good at all. I'm still living with the consequences of this "discipline" to this day - chronic depression & anxiety, an all-pervasive sense of pessimism and a constant struggle to overcome intense self-loathing. Let me repeat it again - HITTING DID NOT DO ME ANY GOOD AT ALL.

My son is 5 and is mildly autistic. I'm ashamed to say that before I knew that my son was autistic I spanked him on the butt on two separate occasions. His tears were heartbreaking and made me feel like a monster. However aggravating his behavior was (refusing to stay in bed and running around the house at 2 AM when I had to be up for work at 7 AM), however mild my swats might have been, there is no fucking excuse for what I did - he didn't deserve it. Please, tell me how spanking him as discipline would accomplish anything. What could I possibly teach him by hitting him, other than to hate me and hate himself?
posted by echolalia67 at 6:37 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would like to know who all these "most parents" are that hit their kids

It is still hugely popular here in the South and in the Midwest, particularly among the fundamentalists. There is one trick called "blanket training" that really angers me. An infant is placed on a blanket and if it crawls near the edge of the blanket it is frightened away from the edge by beating the floor or even the infant itself with a wooden spoon. As the child grows, the blanket sessions get longer. It is supposed to instill self-discipline.

I contend that no child should be afraid of his parents. Parents should be the source of love and support and not the source of pain. Every situation can be resolved without resorting to violence but it takes patience, imagination, and planning-- not all parents are capable of this and mostly a good smack is just easier.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:37 PM on November 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


If it bothers you, there is this thing called flagging it and moving on, it works pretty well. Give it a whirl!

OR YOU WILL GET SUCH A SPANKING!
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why can't we spank naughty adults and not get charged with assault?

Some of us can. I spanked a naughty young lady last weekend. On her bare bottom. When I was done, her tender buns were bright red. She thanked me and gave me a kiss.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 6:44 PM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, that is what I was getting at, Copronymus. It is a question no one seems to have a non-extinction answer for beyond, "Well, that's just life." (Incidentally, that is one of my favorite SMAC quotes.)
posted by curious nu at 6:50 PM on November 14, 2011


I simply believe that--short of abuse--parents are the only ones who should determine what is in the child's best interest.

"Short of abuse" begs the question, doesn't it?
posted by spitbull at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


but if you haven't raised a child...

I am a new parent myself, but disagree vehemently with this. I have worked five years as a childcarer in a centre and studied the sociology of education and cognitive development at a university level - all without having children. I acknowledge this may make me atypical for a parentless person, but it serves to illustrate that you should play the ball, not the person, otherwise where do you draw the line? Parents shouldn't have a say in their children's education until they've taught a class themselves? That's just silly. Arguments should be assessed on their merits.

What makes spanking especially weird to me, though, is the particular flavor of humiliation associated with hitting someone with less power on their buttocks.

I am the last person in the world to defend spanking, but the buttocks is extremely logical. 1) It's easy to access for fast, spur-of-the-moment spanks. 2) It's actually the place on the body where a cuff would hurt the least if you actually think about it, and 3) the pad of fat and muscle means that it's relatively difficult to cause real (unintentional) damage to the buttocks. The large surface area of your hand meeting another smooth large surface with no joints, limbs, organs etc.

More broadly, I got spanked on occasion and it never did me any harm. Then, as a teen, other things happened to me that did a lot of harm. If spanking can be placed on a continuum with the other things that happened to me, I want no part of it in any way, and the idea of living in a world where it's reasonable for a stronger, larger person to hit someone by dint of their power and perceived rightness is anathema to me.
posted by smoke at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2011


Yeah, absolutely the buttocks are a logical place to spank from a physiology standpoint — if you're going to do so. Which you shouldn't.

When there's already worry about potential psychological effects from just the "hitting" part of the act alone, it seems desirable to me to avoid the potential for it to be involved with all sorts of other shame- and/or sexually-related feelings, too.

So: other parts of the body aren't as suited to non-phyiscally-harmful spanking, it's true. This strikes me as one more reason spanking is ill-suited to its purpose and we should use other solutions.
posted by glhaynes at 7:34 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So when we say spanking is always abuse, it's not that every act of spanking is abnormally harsh or sadistic, rather that the relationship that allows spanking is abnormal. Imagine if your boss hit you for coming to work late or not answering the phone in the correct manner. Unthinkable, isn't it?

I think I talk about this in another comment above, but maybe it's worth thinking about a little further. It seems like there are at least two sets of categories at play that may or may not be coterminous: person-nonperson and adult-child. We agree, surely, that persons bear rights which non-persons do not bear. We may agree, or disagree, about whether adults bear rights which children do not bear, and if so, which rights those may be.

If my boss put sent me to a room and told me not to come out until I was sorry, that would be, in a very real sense, degrading. Specifically, it would be degrading because he wasn't treating me like an adult. But (I think) a parent can do exactly that to a child without violating the child's rights. I think this is because, as I said above, being punished is not really a part of the experience of being an adult. I don't think the same is true of the experience of being a child.

So the line has to be somewhere else than just, "would this be inappropriate for one adult to do to another" because all punishment is inappropriate for adults (outside, I suppose, of the criminal justice system which is a special case for a lot of reasons). A professional, adult relationship that involved spanking and other forms of punishment would be inappropriate because of the punishment, even if spanking were taken off the table.
posted by gauche at 7:38 PM on November 14, 2011


being punished is not really a part of the experience of being an adult

There are differences that are more or less meaningful developmentally, but they don't add up to "adults aren't punished." Of course they are.

Sending someone into isolation until they are sorry is, indeed, practiced on adults - in the military and in prison, to start with. It's not the kind of punishment you normally find in the work place, but it's really not true to say that adults aren't punished. They are punished socially. They can be easily humiliated in front of others. They can be shamed. They are punished by not receiving certain plum tasks or special accounts to work on. There are consequences if you violate a workplace policy which might include loss of certain privileges. Adults can be punished by lower compensation or being passed over for a raise. They are punished by being assigned menial tasks which are demeaning to them. They are punished when they break the law - for instance, you might have to pick up litter on the side of the road if you are caught being drunk and disorderly some night. They are punished for being rude by return rudeness, bad service, or sabotage.

There are myriad ways, direct and indirect, to punish adults for bad behavior. The ways are limited only by the extent of one's imagination and applicable law. We're so darn creative about the ways we punish adults without assault that it is silly to think we can't do better with children. They're only children, after all.
posted by Miko at 8:35 PM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Discipline means teach. If you don't think you can handle guiding a child through life, helping them develop empathy, follow structure, respect boundaries, and function in the world with respect for the existance of others and rules that are created to keep everyone safe without spanking--- then wait to start parenting until you have done some reading, learning, possibly volunteered or worked in child care environments where miraculously children are taught structure and the ability to follow rules and engage without any hitting at all! Then start parenting.

There are even places that work specifically with behaviorally different/difficult children and miraculously, they don't use spanking either! It can be done. Seriously, many such places are happy to have volunteers.

Parenting is hard work and people can slip into unhealthy coping mechanisms when things get out of their control. I am all for better supports to gently and kindly give parents better tools to reduce stress, get support, and hear about useful parenting techniques that might help their specific situation with compassion for the fact that life stress, emotional issues, past issues etc can be at the root of not being able to do all the things you want to as a parent.

But ideologically, we should at least be encouraging parents to see non-violence as standard parental behavior.

Parents sometimes get angry/sad/upset etc when something intense happens and have an intense reaction and kids can get over seeing these things happen on occasion. It always has an effect but humans can adapt and will be resilient if enough positive factors allow for it. But there is something sinister to me about believing in and upholding a fundamental belief that the sanctity of spanking as beneficial if properly used must be respected. I guess it just creeps me out. Let's just let it fade into the "shit that used to be part of many people's early childhoods but isn't nowadays" category. Like exposure to asbestos, or DDT, smoking menthol cigarettes to heal a sore throat, riding in cars that don't have seatbelts. etc.
posted by xarnop at 8:41 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess no one will be watching The Slap at diwana, as just reported in the SMH.
posted by unliteral at 8:45 PM on November 14, 2011


One thing I can't understand in these conversations are the viewpoints from people willing to go through all kinds of contortions to come up with some framework or scenario in which they can understand spanking as okay or not wrong or not bad. It's certainly possible to engage in this game - you can dig up comparative studies, propose new definitions for 'abuse' or 'spanking' or 'discipline,' or if you were spanked, describe how very terrible a brat beyond all brattiness that was ever bratted you were that surely, surely merited being physically struck. There are a lot of potential ways to justify spanking and all of them have been around the block.

