Spanking Hurts Kids

Spanking Hurts Kids February 11, 2012

From Time by Bonnie Rochman:

Want your kid to stop whatever dangerous/annoying/forbidden behavior he’s doing right now? Spanking will probably work — for now.

But be prepared for that same child to be more aggressive toward you and his siblings, his friends and his eventual spouse. Oh, and get ready for some other antisocial behaviors too.

A new analysis of two decades of research on the long-term effects of physical punishment in children concludes that spanking doesn’t work and can actually wreak havoc on kids’ long-term development, according to an article published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Studying physical punishment is difficult for researchers, who can’t randomly assign children to groups that are hit and those that aren’t. Instead, they follow children over many years, monitor how much they’re spanked, and then take measure of their aggression over time. “We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time,” says Joan Durrant, the article’s lead author and a child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba.

In fact, regardless of the age of the children or the size of the sample, none of more than 80 studies on the effects of physical punishment have succeeded in finding positive associations. “If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful,” says Durrant. “It’s no different for children. It’s not a constructive thing to do.”


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  • kenny Johnson

    I know there are always exceptions to the rule… but I was spanked quite a bit as a kid… even with a hard and heavy paddle. While I do have a temper, ive always been non violent. Ive never really been in a fight… once in elementary school another boy tried to tight me –even punched me in the face, I refused to fight.

    We’ve spanked our son a few times, but it’d very rare and infrequent. Usually time outs and other things work fine

  • Leslie

    Child Psychologist Gordon Neufeld, of Vancouver, Canada, professes attachment theory and makes the point that spanking’s alternative — time outs &/or choice making — sets up a contractual relationship between parents and children. Meaning the children soon realize there are circumstances in this world which will render you banished and ostracized from the parents. “I (parent) withdraw my invitation for you to be with me until you measure up.” Instills in the child a deep restlessness.

  • Dan Jones

    Indeed, KJ. I don’t think I was ever really spanked and I am incredibly anti-social, aggressive, and violent. Studies like these prove nothing casual association at best.


  • Sal

    Studies show that 95% of all studies show what they set out to show.

  • Correlation does not equate causation.

  • Susan N.

    My parent/authority figures (numerous — grandparents, parents, and four step-parents) were all over the map in terms of parenting style…from bordering on neglectful to militant authoritarian. My experiences, therefore, didn’t provide me a clear-cut “best practices guide” for parenting. I have had to sort a lot out and learn as I go with my children. I think most parents feel this way, even the ones who had ideal parents and childhoods.

    Here is what I really wanted to say (before issuing my personal “disclaimer”). Spanking may be a short-term, immediate solution to undesirable behavior, but there is another huge disadvantage (besides increasing aggression in the “spanked”.)

    The child learns both to fear authority, and also to blindly obey authority. When I began to think about the potential for future disaster that this could bring upon my children, I knew that alternative, more positive discipline methods MUST be employed.

    In the programming of fear and blind obedience, the relationship is damaged. As a parent, I want my children to trust me — no matter what they’ve done or have to tell me, to know that I am “for” them, that my love is not ever going to be withdrawn or diminished. I want to be, in their minds, a loving, restorative, wise(r) teacher, not an arbiter of punitive justice. If they have a problem, it is my problem to work with them to resolve it.

    As for the blind obedience, I want my kids to feel free to express their “issues” with me, and demonstrate that I’m willing to listen and admit when I have been wrong. I am not always right, and don’t know everything, all the time. We have a “contract” that we will speak to each other respectfully. There are boundaries to our interaction, for our mutual benefit. I do have the final word, and often come down on a decision contrary to my kids’ wishes. I try to be fair and reasonable.

    If I call a “time out” it is for a cool-down, thinking/reflecting period. The tough love thing doesn’t really help the relationship, either. I don’t send them away to hurt them by withholding my love.

    Children, and to a lesser extent teenagers, still need adult guidance and limits. At times, I have seen the grace-based parenting advocates *seem* to go too far the other direction in letting kids be kids, learn by trial and error, etc., etc.

