Google+ Authentic Parenting: Undermining General Beliefs about Corporal Punishment

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Undermining General Beliefs about Corporal Punishment

This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

How often have I had a conversation with a person where they agree with me that hitting a child is wrong, and abusive, to have them defend spanking as a perfectly acceptable disciplinary tool. Something – probably having been spanked themselves – makes people believe in the delusion that a small evil won’t harm, that it might possibly even do tons of good.
Throughout conversation with believers in corporal punishment, I have come to discover some general lines of beliefs that are totally mind boggling if you would just look at it rationally. Let's investigate these statements a little further.

There is a line between spanking and abuse

But where do you draw the line at good spanking and straight out abuse? Is it when there are visible marks on your child’s body? When your child is crying? Or is it only after you have crossed the line that you know where that boundary lies? But then it’s already too late.
Still believe a little spanking can't hurt? Let this analogy sink in: if you have been raped, does it matter that it only lasted a couple of minutes? That the man had a small penis? That you were only penetrated with an object? No, it does not. You’ve still been raped just the same. There's trauma, there's hurt, there's shame... all these same factors exist when a child has been spanked.

Only parents can spank their children

This is a fairly recent 'rule of spanking'. Just consider how arbitrary that line is, how many times it has changed through the years. Up until recently it was standard procedure for schoolteachers to hit students with rulers. Now that is viewed as torture and it might just get the teacher in jail.

Now just think about it a little further: it is saying that only the person closest to and most trusted by the child can physically hurt him. yet in other relationships based on trust and care, spanking is not allowed and is seen as abusive (caregivers for the elderly, husband/wife). 

Hitting with a belt/twig/rock/... is abusive

Yet up until fairly recently, 'disciplining' children with props was allowed and even encouraged. Mostly, parents stopped using spanking devices because they remembered the trauma it ad caused them. Yet why would device-less spanking be any less traumatising? Who is to say which device gives better results? How can you say hitting a child with a stick or twig is ok, but hitting them with a rock or belt is not? Just consider the utter madness in these practices, you will find they are all so very arbitrary.

Of course you don't spank a baby, there's an appropriate age for it

Really? What might that be? When they turn six months? When they start crawling? Walking? Talking? When is that magical age boundary that automatically grants them the wonderful joys of corporal punishment? 
Does this mean the child has more or less feelings once they have crossed that age mark. So what next? You are going to celebrate the coming of appropriate spanking age by... a nice family spanking?
Seriously? Are you seeing the pure madness?

There's also an age where it is not appropriate any more

Everybody who belives in corporal punishment agrees that the spanking stops one day. Again, where this wonderful age marker lies is kind of obscure. Most agree that spanking is a thing of childhood (say, before they hit adolescense). But if you see spanking as a way to give your child guidance from his errors, does that mean he no longer needs guidance once they have entered puberty? Or is it because at about that time they are (physically) capable to stand up to the abuser?

Yes I have said it. If you are spanking, you are abusing. It’s fairly simple: any form of corporal punishment is abusive and moreover totally counterproductive.  Because all these lines believers in corporal punishment swear exist, they are imaginary, trivial and arbitrary. Spanking hurts, physically and mentally and it leaves scars, wether or not they are physical. It might be the worst crime in history, because the perpetrator is the one the weakest and most defenseless person in our society trusts the most. 
Corporal punishment is a lie you have been led to believe by our society based on violence and by the fear of denouncing those we hold dearest, our own parents.

product of a corporal punishment education

photo credit: Lynda Giddens via photopin cc

Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline 

Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.

Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!
Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.

Day 1 - What Is Gentle Discipline
Day 2 - False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)
Day 3 - Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)
Day 4 - Creating a "Yes" Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)
Day 5 - Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)



  1. What an incredible post - thank you so much. The rape analogy was very powerful. I love how you feel so strongly about this and are not afraid to voice your beliefs...

    Mrs Green

  2. You have make me think for sure!! I have always kind of felt that spanking wasn't right for us, but to each his own. Now I'm not so sure.

  3. You took the words out of my mouth with this one. If I was going to write my own post for the carnival it would have been about this. I recently had an argument on a message board about the Pearl's parenting books. A child in california had died because of their methods. I stated that anyone who hits their kids is in at least a small way part of the problem. Making hitting of kids socially acceptable increases the chance of full-on abuse that leads to death. It is like racism - like "colored" drinking fountains in the south - creating an environment where lynchings can take place. Most people wouldn't have lynched but they were part of the culture that made it possible. This is why I want spanking outlawed. It worked in Sweden!

    Beautiful post! I love your strong voice on the subject.

  4. Very powerful post. I love reading about this from this perspective. This is something that parents who spank and think it's okay should read and for that I am going to share this far and wide.

  5. Well put. The argument not to hit a baby but to hit a child...but a small child is just as innocent as a baby. People fail to realize that. They think that just because the child can do more things that they rationalize between good and bad behavior?

    And what do they mean there is an age when it is no longer appropriate? Do they mean to say once they are big enough to defend themselves it's time to stop?

    I cannot understand how people could see hurting a small child as a good thing. It is mind-boggling.

  6. Thank you, ladies, for these wonderful comments. I have another article on spanking coming up on spank out day, which is tomorrow, so stay tuned, I think you might like it.
    Lisa, the general belief is that you don't spank teens and certainly not your adult children. The fact that they can defend themselves at that age might have sth to do with it, but generally it is believed that at that age they'd be open for reasoning. Most believers in spanking think small children are too underdevelloped to understand anything but the hard way

  7. Love this article. Thank you for pointing out the inconsistencies and reasonlessness behind spanking. I have a little hope that, since attitudes toward corporal punishment have changed so much over time that maybe it's on the way out. We can hope!

    I will just add one more historical note to your "age to stop" point — it also used to be completely allowable to punish older children and adults physically. Think of prisons where they would whip prisoners (or where, instead of imprisoning, the punishment for a crime was to receive a certain number of blows), or the military where anyone who was out of line was whipped or beaten. It's interesting how we've (mostly) come to believe corporal punishment of adults is wrong, yet we still believe it's all right with young children! Ack.

  8. I was spanked with props..many..and I don't feel like it was necessarily abuse. Doesn't make me like it any more.

    I will point out though..that my mother whipped me with a thin belt that left welts on my legs, in June, in Alabama, it's shorts that week to school...errr? She swears she didn't hit hard.

    She's very defensive about the amount of spanking I had. I still tell her I don't believe it ANY for my own child.

    I was, however, spanked by my teacher than same year. My kindergarten teacher I might add! I changed my grade from a frowny face to a smiley face over and over again...after she would change it back. She was pissed! Took me out to the hallway and paddled my ass. This was in 1985, so it was no longer legal. Yeah, she also told my mother I was lying when I ratted her out. Way to go teach!

  9. Thank you for saying SO succinctly what goes through my head when I read pro-spanking arguments. I just don't understand how anyone could advocate for hurting a child :(


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