What I don't understand, though, is why it seems to anyone easier or more logical to go to all this effort of finding a justification than to reframe the entire situation using the very simplest and likely truest explanation in almost all cases: our parents really didn't always know what they were doing. They were out of ideas and out of patience, and they acted impulsively, maybe even angrily and desperately, perhaps excessively or perhaps ineffectually, but always without full mastery of the situation and a perfect knowledge of all outcomes. That seems to me to be what 99% of spankings later recalled as innocuous are all about.

And it happens. The less, the better, but it happens. At best, sometimes generally hands-off parents flip. At worst, they themselves had poor models for how to guide children into desired behaviors. So why look further? Why defend a tactic that has so little, really, to offer in its own favor, and comes with huge liabilities? Isn't it easier and more compassionate to everyone to say "my parents screwed a few things up, don't everyone's?" than to say "I'm so invested in proving that spanking isn't really all that bad that I'm going to do a ton of research and mount a carefully constructed argument or paint myself as a terrible brat who really needed a wake-up call, in order to exonerate my parents from any accusation of handling a disciplinary situation with less than perfect grace and skill." That kind of defense-mounting just doesn't seem to be about spanking in and of itself.

Some people may not have experienced spanking as all that bad. Lucky them. But if someone says they experienced it as something good, or work very very hard at explaining to me why I should see the light and understand it as good or at least not harmful, it's fair to be skeptical. Its usefulness and even innocuousness are too easily deniable to ever be the simplest and most likely explanation.
posted by Miko at 8:55 PM on November 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


It's funny this was posted because the subject of corporal punishment in school has been on my mind all day.

I was born in 1970, and until I was 9 years old my family lived in a small village just outside of Columbus Ohio. I call it a village because it had a population of only about 400 people so it did not really qualify as a town.

I recall life there as rather tranquil and idyllic, but my memories of school, at least the last year we were there, are not so pleasant. This was because the principal of the school was a sadistic child abuser. I don't mean any kind of sexual abuse, he just liked to beat up little kids with his OSU fraternity paddle.

He was not the principal when I was in kindergarten but I believe he was hired as the principal later. That would probably have been around 1979. Right away things changed in our school because he was definitely a believer in "spare the rod, spoil the child." One rule I recall was that we were not allowed to speak while standing in line for lunch in the cafeteria. A lot of kids talked anyway because all that would happen was the teachers would shush us. One day, every kid that talked in line was taken away and sent to the principals office. I clearly remember a line of children snaking out of the principals office. He paddled every single one of them. Nobody dared speak in line after that.

One day I made up an admittedly cruel joke about another kid, and some of the other kids heard me say it. My little joke included a curse word that I had probably heard my father say a hundred times but cursing was strictly forbidden in elementary school. I was sent to the principals office - he beat me for it. And when I say he beat me I mean he beat me black and blue to where I could no longer sit down. My parents spanked me too, but, they never left a mark on my body. Not so with the principal of my school.

My sister and I both remember hearing the sounds of children being beaten and crying out in pain coming out of the ventilation ducts in the classrooms. We accepted this as normal - we were little kids and did not know any better.

Around this time my father got a new job in Washington DC so he moved there ahead of the family to work and to find us a new house. So Dad was gone and my mother, who was pregnant with twins, took care of my sister and I. When Dad left I became one of the principals "special cases". Anything I did that was out of line, I was sent to the principals office, and every time I went to the principals office I was beaten.

The worst was one day when, I think, I spilled some punch on my shirt - off to the Principals office. That time he beat me really good right in the hallway, so everyone in the school could hear it, with my teacher watching. When he was done he took his fist, balled it up in my shirt, lifted me off the ground and slammed me into the wall while my young third grade teacher looked on in horror, and called me a little bastard.

That was the spring of 1980. I remember it like it happened yesterday.

A few days later, even though our new house was not completed and there was only two weeks left in the school year, my mother packed us all up and moved us to the Virginia suburbs of DC. She later told me that the reason we left in such a hurry was because the principal was abusing me.

So, after a few months of hell, I escaped, but the damage was done. He did a really thorough job of destroying my self esteem. Although I was regarded as gifted I never did well in public school and I think I can pin some of that on him. And during those critical years of the early teens when children are learning important social roles, I really struggled. When I went to school in Virginia, corporal punishment was allowed, but they did not spank kids in my school. I only recall it happening once during my entire education and it happened to a kid I knew, he requested it so he wouldn't have to have detention. He said it didn't even hurt. (trivia: this guy is currently camped out in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan)

I did grow up and eventually had a successful career. I do not know what happened to the principal after we left. Considering the number of kids he was beating and that I was not the only special case he had, I strongly suspect he did not stay principal for very long before he was quietly ushered out of there. But the truth is I have no idea.

Last weekend my fiancee and I traveled back to Columbus for a friends wedding. I went back to my old village. The place was so vastly different it was almost unrecognizable to me. In 1990, the richest man in the entire state moved there, and he created a new development company to re-develop the village. All the old school buildings were torn down and replaced with a new campus that was designed to resemble, of all places, the campus of the University of Virginia. That school system is now regarded as one of the finest in the state, and the village is now the home of Columbus's millionaires and billionaires. (I realize that Columbus mefis are going to realize right away where this is)

I hated that man for many years. For so long, I wanted to grab him and pummel him, and watch them take him away in an ambulance. But now I'm 41 and I don't feel that way anymore, it's immoral, for one, and to be frank I have a lot to lose - I don't need a felony assault charge.

While I don't want to see or speak to him again, I have tried to look him up, just to see what happened and allay any fears that this man continues to work with small children. However I can find no trace of him. It would be interesting to find someone who went to that school at the same time as me and discover what happened.

I don't believe my parents spanking me was child abuse but in my mind that principal absolutely was a child abuser who had no business working with children. And as far as I know he got away with it.

It should be noted that corporal punishment in schools is now illegal in Virginia and as of 2009 it is also illegal in Ohio.
posted by smoothvirus at 9:03 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Spanking is the Pareto solution -- 80% of the benefit for 20% of the effort.
posted by michaelh at 9:07 PM on November 14, 2011


Every situation can be resolved without resorting to violence but it takes patience, imagination, and planning-- not all parents are capable of this and mostly a good smack is just easier.

I don't think it's necessarily that parents aren't capable of this, and it's unfair to foist the blame completely onto them. Just like how when it's brought up that the poor don't always have the time, education, or resources to improve their eating habits, it can also be said that the poor don't have the time, education, or resources to improve their parenting habits.

One thing I can't understand in these conversations are the viewpoints from people willing to go through all kinds of contortions to come up with some framework or scenario in which they can understand spanking as okay or not wrong or not bad.

I don't think it's not that not-understandable. I mean, just perusing this topic thus far, there's been some pretty nasty things said about parents that do spank their kids. "Barbaric", "foreign", and "abnormal".

And it's not like it isn't the first time where there's controversy about what the state or other people are telling another group of people how to raise their kids. There's movements out there about both circumcision and breast feeding, too.
posted by FJT at 9:09 PM on November 14, 2011


My father regularly used a belt on me; oddly, he didn't feel the need to use it on my older, wilder sister. Years later, she's a successful surgical nurse with a happy marriage and family, and I'm a nutjob who lives on disability and hates most people. Nope, no connection there.
posted by weirdoactor at 9:14 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a victim, as regards this topic. Both at home and at school. Intellectually, I have some rather good arguments against spanking in schools. But they are the sort of arguments one would make who hasn't decided spanking is universally wrong. However, I have no trouble accepting the notion that it's wrong.

(Recently, I reconnected to a friend from grade school. I was shocked to learn that the many spankings I got back then were possibly as (or more!) traumatic for her, as for me. This is, all by itself, a wonderful reason to ban the practice in schools!)

But! The context in which I have the most difficulty comprehending is also one which I can't personally relate to, as I've not raised kids or even spent time in charge of toddlers. See, it's the toddlers that puzzle me, as they are too little to reason.

It seems perfectly natural to swat a toddler (and by "swat", I mean a casual application of hand to bottom, more as a punctuation than anything), for example, running into the street. How do you teach a toddler that some NO!'s mean more than others? Or as someone noted above, swatting a hand for playing with stove knobs/switches. These are not really "spankings".
posted by Goofyy at 11:59 PM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here is what I don't get. Regardless of how un-harmed I may be from having been spanked, I can see that others were--to varying degrees, but still, to some degree greater than none at all. Given that other discipline methods exist, and are proven effective, why on earth would I want to even take a chance that my son, whom I love more than life, might turn out to be one of those who is so affected?