    As for spanking being the cause of increased aggression in society, I doubt it helps the culture of violence. But, I would also say that as much as I have resolved to commit to peaceful relational parenting strategies, violence is a cottage industry that is hard for me to keep my son, especially, away from. The video games are a prime example. All my 11.5yo son’s friends (even those younger than him) have these military games in their homes and play them freely. Violence is glorified in our culture. It’s a constant argument with my son, “WHY can’t I have this game, WHY can’t I play it with my friends at their homes?”

    These are just my “parenting school of hard knocks” observations and half-shekel of opinion.

  • What is amusing is why is aggression and violence frowned on by people who at the same time believe in survival of the fittest?

  • I tend to agree about spanking, but I can’t help but wonder if the more aggressive and more violent-prone kids make parents more likely to spank them.

  • Susan N.

    One more relevant point to add to my comments at #6. A theological “blik” which attributes violence to God and promotes a retributive / punitive justice relational model (both vertical and horizontal) provides a nice justification for an aggressive society. Today, I have been reading the latest post by “Disco Kevin” at Cognitive Discopants blog.

    A related post at The American Jesus blog by Zack Hunt (‘The Monstrous God of John Piper’) is embedded in Disco Kevin’s post.

    Some very thought-provoking critique of the Piper, et al, Neo-reformed theological “blik.” I think this type of systematic thinking does have a very real, not-too-healthy impact on how we live out our faith in ordinary ways, such as parenting, marriage, etc.

  • Interesting theory, but I have to wonder why things like school shootings were unheard of back in the days when spanking was common. I too found it didn’t work well for me, but I still think there are times when it may actually be the best logical consequence.

    True story, years ago I was driving down a street with a 35 mile/hr. speed limit, when I watched a family chasing down a toddler headed for the street. I wondered what they would do once he got too fast for them. Not going into the street is one lesson I taught my son with a spanking and he learned it well. A year or so later, a child was hit by a car on that very street. Fortunately they weren’t badly injured, but wouldn’t it have been better if they had learned never to run into the street in the first place? Seems to me that a spanking, in that instance, would have been preferable.

  • “A new analysis…conludes that…” until a new analysis comes along followed by another new analysis and a new analysis and a…

    Should parents ever spank a child or should they not? I don’t think that is such a simple question that can be so easily answered. More likely, the question is probably better answered on a child by child basis and requires more wisdom than a simple rule.

    Grace and Peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  • DRT

    First off, let me say that it is impossible for me to think of Jesus spanking a child.

    Second, I have spanked my own, and have been spanked. Actually, I went to a Catholic grade school where they would spank, and hit, and once they broke a wooden pointer over my shoulder….

    I definitely think that we should teach and inculcate a no spanking culture, there is no other way to do it. There is no way to say how much spanking, how hard, how often, the only answer is never and none.

    Having said all of that, my youngest son would get worse and worse and worse, over about 6-8 months, and then my wife would say, he needs to get it. I would, and he would be quite better for it for another 6-8 months….. I never ever spanked my daughter…

  • Dura Mater

    @ Shane, #8. I agree. And wonder if violent parents, who may be more likely to spank their kids, are genetically more likely to have violent kids.

    I personally could never figure out how to tell my kids that hitting was wrong, and then hit them myself. . .

  • William Varner

    “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child. The rod of correction will drive it from him.” Was he right or was he wrong?

  • It is easier to train children than it is to repair men…

    I see a lot of children who are not being trained by their parents today. I also hear parents who are continually saying that they can’t control their young children (1-5 years of age). These parents want to talk about their issues openly in public, but do not have the stomach or backbone to listen to parents who have pioneered a proven pathway to training up a godly generation.

    As a parent, you may be deceived into thinking that nobody notices your child physically throwing fits, loudly demanding their way, or bodily hitting you, but we see and it isn’t cute. We wonder why you don’t have a spine, why you are obviously intimidated and dominated by a toddler, why you continually keep repeating yourself with no visible results, and why you are willing to sell and sacrifice your child’s soul?

    If a child is allowed to “get his own way,” that child learns he is more powerful than his parents. And that is a frightening place to find yourself at three or four years of age—to discover that you are the strongest person in your world.

    It is actually not your children who need training, but the parents.

    When you fail to discipline your children you are missing valuable opportunities to provide formation to their soul and spirit.

