In studies and survey, parents across America consistently report that they believe spanking is acceptable. Of course, this isn’t true of 100 percent of the parents who participate in this research, but it is typically a majority of those involved. Though spanking has been on the decline since the 1960s, it remains a part of many people’s disciplinary strategies.
This is especially curious given the distinguished list of experts, who have for decades labeled the practice unproductive and even dangerous. Rather than teaching children to behave, experts assert, it teaches them to fear their parents and undermines their ability to respect their parents. Further, it teaches children that violence is an acceptable response when others are not doing what you want. Studies consistently demonstrate children who have been routinely punished in this way behave violently as they age.
Why, then, do parents continue spanking? Are they willfully ignoring the advice they are being given because they simply don’t want to hear it or are they in possession of information experts lack?
What Is Spanking?
There are concrete definitions of spanking. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Merriam-Webster limit spanking to striking the buttocks with an open hand. But, families vary in the ways that they describe it.
The difficulty is that research on spanking doesn’t limit its studies to a strict definition. This means that people who occasionally swat a child on the bottom are in the same group as parents who regularly use a belt of a hairbrush to spank. In addition, people who have delivered a spanking because they ran out of other options and found themselves in a temper are right alongside people who practice spanking regularly and see it as beneficial for the upbringing of their child.
Therefore, the findings of research are often based on behaviors that may not mirror a parent’s disciplinary practices. This can cause expert advice to feel inapplicable to a family or parent.
Why Do Some Parents Spank?
A parent’s upbringing plays a big role in whether or not they spank. As much as parents look to experts, they have firsthand experience being a child and that can feel more authentic when making parenting choices.
Some parents who were spanked feel the practice taught them how to behave and was ultimately beneficial. Others who were spanked look back on the punishments and feel they did little to change their behavior. Still others who were spanked declare it taught them to resent their parents and to be more secretive about committing any punishable offenses.
In few cases, do children who were spanked hold it against their parents. To do so often feels treasonous, but it also is an admission that they were marked by the practice in negative ways and still bear the scars. It is infrequent that people are prepared to enter that discussion.
Does a History of Childhood Spankings Make It Ok to Spank Your Child?
People who were spanked and who spank their children tend to be self-righteous, arguing that they were not harmed by the practice. Therefore, it shouldn’t harm their children either.
To this line of reasoning, experts reply with a metaphor. If you were a smoker for your entire life and you managed to avoid developing a serious health problem, would you allow your child to smoke? No. Why then do people negate the potential damage risked by spanking simply because they weren’t harmed?
Experts will continue to stand in opposition to spanking and research will continue to connect it with negative outcomes. Parents are consequently cautioned to consider whether or not they have other options. Instead of debating whether or not it is appropriate thinking about alternative methods.
Tim Connolly is a writer and a father who lives in San Diego with his family. He runs a parenting blog of his own and contributes to parenting sites. He also writes about health topic related to behaviors problems, addiction, recovery and treatment like treatment for heroin abuse.