It strikes me that Michael Pearl and others like him – even James Dobson – create a situation in which parents feel that if they love their children, they must hit them, whether they want to or not. For Pearl, Dobson, and others like them, it’s the parents who don’t hit their children who are unloving.
Michael Pearl says that if you do not hit your children, they will turn out to be miserable, unhappy, unfulfilled adults. And he has lots of stories to prove it, stories of children who grow up to be drug users, prostitutes, and worse all because they were never hit as children. In fact, Pearl blames a plethora of societal ills – from drug use to prison overcrowding to credit card debt – on parents who failed to hit their children. If you want to set your children up for a good and fulfilling life, Pearl explains, you must hit them.
Pearl also teaches that children who do wrong want to be hit, and long for it. Being hit, he says, removes them of their guilt. If you don’t hit your guilty child, you leave her miserable. Only a hitting her will restore her cheerful spirit and happy temper. If you love your guilty child and want her happy, you must hit her.
How insidious this thinking is. It requires parents to exercise violence on their children in the name of love. This is what bothers me most about Michael Pearl’s teachings. He takes parents who honestly, truly love their kids and want what’s best for them and then convinces them that if they love their children, they must hit them, require their complete and absolute submission, and break their wills. This isn’t about bad parents lashing out in anger, it’s about good parents systematically hitting their children because they love them.
As a child, this is can be very confusing. Your mother has you bend over a bed and begins hitting you…because she loves you. How do you make sense of that? My mother’s favorite line was “this hurts me more than it hurts you.” It actually got to the point where if I did something wrong and needed to be hit as a consequence, I felt bad for causing my mother pain by forcing her to hit me. I honestly admired how self sacrificing my mom was, that she could force herself to hit me even though she didn’t want to, thinking of my future good over her present comfort. I felt bad that I, naughty child that I was, made this necessary. I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day with this.
Today, I no longer approve of hitting children. We don’t hit adults, so why hit children? Hitting people is not something we should perpetuate, but rather something we should avoid. There are a plethora of other child rearing tactics out there, child rearing tactics with more humanity, understanding, and success, and whole countries have banned spanking without suffering adverse consequences. The doom and gloom that Michael Pearl predicts if children are not hit is nothing but hype and scare tactics. As a parent, there is nothing I want to do less than hit my child, and I am today extremely glad that, unlike my mother, I don’t have to force myself to do so.
Note: I use the term “hit” here rather than “spank” because at its core, spanking IS hitting. I am aware that those who believe in hitting children make a distinction between the two, and I do realize that there is a difference between randomly lashing out at your child in anger and using hitting as a set consequence performed calmly and controlledly after an offense. But the problem is, regardless of how you do it, “spanking” always involves “hitting children.” It can’t not. Dressing up the action of hitting a child by terming it “spanking” justifies and whitewashes an action – hitting a child – that we would condemn in any other circumstances. I therefore believe that the act should be called what it is – hitting children.