    What ends up happening to an undisciplined child is that the parent simply is passively waiting for the child to grow out of their unhealthy behavioral patterns. Children will grow out of unwanted behavioral patterns as a child grows older. Certain behaviors change simply because they are getting older and previous practices of gaining affection or attention no longer work. So now instead of throwing a fit they simply cop an attitude. They choose behaviors that accommodate their new age and attitude. The reason that they make the sociological adjustments is because previous behaviors and attitudes were never checked or corrected and instead of modeling their life by their parents they seek out the lifestyles of those in their peer group sub-culture.

    Just because a child grows older by age does not ensure that they are maturing in godly character and a yielding will. What the parent of an undisciplined child doesn’t realize is that the young child they were trying to make like them now resents them as they get older. This passive paradigm of child training is proven to be a catastrophe and is not in keeping with the sacred text of Scripture.

    Just because a child modifies their behavior, even making it acceptable or obedient does not guarantee a healthy heart. This was the same concern that Jesus confronted with the religious behaviors of the Pharisees. The potential tragedy is that children will modify their behavior, but because of a lack of being trained by discipline the soul and spirit is unformed and the life is now conformed to either a life of religious showmanship, worldly influenced peer pressure or self elected and seated as their own authority.

    There are three critical hinges on the door of a child’s life.
    2-3: The Toddler, when motor skills are gearing up, need to be nurtured and given the rod.
    12-13: Teenager, when hormonal changes are heating up, need to be given guidance
    22-23: Twenty something… when life decisions opening up, need to be given wisdom

    If you let your child’s soul go undisciplined at the initial stage then every successive stage will more difficult for both you and them. I have seen so many parents in for counseling with and about their teenagers and the throw up their hands…not knowing what to do with them and yet they always say he/she is a good kid. Parents are very stressed by their child’s unruly behavior and the child resents the idea that the parent is just now trying to control their behavior. That is why we must train them up while they are young. The other great neglect is the parents who once their children become teenagers they almost completely abandon them to living their own life and making their own decisions rather than mentoring and guiding them through the rough waters of young adulthood.

    So then, as the undisciplined child grows up they may appear to function well in society, but their interior quality of life will now be tested as never before because it was never formed and harnessed as a toddler and teen. It will be tested in friendships, opposite sex relationships, authorities in life, productivity on the job, and in handling the everyday temptations of life.

    Richard Foster refers to discipline as a means of grace. Therefore, if a child is unformed by discipline they are missing out on the grace of life/God. They become deficient in matters of self control and character development. So I admonish you to read the Proverbs about training up your child, and recognize that discipline is the means of giving to the spirit, the grace necessary to form it into the character of Christ.

  • nathan

    We generally do “naughty square” time. It’s a fabric swatch that they have to sit on for a little while. Then we come and talk about the behavior, how it is unacceptable, invite them to apologize to the wronged party, and then extend forgiveness and hugs.

    I like “naughty square” or “naughty spot” because it assigns a value judgement to the behavior, rather than inculcating in a child the idea that they just need time to breathe and take a break.

    It names sin as sin in an comprehensible way and it facilitates relationship and talking between us and our children.

    Spanking is not off the table in our parenting repertoire, but we want it to be the absolute last thing we’d do, it’s rarely even in view, and for only very specific behaviors.

  • Susan N.

    Michael Welchert (#15) – you certainly speak with an authoritative voice.

    Discipline / disciple = instruct, teach.

    William Varner (#14) – re: “rod of correction”

    In Phillip Keller’s book ‘A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,’ I was interested to read various ways of interpreting and applying “rod” (as in, “…your rod and your staff, they comfort me” ~Ps. 23:4)

    1. As symbolic of the Word of God (Incarnate Christ, Scriptures?) to convict and correct us.
    2. As a shepherd’s examining tool. “A sheep that passed ‘under the rod’ was one which had been counted and looked over with great care to make sure all was well with it.” (Keller, 89)
    3. As a shepherd’s instrument of protection, for both himself and his sheep.

    The staff, incidentally, is compared to the Holy Spirit (“The Comforter.”)