Yeah, it's possible he could end up in the "I was spanked and it was fine" camp. But he might not. Why would I play with fire? I have no false hubris that I will always be calm and even tempered in volatile situations, so why on earth would I PLAN to have anything that even was a whisper's worth of violence in my parenting toolbox?
posted by e to the pi i at 12:00 AM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


The funny thing? To this day, neither of us can remember what the hell I'd done to deserve it.

joinks, I'm sure you will be delighted by this old tale from Hiram Percy Maxim, the inventor (whose father was the inventor of the Maxim gun), "The Whipping." (which I read years ago as an excerpt in a treasury for young readers). It's from his 1936 autobiography, A Genius in the Family. tl;dr at bottom, but it's worth a minute or two

As I grew older it was natural that I should become more and more of a
problem to my mother. My besetting sins were teasing my sisters and
breaking things around the house. Finally a day came when I did a thing
which my mother felt was beyond her.

She had a full-length pier glass in her room which extended from the
floor to the ceiling. It had a white marble base with a flat place on the
latter which extended out into the room about a foot. Little Florence
discovered that a large glass marble would bounce beautifully off this
base. One day she was bouncing her marble in front of the pier glass, and
it occurred to me that it would surprise her very much were I to snatch
the marble while it was in the air. I edged up, and when I was within
reach I make a quick pass to snatch the marble. But I miscalculated.
Instead of closing my hand upon it, I struck it with my hand and knocked
it against the pier glass, which it broke.

I told my mother, and when she came upstairs and beheld her broken mirror
she sank into a chair and wept. I was desolated. It hurt me inexpressibly
that I should be the cause of my mother's weeping. She told me that I had
got beyond her control and that she would have to turn me over to my
father for a good whipping; that I paid no attention to her, and as
things were going there was no living with me.

Turning me over to my father for a good whipping was a brand-new idea to
me. I could not remember that my father had ever laid a hand upon me,
except possibly once when I was very young indeed, when he tapped me
gently with the tongue of his draftsman's T-square. This was very light
and very thin and stung for a moment. It would not bruise. It is an
admirable instrument for administering a little corporal punishment.

That evening after my father had come home he was led up to the broken
pier glass and shown my latest and worst offense. It appeared to
prostrate him utterly. He sank into a chair, held his head in his hands,
rocked back and forth in exquisite agony, and gave several similar
indications of being completely undone by the spectacle. He made it an
extremely painful scene for me and I certainly did feel low in my mind.
My mother told him that I was getting entirely out of hand and that he
must give me a good whipping or I would break everything in the house
besides making them all thoroughly miserable. Father said he was too
prostrated to undertake the whipping then, but that he would attend to it
after supper.

Supper was a doleful affair. I had never sat through such a nerve-wearing
ordeal before. I was in the deepest disgrace and everybody, including
little Florence, was sunk in woe. I had never been so thoroughly unhappy.

After supper my father announced that he would read his paper first, and
when he had finished he would take up the whipping matter. I had never
had a whipping. My mother had spanked me aplenty, but I did not regard
that as a whipping. I wondered what it would be like to be whipped. I
waited patiently until my father had finished his evening paper, sitting
in a deep gloom meanwhile, but with no fear or terror. My woe was born of
having broken my mother's pier glass, which she treasured, and of
throwing the whole family into gloom.

When my father had finished his paper he got up briskly, saying, "Well
now. Come along, Percy. Let's attend to this whipping business." He led
the way out into the back yard where we visited my mother's shrubs and
bushes, from which a suitable whip was to be cut. My father had his
pocket knife open, ready to cut when he found a stalk that met the
requirements. He explained to me that it was necessary to find one that
had just the right length and thickness and straightness. If it were too
short it would not have enough spring. If it were too long it would have
too much spring and would break. If it were too thin it would be weak,
whereas, if it were too thick it would bruise, which of course would not
do.

We searched and searched without finding anything that just suited. I
became interested in the problem and pointed out several likely-looking
sticks which appeared as though they might answer the exacting
specifications. He discussed my selections with me, examining each one
with care. After spending quite a time at it, he finally decided that the
best thing to do would be to cut several and try them. He cut a long thin
one, a long thick one, a middle-length one, and several other
compromises. This made five whips. I was very much impressed with his
technique. I could see that between all of the whips it was more than
likely that one would be found which would suit much better than possibly
could be the case were one only to be selected by guessing. I did not
recognize it at the time, but I had received my first lesson in
engineering research.

After all had been prepared and whittled down smooth he said, "Now come
along up to my room and we will try them." He led the way to the
third-floor front, which was his room. Arrived here, he took off his
coat, his collar, and necktie, and rolled up his sleeves. I was a bit
concerned at this, for it suggested that a whipping must be something
calling for considerable activity. He laid the five whips on the bed and,
taking one at a time, he smote the coverlet. The savage whir and the
succeeding whack sounded all over the house. He put real muscle into it.
The long thin whip broke. He explained that he had expected this to
happen, for the stick was too thin for its length. The thick one made a
fearful whir and whack when it hit the coverlet. We rejected this one
because it was evident that it would bruise. Later on I heard my mother
say that she never suffered such horrible nervous strain in all her life,
listening to the savage whir of the whip and the awful whack as it
struck. She imagined my little body might be receiving these blows; but
as I did not cry out and as she could hear me talking calmly afterward,
she assumed that I could not be suffering very acutely. I firmly believe
that most of this bed-whacking business was for my mother's benefit, as
she sat downstairs trying to read.

When we had whacked the bed coverlet for a long time, testing the whips
and breaking most of them, my father was far from being satisfied. He sat
down on the edge of the bed and outlined in his clear way the problem as
it confronted us. Said he, "What we need is something fairly long, very
strong, and yet very light. It also must be very springy. Where can we
find such a thing which we could use for a whip?"

We thought and thought. By this time I was as keenly interested in the
solution of the problem as though some one else were to receive the
whipping. I suggested a baseball bat, but in the same breath I pointed
out that it was unsuitable, although I pointed out that it would hit
awful hard.

"Oh, much too hard," he replied. "Why, you could break a man's back with
a baseball bat, and kill him." He recoiled at the suggestion of a
baseball bat.

"I suppose a broomstick would be too stiff, too," I ventured.

"Altogether too stiff and too heavy. It would break bones and be very
dangerous."

There was a long pause here while we both thought. Then an idea occurred
to me. "Gosh, Papa! I know the very thing. That thin cane of yours."
Among his walking-sticks was a very thin one which I used to admire.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "That's a good idea. Go and fetch it."

I remember hurrying downstairs to the clothes-closet in the butler's
pantry where the canes and umbrellas were kept. As I ran through the
reception-room, being in my usual hurry, I had to pass my mother. She
seemed much surprised to see me hurrying to the clothes closet. She asked
me what I was after. I answered:

"We're trying to find a good whip. We're going to try the thin cane."

She asked something else, but I was much too busy to stop just then and
explain. She afterward said that my being in such a hurry to find a cane
with which to be whipped seemed one of the most extraordinary things she
ever heard of.

When I returned with the thin cane my father whacked the coverlet with it
with all his might. It made a particularly savage noise. My mother must
have winced when she heard it. After whacking the bed coverlet until my
mother was ready to fly out of her skin, my father shook his head and
handed the cane to me, asking me to try it and say what I thought. I had
noticed him putting a lot of "beef" into his blows, so I decided to put
in all I had. Getting the best grip I could, which was difficult on
account of the curved handle, I whacked the bed coverlet for all that was
in me. It only made a fair noise and my father feared my mother might not
hear it. He told me to put more "beef" into it. I wiped off my hands,
took a fresh grip, took careful aim, and belabored the coverlet with all
my might. When my father expressed disappointment over the weight of my
blows, I explained that the curved handle got in my way and that no one
could hit hard, with the handle where it was. My father was not
satisfied and we went into executive session again. It was quite
apparent to me what was required, but we would have to do a lot of
searching around to find just exactly the thing. It must have appeared
this way to my father, too, for he finally said, "Well, I guess we shall
have to give up the whipping, Percy. We can't seem to find the right
whip. But, anyway, you understand that you must be more careful around
the house and that you must not make so much trouble for Mamma, don't
you; and you will begin tomorrow morning and try to be a better boy,
won't you, Percy?"

I was very deeply impressed by the way he said it. He was asking me as a
favor to him and to Mamma to do something. I realized that it would be
very mean indeed of me to fail to do as he asked. And it would be yet
meaner not to try to make things more pleasant for Mamma. So I said,
"Yes, Papa. I will" And then we went downstairs and explained to Mamma
that the whipping matter had to be called off. I am glad to be able to
say that I kept my promise in pretty fair shape, as time proved.


(Essentially, Maxim broke his mother's large, freestanding mirror by interfering with his sister's marble-playing. His mother tells his father he must be whipped, and both Maxims then begin a search for the perfect whipping instrument. The testing of various whips engrosses the son to the extent he realizes that it would be almost impossible to get whipped properly for his infraction without being severely injured.)

