It is hard to find someone who doesn’t have a strong opinion on spanking. It is a very controversial parenting issue. Is spanking a proper way to discipline a child? When does spanking cross the line into abuse?
The New York Times reported in 2001 that spanking may not be totally harmful to children. Dr. Diana Baumrind published a study in The Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review suggesting that those on the anti-spanking side of the debate may be overstating the damage that spanking does.
Baumrind’s study found that when loving, non-abusive parents swat their children every once in a while to discipline them, there were no long-term detrimental effects.
Spanking could actually be a positive thing in life-threatening circumstances. Blogger Meagan Francis bravely recounted the time she spanked her daughter in a parking lot in order to prevent her from being hit by a car. Few could argue that Francis did the wrong thing in that situation.
On the other side of the argument, the American Psychological Association published an article touting the harm that spanking does to children.
Brendan L Smith writes that children who are spanked are more likely to view hitting as an acceptable way of solving problems. Fascinatingly, 30 countries have banned corporal punishment — even in people’s homes.
Those who believe spanking to be harmful advocate using reasoning and positive reinforcement to encourage good behavior in children. Time-outs and grounding (for older children) are favorite go-to disciplinary techniques for non-spankers.
Crossing a Line
When does spanking become abuse? This is a difficult and hotly-debated question. Obviously, there is a big difference between a single, open-handed pop on the bottom and leaving bruises on a child from hitting with a blunt object.
Texas judge William Adams received a lot of negative publicity for beating his 16-year-old daughter with a belt in a video that went viral (CBS News). The judge felt that he did nothing wrong and was simply disciplining his daughter. The video, however, speaks for itself.
My experience growing up sounds more like what Diana Baumrind found in her study. I was spanked as a child when I misbehaved, but I can tell you that my punishments never involved anything more severe than a hand to my bottom. While I don’t remember specific instances of spanking, I do remember that my childhood was full of love and I was never, ever abused.
I believe that spanking has its place in moderation. The use of belts, paddles, or other objects takes it too far.