    People will differ in parenting style and discipline techniques used. I question whether we should try to justify our methods by claiming it’s biblical or plainly God’s will. Maybe it’s because we don’t feel altogether good about spanking that we look for “witnesses” that support our decision? Who better to put on the witness stand than God (or on His behalf, His Word), which we have naturally understood perfectly. Convenient, seemingly unarguable defense strategy!

    DRT, I’m like you. I can’t imagine Jesus “discipling” anyone by hitting them. He didn’t respond to his enemies with violence of any kind. Seems significant to me. I want to strive for Christ-likeness. If I fall short, I certainly don’t want to congratulate myself over it.

  • DRT

    Wow, how do I ask other parent not to spank when I did….

    But I do ask. Sorry for that. There are children, and men, who will be broken, utterly, by spanking.

  • Mark Pike

    This study is hogwash. I was spanked by my father and my mother. I have spanked (sparingly) all four of my children. Spanking when properly used as a form of discipline is not beating your children.

  • MWK

    Susan – you may be forgetting that Jesus made a whip from cords and drove out the money changers with it.

  • Susan N.

    MWK (#20) – No, sir. Jesus was most likely driving out the *animals* which were being sold for profit in the temple. Not whipping even the corrupt money changers with the cords. People are not beasts.

    Mark Pike (#19) – Sure, the claim that spanking is the primary cause of aggression in our society can be debated. There are many other sources of violence that our children are exposed to in this culture. Our society at just about every level is structured to operate on power and strength being the currency for authority.

    When I look back on the range of parental authorities that I had, those who never laid a hand of punishment on me are the ones toward whom I am deeply grateful and admire most. I try to remember “the best of” composite from all of them, and honor their memory by passing what they’ve given me on to my children. Once, a wise blogger whom I read regularly gently suggested, “Forget your false teachers.”

    Stick around Jesus Creed, because people like Scot McKnight and his peers and readers teach and live a different way. Keeping company with those whom you wish to emulate is a (dare I say) “biblical” principle. 🙂

    Yoke up with Jesus, and learn of His gentle and humble-hearted ways… That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!


  • Brian C

    Liberals like Bonnie Rochman don’t want you to spank your child but they have no problem if you kill the invasive and unwanted tissue before it is born. Of course we should believe that they have it right on spanking even though others recent study show benefit of spanking. After all their worldview that allows for infanticide certainly has the best interest of children in mind.

  • Here is an article by Paul Wegner (Phoenix Seminary) that interacts with the texts regarding discipline in the book of Proverbs “Discipline in the Book of Proverbs: ‘To Spank or Not to Spank'” JETS 48/4 (Dec 2005).. Wegner also mentions some sociological studies.

  • To give more insight, studies would need to dig deeper than the simplistic level of spanking/not spanking. Many families do not use spanking with the goal of punishment, or as the author quoted: to hit us to change our behavior. Healthy, biblical discipline should have the goal of raising children who are wise about their own and others’ choices in life. A wise child pays attention to present & ongoing consequences, and consequences affect spirit-body-mind-emotions in real life. When we’re younger, we primarily care about consequences to ourselves. As we age, hear and understand better, children growing in wisdom begin to observe how their own behavior and that of their peers affect those around them.

    I think it’s safe to say that all humans naturally dislike or despise discipline, whatever the form, whether reproof, or shame, or physical outcomes. (Prov. 3:11-12) Discipline means that we have to be bounded in our behavior, and we naturally assume others need bounding while we do not.

    I’d like to see the assessment tools underlying these studies to see what questions are being asked, what measures are being used, how finely tuned/not the assessment is, and overall family context is observed. I question whether the following could be said of those whose parents disciplined in service of teaching their children wisdom:

    In fact, regardless of the age of the children or the size of the sample, none of more than 80 studies on the effects of physical punishment have succeeded in finding positive associations. “If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful,” says Durrant. “It’s no different for children. It’s not a constructive thing to do.” (We might as well replace “hit” with “scold”, or “correct” or “take away toys” or “time out” or even “point out the truth & effects”, because feeling resentful is a normal childish response to all of those consequences!)