As this story dates from ca. 1880, it's pretty clear that the question of how much corporal punishment is too much is not an exceptionally modern one.
posted by dhartung at 12:00 AM on November 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


Lovely find, dhartung.
posted by smoke at 12:58 AM on November 15, 2011


I'm no fan of beating your children, but here's my ill thought out thoughts:

1) Complaining about people not being parents (above) is just a twist on the old "As a parent ..." adage. It's tiresome. As someone without children, I can say (and having children, you're unlikely to understand this) that you are the last person who should be talking about what kids need. Your parental instincts cloud your logic.

2) See how that feels? Now stop it already.

3) I've not seen any evidence that some form of physical discipline is worse for children. Truth is, you're probably going to discipline your kids at some point, and I can't see why the "Naughty Step" wouldn't be as damaging as a quick slap.

4) I think it may actually be possible (though unlikely & difficult) to raise children without disciplining them. It's certainly possible to raise dogs with nothing but positive reinforcement.

5) Lets not forget the parents. Your kids are the best thing in the world, but they're also annoying little shits. You should be allowed to hurt them (without causing any damage) now and again. For your own mental well-being.
posted by seanyboy at 1:44 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not a believer in spanking - in fact the only thing bad enough my kid does to warrant it is when he hits me - and that's entirely defeating the point isn't it? Hitting someone to stop them hitting?

Like my mother before me though I'm a thrower of things and I feel miserable if I've lost control and chucked something across the room, even though I can see how sleep deprivation and petulant whining drive me to it. It is more work to explain something 10 times, but I think in the long run it's better to do that then show yourself losing control.

I know the messages are getting through - I can see my 3 year old chanting the rules even as he seems compelled by unnatural forces to poke a toe over the line I've drawn in the sand.
posted by gomichild at 3:11 AM on November 15, 2011


Lets not forget the parents. Your kids are the best thing in the world, but they're also annoying little shits. You should be allowed to hurt them (without causing any damage) now and again. For your own mental well-being.

Wait, what the fuck?

Does this apply to caretakers of the elderly and developmentally disabled as well? People with dementia and mental disabilities can also be trying, so it's OK for us to hurt them without causing any damage, right?
posted by schroedinger at 3:14 AM on November 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


It was rare and a last resort

That's how it was when I was growing up - a very rare occurrence, and always the result of extreme frustration. Also spur-of-the-moment; I thankfully didn't have any of the "you're going to get a beating" warnings that people mention above. How awful that must be for a child.

Smacking (which is what it's generally called in the UK, in my experience at least) was also the way my mother discovered I had dermatographia - a rather light slap on the leg caused a really angry handprint, and nearly scared her to death as she thought she'd seriously hurt me.
posted by altolinguistic at 3:25 AM on November 15, 2011


Larkin
posted by unliteral at 3:43 AM on November 15, 2011


Hey there. I'm a parent. I was beaten as a child, and I spanked my kids. Lucky for me and them both I got me some education on child raising, about how children are people too, that they are entitled to feelings and that it takes for them to learn how to regulate both their expression of their feelings, and their behaviour. There was much more to it, and after that point, I hit my children only once and regret that, as well as earlier hittings. With education I became a much better parent, much more capable of controlling and assisting their behaviour. See, this is the thing. There are alternatives, and they often work better than the way we were raised, but for some stupid fucking reason we think raising children is easy and that we're all born to do it, simply because someone dragged us up long enough to reach adulthood.

Bullshit.

Nearly everything else that's complicated we're educated in, or educate ourselves. Driving. Typing. Fishing, even. But childraising - nah, any stupid sod can do that.

I won't say that the physical abuse had the worst influence on me, I think the cruel sarcasm and thoughtless negative comparison to my brothers probably left more damage, but really, research and experience shows without doubt that violence on people hurts them, often longterm and in more ways that we consider at the time. And when you're little, and the people who are giants and gods in your household use their powers to physically hurt you - what security do you have? When you've been a shit because you're tired, or scared, or you're going through a growth spurt, or you even had no idea that what you were doing was not allowed - and the consequence is violence, where does that leave you?
posted by b33j at 5:14 AM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also really clear that people don't forget being spanked, no matter how mild they've decided it was. They remember it clearly and vividly. This imprint alone is interesting. I can't clearly recall many of the times I had an allowance withheld, was sent to my room, was grounded, had to give a public or direct apology, had to pay somebody back for something I had broken or taken, or had to receive an embarrassed talking-to. They happened and I remember them, but they don't pop out as unusual events that need to be examined, interrogated and explained. Still, they were presumably as or more effective than spanking, since I didn't turn out to be a thief or liar or jerk and by my own parents' account was generally a good kid, though I made some awful mistakes, as does everyone. The disciplinary experiences I had sometimes involved really uncomfortable emotions and harsh realizations, but they didn't involve being hit. So I don't remember them with this sharpness and clarity that sometimes is described by people who recall a spanking. What that means to me is that the actions and emotions in these situations weren't overwhelming - they didn't blow my childhood circuits. They were developmentally appropriate and within an understandable range of adult behavior. A spanking would have been so shockingly unimaginable, I think, so bizarre and inexplicable and strange, that I would indeed not be able to let that memory fade with the other generic memories of punishment and consequence, and would still be looking to explain it. When I see friends or relatives spank kids, and watch the kids' faces, what you see isn't the internal struggle or dawning realization of a wrong done that needs to be amended. When the kid is first seized, you see the eyes widened and the face flattened in fright. The spanking sometimes raises tears but it almost always, also, seems to result in defensiveness and resentment and later, either bravado or meekness. This isn't what effective discipline that results in ethical behavior looks like.

Why can't we spank naughty adults and not get charged with assault?

Some of us can. I spanked a naughty young lady last weekend. On her bare bottom. When I was done, her tender buns were bright red. She thanked me and gave me a kiss.


This also gives me a little pause. Not because of what consenting adults do - that I don't give a shit about, and i don't think there's anything wrong with adults who want to play with tropes about discipline go ahead and do it. But it makes me wonder what the basis is for it - why iswould any childhood disciplinary action that is supposedly uncomplicated become a widespread and highly charged sexual activity for adults? I mean, you wouldn't find much of a "going to your room" or "witheld allowance" fetish (outside, of course, of the narrow niche of people who become obsessed with discipline in general, the same people who might as well be obsessed with other things that became charged for them at some point, like shoes or nurse's outfits. I'm speaking more about the more widespread and less involved use of spanking as part of sexual play). If spanking is a normal and natural way to deliver discipline, healthy, appropriate, and unremarkable, why would it be something that people later revisit in a psychosexual way? How was that emotional set built: "Spanking is sexual. When I'm being spanked I'm being aroused."?

It's hard for me to reconcile the messages we want to give kids about their right to their bodies, especially the zones of their bodies our culture declares are intimate and sexual and that no one has the right to touch without their permission, and at the same time communicate that a parent (or any other adult in authority, which is a part of the communication when a parent does it) can violate those expectations to bodily safety and by doing so, create a sensation so unusual and so confusingly framed that it's remembered and reconfigured as sexual activity. It's fair to ask what the sexual dimensions of spanking are, and if the exposure, pain, attention, possibly arousal, shame, and loss of control kids experience during spanking is a schema that makes sense to set up.

I agree that the attempts to dismiss arguments based on parental status are BS. I spent eight summers of my life living 24-7 with children ages 7 to 15, many of them troubled or troublesome. Then I worked for three years as a primary grades teacher, and also as an educator in a residential program. If you think this means I didn't understand discipline, you're high. First of all, in an educational setting in the states where I worked, there is absolutely no quarter given for physical discipline. It is not allowed, and if you slip and perform it, you'll be out of a job and perhaps facing charges. The effect of this is to take physical discipline off the table - no matter what is going on. Unlike in a parenting situation, it is simply never an option, no matter what you feel pushed to. This means you need an active set of other strategies, and we were trained in them, and used them, to great effect. And because of all these experiences I'm well aware that children can drain you, provoke you, and wear out your patience. But there is no world in which a necessary response to this is hitting them. In the classroom, particularly, where I spent seven hours a day (minus 20 minutes) with the same children, enduring every display of out-of-control behavior including meltdowns, fights, tantrums, stealing, namecalling, intentional destruction of objects, intentional assaults on other kids and sometimes teachers, knowing vandalism, and cruelty, we needed and practiced many other disciplinary solutions. And for many of the parents in my class, given the use of afterschool care and sometimes even weekend parenting routines such as divorced parents trading kids off with one another, I actually spent more time, hour for hour, on weekdays during those years than their parents did. Imagine all the things that happen to try your patience on a full day with a kid; in the classroom I had all of that, multiplied by 20. I know few parents who are prepared to handle such a situation, and in fact, when we had to depend on parents to help us with field trips and the like, it was clear that many of them simply didn't have the skills to set and maintain expectations for kids, whether in small or large groups. It's not about having kids or not having kids. It's about having strategies, having a thoughtful approach to discipline and having an array of approaches in your back pocket to both prevent and curtail bad behavior. Some parents have great strategies, and some parents, frankly, are far out of their depth. The having of kids alone does not confer good judgment about raising them. In fact, I agree with the comment above even though it was joking: it can just as easily cloud your judgment.
posted by Miko at 5:36 AM on November 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


What makes spanking especially weird to me, though, is the particular flavor of humiliation associated with hitting someone with less power on their buttocks. It's creepy.

