The Misconception of Spanking

I am not a NFL fan. I don't watch football. I am European. But the recent headlines of domestic violence hit home nevertheless. First, Ray Rice's contract was terminated as a result of him punching his fiancee unconscious (or should I say the public outcry over the video led to his termination). Then Adrian Peterson was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. He punched his four-year-old son in his scrotum, and beat him with a switch on his back, buttocks, ankles, and legs, leaving cuts and bruises.

Charles Barkley defended him, saying that corporal punishment is the way of life among African Americans in the South. “Whipping — we do that all the time,” Barkley said. “Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.” Ruben Navarrette, a columnist, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN that spanking is not child abuse but common sense. He says: "Fear is essential to respect. Children won't do what we tell them to do, unless -- at some level -- they fear the consequences that will come from not doing it."

The problem with spanking starts right with its definition. Every parent has a different idea of what is acceptable. Navarrette gives you a manual on how to hit - only use a palm of your hand, only hit through clothing, only one swat. Peterson caused his son to bleed, yet still believes he is a good father doing the right thing for his son. All people who support corporal punishment have one thing in common - they think today's generation of children is spoiled and can't behave because of lack of spanking. This is a truly ironic statement considering that up to 90% of Americans spank their kids.

Children need discipline. They need boundaries and they need a consistent message. They need to know that "no" means "no", not that it means "yes" after they ask 20 times or scream for five minutes. Boundaries can be set without spanking. The real problem is that setting boundaries without spanking requires patience.

Children are inquisitive. They want to know things, they want to try things, they want to explore and do things on their own, in their own way. This sounds admirable on paper, but is plainly annoying and tiring in real life. Even if you try to answer their "why" question the first 300 times, eventually you will default to "because I said so!"

When you have to get out of the house to make an appointment and they refuse to leave, when you want to finish what you are doing and they keep interrupting, when you want them to go to sleep so you can finally take a break and they keep yelling at you from their room - then hitting is the easiest way out. They are misbehaving. They are not listening. They deserve it. And it works. Of course it does - your child is afraid.

The problem is that it only works short term. Sure, they might grow up just fine. But the chances are that if they are spanked regularly and fear their parents, rather than understand their parents' reasons, they will either grow up to be too afraid to stand up for themselves because they will forever doubt their right to do so, or they will grow up to believe that they are allowed to hit to get what they want.

It does not mean that you can't punish your child for bad behavior. It does not mean that they won't learn what not to do unless they are beaten. But it does mean that you as a parent will have to work twice as hard. Not only because you will be required to explain why what they did was wrong, over and over again, instead of simply hitting and saying "don't ever do that again", but because you will need to stay calm and composed, and that - for me as a parent - is the biggest challenge of them all. Because I said so, damn it!

You are raising a child, not an army. If you want everybody to line up when you bark an order, then you should reconsider your parenting gig and head over to national guard. Children challenge your opinion and your world view. Adults challenge you in the same way, but you can walk away from them, or ask them not to bother you again. You can't do that to your child. You are stuck with them for a couple of decades. You should be proud of them for challenging you. And yes - you should send them to their room if they cross the line that was clearly set by you. You should let them experience the consequences of their poor choices. But if your default answer is spanking, then it is not the child who is doing something wrong, it's you.


  1. Agreed. It's much harder (takes much longer, requiring much more patience) not to spank, but we've made the same choice. Nice meeting you today. Keep in touch! :-)

    1. Thank you! It was so nice meeting you at the conference! I hope you enjoyed it. See you next year - if not before :-)