    We do need to heed the admonitions to be wise in discipling our children, for how can we instill wisdom if we fail in loving them, wisely? How can we raise patient & forgiving children if our own love is not marked by patience, forbearance, kindness and forgiveness? Every parent I’ve ever heard speak about disciplining children has noticed patience is #1 priority, because kids will do the same things over & over, and parents need to give consequences repeatedly, too. The message of discipline, as our now adult son put it, is [to] teach a lifelong value system that behaving in ways harmful to self or others has consistent consequences, as the behavior worsens and the children mature, the consequences become more profound & life-altering.

    As far as any consequence goes, our observation was that whatever the consequence it is time-limited in effectiveness. Even consequences such as those naturally experienced (falling out of trees, wiping out on a bike, etc.) can be shrugged off if a child wants to repeat the behavior enough. What we found to be most effective is the ongoing context of love & forgiveness in the home, consistency in the teaching & integrity of message in life, and using consequences suited to that child’s response in attitude, learning & development. Our goal was to love and to teach them wise, prudent & loving ways. Our son responded better and understood physical consequences more, and our daughter responded better to time outs, stern words.

    As far as imagining Jesus “hitting” others, Jesus didn’t deny physical consequences, but he emphatically decried unjust consequences. Our children certainly could tell the difference!! Why do we so readily equate spanking with violence? We ignore the poor, the sick, and the lonely – and imagine that ignoring non-violent? When parents’ discipline techniques don’t leave any external signs, do we imagine all their discipline to be wise and constructive?

    Yet, how will any of us meet the God whose wise laws (including physical laws, such as gravity, inertia, & those which affect our physical health, etc.) affect us holistically – spiritually, emotionally, inter-relationally, physically, if we deny that how we behave has real consequences, including physical outcomes? (cf. Prov. 1:29-33, 19:3; Romans 1:18-ff., Matthew 23) Perhaps especially doing goodness, righteousness and justice and following Christ will bring harsh & unjust consequences. We’d better be able to discern the spiritual difference between good/evil, justice/injustice by more than a simplistic physical=bad, non-physical=good formula.

    I strongly disagree w/ the direction of social services to criminalize spanking w/out family and community context, &/or remove children from parents who might use spanking as one consequence among others. IMHO, it is more violent to threaten & destroy families than it is to spank a misbehaving child in a measured & informed context.

  • MWK

    Susan – like you, I’m a ma’am. With that said, Jesus drove them all out, and he did so without sinning. Of course, we don’t know if he ever connected, so I suppose maybe we’re both right. Ha!

  • Evelyn

    Could it also be true that more aggressive parents are more likely to spank, and also pass that genetic predisposition to aggressive behavior on to their children? So the cause is not spanking but genes.

    Just a thought. I’m sure someone has done a study.

    That said, I don’t spank 😉 I have found non-punitive boundary enforcement (esp. using the natural and logical consequences of behavior) to be so much more effective for teaching my kids what ia actually want them to learn: e.g. self discipline.


  • Susan N.

    MWK – Sorry, Ma’am! I should know better with initial ID’s. Please forgive the slight. 🙂

    As to the latest comments, with all due respect — and I am no expert in logic or the art of debate, but: I am learning to recognize the use of a “straw man” and other fallacies. Why do we defend spanking as a form of discipline without admitting its potential downside(s), and go further to discuss better alternatives? I think that we’re missing our calling to be “co-creators” — emphasis on “creative.”

  • phil_style

    spanking is not discipline. it is punishment.

    discipline and punishment are not the same thing. if you wish to discipline then you need to be smart. if you want to punish, then you can be a brute.

  • Susan N.

    Richard (#23) – I did skim through the paper to which you linked (with more than a little trepidation as to what I might read therein.)

    I appreciated the fact that spanking is held up as a last resort of discipline and that various alternatives are discussed. However, basing our parenting principles and practices on that of Ancient Near Eastern moral society seems fraught with dangers. Once, in a discussion about the criminal justice system and capital punishment, a biblicist acquaintance of mine expressed her opinion that if stoning were legal, our society would have much less crime. I seem to recall a civil law (Leviticus?) which permitted errant children in the ANE culture to be stoned to death. That’s where strict (literal) biblical adherence *could* potentially lead. Sharia Law, anyone? Of course we are wise enough to know what to pick and choose from the Bible’s instructions, and how much is enough lawkeeping. Just a thought…

  • Susan N.

    phil_style (28) – I love you for saying that, and in such clear and concise terms. Let us begin by being honest with ourselves. ~Selah~

  • DanS

    I was spanked as a child. I am not violent. I have three grown boys. They were occasionally spanked as young children. None of them have ever been in a physical altercation of any sort as teens or men.