I think the buttocks were primarily chosen because of the excess fatty tissue. It's more reasonable to believe that you won't cause excessive physical injury to that area. The next fattiest part would be the thighs, another popular spanking place.

At least initially, it was grounded in some (misled) logic.
posted by Malice at 6:34 AM on November 15, 2011


why iswould any childhood disciplinary action that is supposedly uncomplicated become a widespread and highly charged sexual activity for adults?

There is no easy answer to that, and I don't think it's as simple as disciplinary childhood spanking = sexual. It can be, but I don't think that's going on here.

Just as widespread as spanking, if not even more, is the "daddy" fetish. Calling your partner daddy. Certainly there's nothing sexual about your father, right? You can call your dad "daddy" and it does not trigger a sexual response. The same goes for spanking. The two do not necessarily coincide together, but can.
posted by Malice at 6:53 AM on November 15, 2011


In unrelated news, whatever you see the US doing, do the opposite and you will be fine.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:12 AM on November 15, 2011


Just as widespread as spanking, if not even more, is the "daddy" fetish. Calling your partner daddy.

I'm not sure there's any way to substantiate that it's just as widespread, and actually I doubt it, and I think just the frequency with which each is mentioned in sex literature is an indication that spanking is by far more common, at least more commonly fantasized and written about. I don't want to comment further on these behaviors because I am wary of being perceived as kink-unfriendly, and certainly all kinds have roots in the developing mind, and they're not bad in themselves. I'm just not sure that children are ready to understand and parse the complicated emotions of someone you love physically hurting you and exposing you, and finding it memorable and powerful. In any case, I think that there is enough admixing of arousal, shame, exposure and discipline in spanking children that it is worth avoiding it simply to avoid confusing these concepts for young people, creating paradoxes which are really quite hard to resolve. Creating that experience is certainly not something I want to do to my children.
posted by Miko at 7:26 AM on November 15, 2011


People do not assault others they respect and they particularly do not assault those they love. When a parent (even one who only spanks a couple of times in childhood) strikes a child they are not loving and respecting their child. They are hating that child on some very real level. This also includes the ridiculous, "calm", "reasoned", plotted and planned fetishistic spanking. Thus, spanking is not parenting. It has little to do with the child. It has to do with the spanker and his/her feelings. The spanking parent is only taking care of himself. Usually compensating for the inadequate parenting they received themselves. Do not allow it. Stop it when you see it in public. Child beaters always back down in shame. When confronted in the moment they KNOW they are abusing. I was taught this by my 5'2" grandfather. I saw him back down more than one strapping 6 footer busy abusing their kid. He taught me to never allow a weaker person to be abused by a stronger one.
If you don't have children and you think spanking is fine. Please don't ever become a parent. If you have kids and you spank. Reflect on who is getting a benefit from your unacceptable behavior. You are. Stop it. Get therapy and stop trying to rationalize your own abuse as a child.
posted by txmon at 8:27 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


One final note on all of this, that I thought of today when I revisited this thread is that it is, in my experience, quite easy to reduce a child to a sobbing wreck without laying a hand on them. Doing this on a near daily basis can be a form of emotional abuse that takes years for the person in question to recognize, but it is just as possible to make a child fear their parent without hitting them.

Which leads me to two observations: first that spanking is unnecessary for discipline. If you want to cow your child, have them break down and promise to never do whatever it was wrong that they did before again (until they forget, that is), you do not need to raise a hand. Your voice is sufficient. Children are not terribly psychologically complicated. (As a note, as a kid, I never saw a spanking/beating (an yes, many of them were beatings) that did not reduce the child to tears. I always assumed that was part of the process.)

Second, spanking is unnecessary if you want to leave a permanent impression on the child. You do not need to hit them to have them remember fear and dread. The consequence of knowing that someone who is supposed to love your and shelter you thinks (or at least acts like they think) you are the worst thing in the world goes a lot further than you'd think it would.

tl;dr You can cow your children into obedience with the correct application of words. I'm not saying that cowing them into obedience isn't necessary. Just that words alone will suffice.
posted by Hactar at 8:36 AM on November 15, 2011


why iswould any childhood disciplinary action that is supposedly uncomplicated become a widespread and highly charged sexual activity for adults?

Normal people are used to a variety of touches, so they are able to respond completely differently to a sexual touch and a non-sexual touch in the same area. A rich history of hugs, kisses, back rubs, breast/testicular exams, changing diapers, spankings, fightds, etc. would not inform their sexual preferences, just keep them from trying to compensate for something by providing a satisfying amount of non-sexual touch.

That said, many people live life without much physical contact and have always done so. Spankings for such a child would be a high percentage of non-sexual touch when it should be a low percentage. As an adult, a person deprived of touch whether spanked or not as a child would probably be drawn to an intense sexual activity, and if they drew on their experiences for inspiration (and pop culture now that it's seen in more media) they would likely develop a taste for erotic spanking.
posted by michaelh at 8:54 AM on November 15, 2011


Are you just making this stuff up? A person who isn't used to being touched would more likely avoid the more intense forms of touch. Nobody knows exactly how paraphilias develop, but there are much better theories than this.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:30 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, and I won't ask you if you are.
posted by michaelh at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2011


OK, if you're speaking authoritatively on the subject, I'd be genuinely interested in a reference that backs up and elaborates on what you're saying. Or are these original, unpublished research results?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 9:38 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


People do not assault others they respect and they particularly do not assault those they love.

People don't forcibly detain people they love against their will. People don't steal cherished belongings from people they love. People don't forcibly deny access to enjoyable and harmless activities to people they love.

When a parent (even one who only spanks a couple of times in childhood) strikes a child they are not loving and respecting their child. They are hating that child on some very real level.

This is the thing I don't get. I don't mean this in a pro-corporal-punishment way. But... all parental punishment inflicts suffering on the child. A time-out inflicts some brief and passing sorry on the child by denying him or her more preferred activities. The removal of some cherished toy inflicts suffering and sorrow on the child directly, etc. And all punishment acts as a forcible reminder that you have no meaningful autonomy, inflicting the associated distress and sorrow.

Again, I don't mean this in a pro-spanking way, but I don't see why a parent who inflicts only purely psychic pain on their children is automatically pure. At some level, suffering is suffering.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:51 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


As an adult, a person deprived of touch whether spanked or not as a child would probably be drawn to an intense sexual activity, and if they drew on their experiences for inspiration (and pop culture now that it's seen in more media) they would likely develop a taste for erotic spanking.

Do you have any basis for this? This hasn't been my experience in 15 years with the BDSM community.
posted by desjardins at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is the thing I don't get. I don't mean this in a pro-corporal-punishment way. But... all parental punishment inflicts suffering on the child. A time-out inflicts some brief and passing sorry on the child by denying him or her more preferred activities. The removal of some cherished toy inflicts suffering and sorrow on the child directly, etc. And all punishment acts as a forcible reminder that you have no meaningful autonomy, inflicting the associated distress and sorrow.

The difference is that there is in a lot of cases a logical connection between the other punishments and the action they're punishing. We take a toy away if the kid throws that toy; we put them in time out to remove them from whatever situation is enabling him to behave badly. It's easy to make the connection "oh this is what happens when I throw a toy, I loose it," or "if I put a bunch of dirt in my sister's hair at the park, I don't get to stay in the park." The connect between throwing a toy or putting dirt on another kid and getting spanked is more abstract.

The punishment is a direct and predictable consequence of their actions, rather than an arbitrary one (the kid has to learn that X,Y,Z get me spanked U,V,W just get me put in my room, etc.).
posted by Gygesringtone at 10:33 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was raised in a spanking family.

I did a little studying, and resolved NOT to spank my aspie son. That early conditioning is hard to overcome, though, just through rational thought. Then one time, as a toddler, he did something both dangerous and painful to me on a wet bathroom floor (I don't even remember now what it was) and I found myself channeling my mom's behavior... a swat on the bottom. It was a total reflex. My kid looked me right in the eye, looked at my hand, and then punched me. Hard. In that moment, I GOT it. Never laid a punishing hand on him since, nor allowed anyone else to.

I took some parenting classes and learned other ways to discipline, with the understanding that discipline means to teach, not to punish.

Consequences? I have a 13-year-old boy today. He's POLITE! He's several inches taller than I am, and still respectful to me despite being the big one now. He's capable in most social situations with either children or adults. He stands up for others (people and animals) being harmed. He doesn't always agree with me, but he's always considered in his disagreements. And he's never hit anyone since that time he hit me back.

I'm totally behind the no spanking, but people who've been taught through family & peer groups that spanking is the only way to discipline need to be taught alternative means of shaping behavior and development. No spanking doesn't mean "just let 'em do anything they want," and sometimes people don't get that concept. It's not intuitive to everybody; sometimes people genuinely believe that they're neglecting their children if they don't use corporal punishment. It would be very helpful if we could get some public education on this issue widely available to those most in need of it.
posted by theplotchickens at 10:43 AM on November 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


why would any childhood disciplinary action that is supposedly uncomplicated become a widespread and highly charged sexual activity for adults?

Just as an anecdata point, my parents never laid a finger on me as a child-- in fact I thought spanking was an outmoded practice that no one did anymore until I was about 14-- and I love a good spanking now. Yum.

As an adult, a person deprived of touch whether spanked or not as a child would probably be drawn to an intense sexual activity, and if they drew on their experiences for inspiration (and pop culture now that it's seen in more media) they would likely develop a taste for erotic spanking.

I was also FAR from deprived of touch-- in fact I still touch and receive more touch from my parents than anyone else I know. My mom is a Reiki therapist for heaven's sake. Look, I know it's really tempting, REALLY tempting, to look for explanations of deviant sexual behavior in childhood developmental psychology and experiences, but the literature so far just doesn't support that It does show that women who are sexually submissive are not more likely to have experienced sexual assault, males who identify as dominants actually score lower on indices of sexism, and masochists tend to be highly-skilled, happy, well-adjusted people. I don't know of any studies specifically surrounding spanking but I would be very surprised if the incidences of individuals who were spanked as children who also have spanking fetishes is statistically significantly higher than the general population with "normal" sexual appetites. Sorry if I come off as having an axe to grind but this is an area of interest to me, and thus far there is not a modicum of support for the childhood or life trauma = deviant sexual behavior model.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:51 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


why would any childhood disciplinary action that is supposedly uncomplicated become a widespread and highly charged sexual activity for adults?

And actually, now that I'm thinking about it more-- the buttocks contain a lot of nerve-endings, are very well-padded (making hard to do any structural or serious damage), flush and show markings easily, can be explicitly sexual, allow easy access to other areas, and the positions that make it easiest to hit someone on the ass are generally positions of inherently dominant/submissive or humiliating pose: helpless over one knee, bending over facing away (potentially exposing 'private' areas), or on all fours in front of someone. All of these allow for a minimum amount of rearrangment necessary for sexual stimulus/intercourse.

Yeah, I think we would have figured that one out with or without a cultural practice of spanking our children. Now, where did I put my boyfriend....
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:56 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are you just making this stuff up? A person who isn't used to being touched would more likely avoid the more intense forms of touch.

Source? Your conclusion is neither logical nor supportable.

Both you and the person you've replied to are trying to explain behaviors and tendencies that don't lend themselves to simplistic armchair analyses.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:33 PM on November 15, 2011


Look up "habituation".
posted by Crabby Appleton at 2:05 PM on November 15, 2011


I was also FAR from deprived of touch-- in fact I still touch and receive more touch from my parents than anyone else I know

Ha, I just realized this makes me sound like I touch my parents more than anyone else in my life. Just to clarify, I touch/receive more touch from my parents than any of my peers touch/receive touch from their parents. Hope that clarifies.
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:19 PM on November 15, 2011


Just as an anecdata point, my parents never laid a finger on me as a child-- in fact I thought spanking was an outmoded practice that no one did anymore until I was about 14-- and I love a good spanking now. Yum.

This is exactly my point; it sounds completely normal and healthy. What I'm asking to understand is why this wonderful, stimulating sexualized behavior belongs in a parent-child relationship.
posted by Miko at 2:28 PM on November 15, 2011


What I'm asking to understand is why this wonderful, stimulating sexualized behavior belongs in a parent-child relationship.

OH! I interpreted your comment backwards (ha. Backwards.) That.... is weird if you think about it from that angle, isn't it? I don't have an answer for you at all.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:12 PM on November 15, 2011


The answer, as Miko well knows, is that in the context of the parent-child relationship, spanking is not sexualized. Malice pointed that out above, using the "Daddy" fetish as an analogy. And in my experience, that fetish is pretty common (in women).
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:29 PM on November 15, 2011


I don't think this is helping your argument, Crabby Appleton. While people who have a Daddy fetish may not be thinking explicitely of their own Daddy, they ARE playing with the power dynamic inherent in parent/child relationships. If we want to equate the two fetishes, then we have to admit that spanking fetishes are playing with the power dynamic of the spanker-spankee relationship, and we are back to the fact that parents who spank their children are, in part, and perhaps unintentionally, explicitely asserting their power over their children.

It is akin, not to a child calling their parent "Daddy," but rather to a father insisting that his children call him Daddy and not Pa or Mr. Smith or what have you.
posted by muddgirl at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2011


The answer, as Miko well knows, is that in the context of the parent-child relationship, spanking is not sexualized.

For whom?
posted by Miko at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2011


in the context of the parent-child relationship, spanking is not sexualized.

And, never?
posted by Miko at 3:47 PM on November 15, 2011


Any tool can be misused, Miko. When it is, you blame the user, not the tool.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:19 PM on November 15, 2011


And, never?

If it is, there's probably something wrong there that transcends the mere spanking angle. Butt yeah, I see your point. The fact is that the derrière is kind of suspiciously close to where the primary sex organs are. Furthermore, that whole "fatty tissue means less injury" excuse doesn't pan out for me. If you don't want to cause your kids serious injury, how about not hitting them so hard to begin with? My own impression as a spankee was that the rear end was used, not to protect against injury, but so that the parent could inflict maximal pain without visible signs being displayed to the outside world. You could (and I did) wind up with some real scars back there without it being immediately obvious to meddlesome outsiders.

I don't have kids, and if I did, I wouldn't hit them, but if I did, I'd probably lightly slap their hands or arms over whacking them on the arse. Another thing I remember from being spanked was that it didn't necessarily hurt that much, viscerally. It was often the humiliation of the thing that made my eyes well up with tears, and that can be accomplished with a slight tap on the hand just as well as with a full handed smack on the buttocks. Children already, despite parents' best intentions, often wind up with complexes over that region of the body, what with potty training, involuntary boners, and what have you. Why add another layer to it?

I suppose though that for someone to think things over to that extent, they would likely just forgo the whole physical terrorism aspect to begin with.
posted by xigxag at 4:21 PM on November 15, 2011


muddgirl, I don't think the Daddy fetishists are playing with power dynamics. I'm loath to speak for them because there's no way I could fully understand what their experience of it is. The cliche about it is that they didn't get enough attention from Daddy when they were little and are trying to make up for it, but I don't know how much truth there is in that.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:23 PM on November 15, 2011


A couple of small points that I don't think have been adequately made:

1) laws against spanking are really about the lowest common denominator. YOU may be an OK parent who very occasionally uses physical punishment. The signal these laws are trying to send is to those parents who are NOT OK, who use physical punishment cruelly.

2) you can screw a kid up with psychological disciplining just as easily as you can with physical discipline.
posted by wilful at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2011


There is one trick called "blanket training" that really angers me. An infant is placed on a blanket and if it crawls near the edge of the blanket it is frightened away from the edge by beating the floor or even the infant itself with a wooden spoon. As the child grows, the blanket sessions get longer. It is supposed to instill self-discipline.

Are you fucking kidding me? That's just awful.
posted by wilful at 6:06 PM on November 15, 2011


Any tool can be misused, Miko. When it is, you blame the user, not the tool.

That is a marvelous generality, and yet it is absolutely not how the law or interpersonal ethics really work. Let's set that aside, and perhaps you can tell me why you believe, personally, that spanking is effective and positive, so much so that you are willing to rush to its defense despite the preponderance of evidence suggesting it is at best ineffective and at worst damaging.

If it is, there's probably something wrong there that transcends the mere spanking angle.

Maybe. But how can anyone tell the difference?And what if it ends there - is that okay? And what would that 'something going on' be? Is it enough that it's a confusion of your power and responsibility to discipline with your power to forcibly strip another person to bare skin and hit them with your own hand? OR would it have to extend beyond any pleasure or satisfaction the parent might find in spanking, and have another expression too? I don't think it needs another expression. I think it's already pretty suspect.