    I view spanking as almost a form of communication for the very young. A child of 18 months cannot be “talked to” the way a child who is 11 can. When “no” is met with defiance, and 18- month-olds are very capable of defiance, there is sometimes a need to clearly communicate that there are consequences to actions. A slap on the hand or backside gets their attention. In the context of love, hugs, laughs, and security, the rare occasion of a jolt of reality does not harm the child. He learns that correction is a part of genuine love.

    I don’t think I ever spanked my boys once they were able to reason. I never had any major confrontations with them as teens. They have never even hinted at violence. Had I never spanked them, I am not sure they would have turned out as well as they did.

    I’ve seen over and over cases of children whose parents do not respond to defiance. The children throw horrific tantrums in public and nothing is done. Those kids become the dominant force in the home, the parents lose control. The kids do not learn to associate bad behavior with consequences. They are the ones who tend to be out of control as teens. I’ve seen it time and time again.

    Spanking is not a violent beating to harm the child. It is a necessary form of communication for small children who can’t think logically about actions and consequences. It is a necessary tool in the hand of a loving parent in a fallen world.

  • Matt

    I was spanked as a child and I look back and attribute those spankings as the reason why I respected those in authority over me. They didn’t continue into my teen years. I have two brothers and all of us had the same parenting.

    I spank my children VERY rarely, and when it happens I do so by telling them why, how many (so they know it’s not in anger), and always make sure to attend to the relationship after that.

    For those who can’t see Jesus spanking a child, that’s a pretty circumstantial form of logic and I wouldn’t use that to guide my decisions. I can’t see Jesus calling his disciples slow, saying “Get behind me Satan,” making a whip and driving greedy people out of the temple, etc. Those are examples we know He did that seem out of place with typical “non judgment” impressions of Him. In regard to things He never did that I couldn’t see Him doing, but I know aren’t wrong for me to do (like spanking) – sex with my spouse comes to mind. I’m sure there’s other things…

  • D. Foster

    I was spanked as a child. I’m extremely sociable, happily married, and have fantastic relationships with everyone in my family.

    Spanking is not in and of itself a problem, but neither is it in and of itself a solution. It’s all about how you treat your child. I’ve known people who used spanking purely to control their kids, and their kids have problems from it. But I know other parents who used spanking in a constructive way and their children turned out great.

    I’d like to see the specifics about how this study conducted.


  • Tom F.

    Evelyn, 26- Excellent question

    Before the late 1990’s, most studies of corporal punishment were correlational, and therefore couldn’t tell if aggressive kids got spanked more or if spanking caused aggression. It’s understandable that many were skeptical before this, as how you interpret these correlations would largely depend on your bias for or against corporal punishment.

    However, there have been a host of longitudinal studies that have confirmed the casual nature of this relationship.

    (Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997)-Children spanked at an earlier time in life had more anti-social behavior at a later point in life. This is after controlling for things like parental warmth, SES, and ethnicity. Because they controlled for parental warmth, this cuts the legs out from arguments that the context of coporal punishment matters. It surely does, and it seems common sense to say that parental warmth mitigates the effects of corporal punishment. But the fact remains that corporal punishment is itself a negative factor in the child’s development.

    Gunnoe and Mariner (1997)- Found that corporal punishment in ages above toddlers was always associated with higher levels of anti-social behavior later on. This sort of study had a problem with assessing the effects in toddlers, mostly because so many toddlers are spanked (around 94% of parents report spanking toddlers) that not being spanked likely reflects parental disengagement. Also, to be fair, African-American children who received corporal punishment were also less likely to show anti-social behavior, although again, this may be because corporal punishment is so much more common in African-American culture that its absence reflects neglect, not replacement with another disciplinary technique.

    Brezina (1999)- Corporal punishment (not abuse) in adolescents led to increased chances that the parent would be assaulted in later years.

    Simons. Lin and Gordon (1998)- Corporal punishment in adolescents as young as 13 leads to increased likelihood of violence in dating relationships.