And if there is definitely no sexual dimension for a hypothetical parent, that definitely does not preclude the fact that a sexual dimension could be introduced for the child. This kind of experience certainly does instill some very confusing feelings on the part of the child. Not only are the buttocks 'close to' a sex organ, to little kids there's not as much of a legalistic sense about what is or isn't a sex organ. It's a highly sensitive area, normally used for intimate and private activities, and it's generally supposed to be hidden from others. The abundant nerve endings do create arousal in a whole body region, not just the rear end, and it's not so difficult to notice and wonder about that even at a young age. So the child has to resolve this really strange experience. It's an embodiment of some very mixed messages about power, nakedness, shame, humiliation, and excitement. And it comes at the hand of a parent. This isn't something worth brushing aside. It's very hard to understand and it simply doesn't add up as part of the normal course of events in life.

.2) you can screw a kid up with psychological disciplining just as easily as you can with physical discipline

I certainly don't disagree with that. The difference between using behavioral techniques and using physical techniques is that - and I believe this - there are no healthy, effective and appropriate physical techniques. That makes it pretty easy to rule them out as strategies entirely.
posted by Miko at 6:14 PM on November 15, 2011


Got spanked growing up, not abused, not scarred. Have a toddler. "Get a switch and bend over my knee" is not a thing we do for punishment, but a pop on the hand when he's reaching for the hot stove and ignoring voice commands to stop is.

So see, defining spanking is a problem right off the bat.

Logically, I'm not on board with "inflicting physical pain on another human is wrong." I cause my kid pain when I take him for shots. I cause him pain when I rip off bandaids and pull out splinters. That's not morally wrong, and in the case of vaccinations keeps him healthy. So causing him pain in and of itself isn't wrong. We could modify that to "causing *harm* to another human being is wrong." But as discussed, you can't say for certain that *any* physical discipline will cause harm - in some people's experience it has left no physical or mental damage.

I can get on board with "inflicting pain because you're angry is wrong." That still leaves me the freedom to pop my kid if he's about to hurt himself, because it's about keeping him safe and not me being pissed. And nicely applies to adults and sexual situations as well.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 6:21 PM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I touched the stove. Pretty effective, and it made it clear that the stove, not my mom, was the dangerous thing.

Not that there couldn't be some extraordinary circumstance where someone has to throw a kid bodily out of the way of an oncoming vehicle, or something. But natural consequences take care of the vast majority of 'that's not safe and you're not listening' problems.
posted by Miko at 6:30 PM on November 15, 2011


Smacking (which is what it's generally called in the UK, in my experience at least)

This linguistic variation is actually what makes me completely puzzled whenever this issue comes up because I don't know what people mean. 'Spanking' seems to cover everything from smacked bottoms to hitting children repeatedly with objects, which, in my mind, is the full scale from 'fairly normal' (for better or worse) to 'holy shit, what made them think that was okay?'.
posted by hoyland at 7:09 PM on November 15, 2011


I agree the terms can be muddy. When people want to go to great lengths to defend it, though, it's generally as an intentional technique with an embedded philosophy, decided upon not in the heat of the moment, but before the fact. When you talk to them about what's going on in the decision to employ the technique - - that tends to remove most of the ambiguity. It's not really "I popped my kid on his clothed rear end when he spat a mouthful of wet cookie at his brother, is that spanking or not?" but "do I embrace the philosophy that physical punishment is an essential component of my disciplinary method, and defend it against detractors?" The central issue, for me, is not which kind of physical intervention is worse, but how does the parent see this fitting in to their overall goals for raising children, and what arguments are they mustering that it is effective and not harmful and worth including in their approaches? In general in the the defense of the technique there are some recurring elements: reasoning fallacies, ignorance of evidence, and/or lay psychological or anthropological arguments.

I haven't yet seen any that truly compel, because it is almost impossible to show that disciplinary spanking is ever necessary, and that seems to me to be the first condition for resorting to it, given the known negatives and potential risks.
posted by Miko at 7:25 PM on November 15, 2011


Imagine all the things that happen to try your patience on a full day with a kid; in the classroom I had all of that, multiplied by 20.

I agree that non-parents can and should speak out about child-rearing -- especially the effects of widespread practices on them -- but it's also important not to directly compare like this, because some essential causes of parental frustration are not present with professional child-carers. It's partly the question of what a "full day" is -- seven hours is a long day, but it's nowhere near a full day for me as a parent (and it's generally the last few hours before bedtime when patience runs thinnest).

But maybe more importantly, it's the question of what else parents are responsible for doing while they're child-rearing. Cooking dinner, nursing the baby to sleep upstairs, raking the leaves, doing the grocery shopping, cleaning the floors. My kids really don't make much trouble when they're in a situation that's focused on them: being talked to, being read a book, doing a craft project. It's much more likely to occur when I'm not paying attention, or momentarily absent, doing something like the things I listed. It's just different, the effort to integrate children into a family and homelife, versus the effort to specifically educate them in a group setting, for a set time each day.

And I'm not saying teaching is easier! I'm sure that, just as you say, many parents were not capable of helping take care of a whole group of kids for a day. The experiences are different, but they both result in useful knowledge about how children are best guided into adulthood. We are all responsible for the smallest, weakest members of society, and we certainly can't just blithely trust parents to protect and defend their children. I wish our society made much more of a habit of inquiring into parenting practices and second-guessing parents; bad parenting wreaks societal havoc.
posted by palliser at 8:53 PM on November 15, 2011


My mom only spanked me a couple of times. It was a short experiment that was dropped right away. She honestly hated doing it more than we hated getting spanked.

So, as before, when we misbehaved, we got the talk: This was tough stuff to process, honestly, partially because a lot of the things I did back then I did because I didn't have a good, conscious grasp on my behavior and interactions (hello, ADD!). I remember that these discussions would sometimes lead to me crying, not because she was being abusive, but because it's really intense to have to delve into your own behavior like that, and I felt awful that I was engaging in negative behavior. My mom reiterated that I was good, it was just my behavior was bad. But it's hard, so hard, as a kid, not to feel like you're bad.

There were definitely times when I wished she would just spank me.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:05 PM on November 15, 2011


I touched the stove. Pretty effective, and it made it clear that the stove, not my mom, was the dangerous thing.

You should be extremely grateful that it wasn't the handle to the pot of boiling water that, while seemingly innocuous, can really cause problems. [Scary photo in that link be warned.] I just know I'd rather be told by my mom, and reinforced physically where necessary, than have the stove send it's telegram of reality my way.

I guess I'm firmly in the camp of I was spanked when 'I needed it"* and I honestly feel like that, as one of the pieces of the whole in my parents decisions in raising me, made me the decent, good person I am today.

As far as throwing down the strawman of "Well in a perfect world everyone would always do X and never Y to their kids", I prefer to think that as long as parents are thoughtful and strive to help, care for, and teach their kids all they can, then that goes REALLY, REALLY far towards ensuring that any spanking [or lack of the same] will be beneficial instead of harmful.

* As far as I can remember these occurred mostly (or even completely, my memory isn't all that great to be honest) when both of the following criteria were met.

A) I was too young to really understand a thorough explanation/breakdown of what I had done or was continuing to do in face of warnings/previous explanations.
B) My actions were of a sort that directly threatened my physical or moral future. That is to say that reaching for a hot stove, climbing a book shelf, running with scissors ranked right up there with telling a lie and making false accusations.

posted by RolandOfEld at 10:50 PM on November 15, 2011


Given the ethical issues associated with experimenting on children by hitting them, it's unlikely that there will ever be any hard statistics about whether smacking is better for you than other disciplinary techniques.

There's a good pinch of pseudo-science on both sides of this argument. (As well as some dubious moralising). Fact is, none of us know if smacking is better or worse for our kids.

Although I'm sure of one thing. Allowing your child to burn themselves in order to learn a lesson seems a lot harsher than a smack.
posted by seanyboy at 4:34 AM on November 16, 2011


Logically, I'm not on board with "inflicting physical pain on another human is wrong."

I think that that phrase is usually short hand for "inflicting unnecessary pain..." The question becomes "is spanking necessary pain" and given the fact that all these countries that have outlawed spanking aren't falling apart as societies, I'd have to say that it's not.
posted by Gygesringtone at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2011


You should be extremely grateful that it wasn't the handle to the pot of boiling water that, while seemingly innocuous, can really cause problems.

yes, of course. And that would be one of those situations where intervention would be called for. However, punishment is not called for in this situation. Awareness of a safety hazard is the goal. Punishment does not make great sense as a way to get there.

I honestly feel like that, as one of the pieces of the whole in my parents decisions in raising me, made me the decent, good person I am today.

How would you know this? You can't. But the fact that there are untold numbers of decent, good people who were not spanked suggests that it is not a necessary technique and that there are other ways to achieve the same ends.

This argument falls within what I would call a reasoning fallacy - "because I'm OK now, I attribute that to the disciplinary tactics used when I was raised." A person could as easily say "Because my parents were active alcholics, and I'm still OK now, children should be raised by active alcoholics" or "Because my parents were fundamentalist Christians, I turned out to be decent and good, so all children should be raised fundamentalist Christians." Those kinds of people can and do raise children, but when children turn out to be good adults, it's usually not due to a single factor.

Since you can't raise yourself without those tactics and compare, it's impossible to know whether it helped you. But what seems certain is that it wasn't likely a necessary component of discipline. There are people raised without those tactics who are also decent and good, and some are not. Some people raised with those tactics are decent and good, while some are lousy and awful. There is some evidence of increased adult aggression in groups that were spanked. Is this causal? I don't know, but based on this measure, I believe it is likely better to avoid this as a disciplinary strategy.

Allowing your child to burn themselves in order to learn a lesson seems a lot harsher than a smack.

That would indeed be weird and harsh. But 'touching a stove' does not equal 'getting burned' in a child with a normal nervous system. It is, though, a very clear demonstration of what a stove is about - not yet another thing an adult is preventing you from doing for unknown reasons through their intervention with a response unrelated to the present threat or the information they want you to learn.

Given the ethical issues associated with experimenting on children by hitting them, it's unlikely that there will ever be any hard statistics about whether smacking is better for you than other disciplinary techniques.

That's simply not true. As you know, control-variable experimentation is not the only way to investigate a hypothesis. There are longitudinal studies and broad-based surveys. And in fact, though it would be unethical to compel spanking, because spanking is still legal it is possible to study families who use spanking using the self-reporting of how many spankings occurred during the study period and why, and test outcomes compared with a group that was not spanked. If you begin to search, you will find a preponderance of evidence that spanking is not especially effective and unnecessary. Pediatricians have certainly developed a body of science which is not "psuedo," and their recommendation has been that it's not worth using.
posted by Miko at 6:34 AM on November 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree that the attempts to dismiss arguments based on parental status are BS.

There are arguments that I expect someone who has suffered from physical abuse to dismiss out of hand, because I can't understand that experience. In the same way, you DO NOT understand discipline from the perspective of a parent. You can't, because nothing is like parenting. Would you tell a soldier that you understand war because you've been in a fight?

At the end of the day as a teacher, you get to go home. As a resident counselor or whatever, you can always quit. At the end of the day, these are not *your* children. The thing that people can't possibly understand until they're parents is the degree to which a child is everything.

I have not read a novel in 3 years. I've been on an airplane once in 4 years. I haven't bought a video game, gone to a bowling alley, driven across the border, gone to a concert or spent an evening drinking with a friend in a bar in 5 years. I haven't slept soundly in 5 years. Even when the kids are quiet, you're always subconsciously "on" waiting to react to them. It is a permanent state of mild anxiety.

That doesn't even start to get at the way it shapes how you view the world, the way you're put into this recursive situation where you're seeing your parents in yourself, and seeing your childhood self in your child, and seeing your grandparents in your parents, and being shown your own trajectory through life, knowing you'll die, knowing this perfect child will one day grow old and die.

I'm not saying that's awful, or that it's the necessarily the defining human experience, but it is absolutely something that can't be understood without being there. Once you are a parent, that's it. You are a parent. You are permanently responsible for your child. Their needs come above yours from now until (god willing) the time you die and leave them on their own.

I don't know what it's like to be physically abused, so I can't speak to discipline in that context. I don't know what it's like to teach a classroom full of kids, so I can't say what techniques are good in that situation. I won't try because I've got respect for teachers and compassion for victims of abuse.

If you're not a parent, you can't speak to discipline in that context. Discipline is a two-way communication and context is important. A toddler living in your home is not someone to be reasoned with, because they have such short attention spans and rudimentary language skills. Changing behavior with a little kid takes LOTS of trial and error. Your first timeout isn't going to solve the problem. Bad behaviors come and go. It's like keeping sand piled up. Your superpower as an adult is your ability to patiently wait things out.

You don't have the luxury of trial and error with the proverbial hot stove or dangerous intersection, and unlike a classroom, you can't just remove all danger from the environment. Cars kill. Heat causes burns that never heal. You *have* to stop that behavior immediately, and as a parent your responsibility for changing that behavior is absolute. So yeah, sometimes you need an instant, terrifying consequence like a slap on the hand and a firm "NO!" is the best tool for the job.

I don't think it's something that should be used on an older kid, though. You've got a million options with them.
posted by pjaust at 6:56 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


miko: Can't argue as well as you, but I'm damned if I'm not going to give it a try.

From what I can tell miko, the studies in this area are vague and often contradictory. Polling families that do and do not smack doesn't help either. Families that don't smack by choice have probably made choices about other things. Not to be rude, but they're probably well educated middle class parents with enough time to be fully invested in their 1.4 kids lives.

Is there a reason to not smack when other forms of punishment exist? I would say yes if it could be shown that smacking were more harmful than other punishments. I'm happy to be shown the evidence if this is the case, but I'm not seeing it. Instinctually I feel that most alternative forms of punishment (my aforementioned naughty step) are just as harsh and if inappropriately used just as likely to do harm.

Your own statement "that there are other ways to achieve the same ends" is definitely not proven. There may be a plethora of evidence measuring aggression against spanking, but there is little evidence to compare other societal problems with other forms of control.

We're pretty much left with anecdata and handwavyness here. This includes your link which included the tritest statements as to why spanking is bad.

Even though spanking may seem to "work" at first, it loses its impact after a while.
Anecdotal at best. What age ranges are we talking about? Do other forms of punishment also lose impact?

Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent.
Or... "The reason you should not spank is because you don't want to spank." But what if I want to spank?

Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
Some evidence to suggest this, but there's also evidence to suggest otherwise. Also, as long as there is control, anger and aggression are useful tools in the emotional toolkit.

Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and then regret their actions later.
I'd love to see the evidence for this. I'm also concerned that this is phrased as "You may lose control and then feel regret" instead of "You may lose control and harm your child"

Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even grow to the point of harming the child.
Harm is mentioned. At god damned last. Again, this seems like someone is just making shit up, but if it's not, the argument is pretty much on a par with "Sport can lead to physical struggle and may even harm your child." It's also the second point in the list which treats spanking as some kind of gateway drug to greater harm.

Annoyingly miko, I would never smack a child. I was pretty harshly treated as a kid, and it's not something I'd like to pass on. I'm all for explaining, exploration and understanding. But I understand why parents might on rare occasions have reason to smack, and I'm having trouble dismissing smacking for any other reason than "I would not smack anyone myself"
posted by seanyboy at 7:39 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Logically, I'm not on board with "inflicting physical pain on another human is wrong."

I think that that phrase is usually short hand for "inflicting unnecessary pain..."


It may well be what some people mean, but it doesn't help the argument. There aren't all that many things that are literally necessary for life - food, water, oxygen being the ones that come to mind. You would be correct that no pain is necessary, but neither is education or literacy or being loved by another person. It doesn't follow that a thing is wrong because it's unnecessary.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 7:41 AM on November 16, 2011


Really, the point is that parents shouldn't cause pain without compensatory benefit. Bone marrow transplants are extremely painful, but most people would agree that the benefit (curing leukemia) outweighs the pain.

The problem comes because some people think that corporal punishment gives a benefit that outweighs the pain, while others disagree. For me, the pro-spanking prespective is hard to reconcile because pain isn't a side effect of spanking (like how pain is a side effect of getting a shot) - it is the entire point of the exercise. Parents are trying to make a connection between bad behavior and pain, the benefit being that the bad behavior will (presumably) occur less often.

So to me, "pain from shots" and "pain from spanking" is a false equivalency. We could construct a system where vaccination shots cause no pain and provide the same benefit. We can't construct a working system where spanking causes no pain but provides the same benefit.
posted by muddgirl at 9:06 AM on November 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


As goofyy suggests above, not all the trauma inflicted is necessarily suffered by the child receiving the punishment. I know an adult sister and brother, and the sister harbors extremely negative feelings against their father for the beatings that her brother got (but she didn't)... but the brother doesn't really remember them (he says), or isn't really bothered by it. If you talked to each of them separately, you would get nearly a 180-degree difference in stories about this aspect of their shared childhood (they're very close in age), which the sister is still incredibly disturbed and haunted by. Is she right? Was it awful, and the brother has disassociated that, or compartmentalized? Or is he right and it wasn't all that bad, but to a little girl seemed horrific?

There's no way to tell, really, but the fact that it seems to have left lasting psychic scars on her (and presumably many other children who have experienced the pain of being a witness) is yet another good argument against corporal punishment.
posted by taz at 11:13 AM on November 16, 2011


There aren't all that many things that are literally necessary for life - food, water, oxygen being the ones that come to mind.

Who said anything about necessary for life? Setting a broken bone may or may not be necessary for life, but it IS necessary for healing properly from the injury. Necessary refers to something, what that something is depends on context.
posted by Gygesringtone at 11:28 AM on November 16, 2011


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