    Straus and Paschall (2007)- Corporal punishment of toddlers tends to replace verbal explanations of why behavior is wrong, and so spanking should in theory lead to less cognitive development. And this study found that it did, with children who were not hit at all showing the most cognitive development, with a large effect size.

    (Millar, 2006)- Controlled for the use of other forms of discipline, family warmth, SES, ect in a huge study of Canadian youth (11,000!). Even after these variables were controlled for, spanking and other corporal punishment was still associated with negative outcomes later on.

    So the cumulative point of these studies is that spanking is increasingly seen as a cause of anti-social behavior among children. There’s no doubt that this effect is mitigated by things like parental warmth, frequency of use, and age. In general, one would imagine a secure attachment between parent and child would be able to whether occasional spanking. But just because the relationship CAN tolerate spanking doesn’t mean it should.

    Bottom line: the evidence is stacking up against spanking, and its likely that as more longitudinal studies are conducted, it will increasingly be seen as a harmful practice.

  • Susan N.

    For those who were spanked and have suffered no ill effects in later adulthood, maybe that is evidence of God’s unfailing love and healing grace at work? Why do we want to create more work for God to do, as if He doesn’t have a world of cares on His shoulders already? Things that make you go, Hmmm… Then, D’oh!

    I watched ‘Moneyball’ this afternoon. I especially liked Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane in his relationship with his daughter. “You’re such a loser dad, just enjoy the show.” What an apt metaphor for parenting and life! Very sweet movie. 🙂

  • DRT

    Susan N., thanks for staying on top of this.

    Tom F., thanks for the info, I think the most important statement you make is “But just because the relationship CAN tolerate spanking doesn’t mean it should.”

    I wish I lived in a world where the old raised children and the young had time on their hands without repercussions to other people. I forget who said it, but why is youth wasted on the young? I have a corollary, why is wisdom wasted on the old.

  • Nathan

    Yes. Let’s be honest.

    I don’t think we can pit discipline against punishment. They sometimes go hand in hand. I was spanked on occasion and I’m not a violent person or abusive. In fact, I generally hold to the idea that Christians should not join the military or law enforcement, etc. etc. etc.

    So, if we’re going to attribute motives and internal dispositions to positions then we could easily say that to problematize “punishment” is actually just indicative of the rebellious autonomy of the sinful human heart that doesn’t want deserved consequences imposed where necessary.

    Let’s just own the fact that punishment is actually a good thing when deserved and properly meted out…whatever the method.

  • Nathan

    Thanks, Derek. Well said.

  • Nathan

    God didn’t need to “intervene” from my horrible abusive parents who rarely spanked me.

    That’s a big assumption and a lovely spiritualizing move to boot.

  • Tim

    Several have shared their personal experience. I have raised 3 children without spanking, and I would rank them high on the maturity and thriving scale. They were disciplined without violence. Of course, it is difficult to generalize from my experience

  • Susan N.

    DRT (#36) – This discussion has been a good time for me to reflect on my parenting and to reaffirm what my ultimate goals are. It makes me realize how much I have changed and grown in my faith and lived expression of it, even over the past few years. Much of my theological “blik” has been deconstructed and refined. Aren’t you grateful for the God of goodness and mercy who “follows” us through the ups and downs of life? It’s easier and easier to “forget my false teachers.” Keep pressing on, brother. I’m right there with you. Praying that your family had a peaceful weekend. ~S

  • DRT

    Ah, Peace and prayers to you too Susan N.! He (despite Piper) does hang in there with me. I have been in a dark night of the soul for more than a couple weeks and hope that this does not last…. but I do know he is there. Family is fine 🙂

  • The most irksome thing about this subject of discussion is that those who love their kids and (have) use(d) spanking as one form of discipline (whatever phil style & Susan N want to call it) are effectively told that what they did and how they perceived it is ipso facto “punishment” or “hitting” because they’ve declared it so. Thank you soooo much for “knowing” the dark purposes of our hearts, and being dishonest to/about ourselves (yes, that sentence had a sarcastic flavoring). (cf. Paul’s stance on that in 1 Cor. 4:1-5) Do you actually believe that all the parents who’ve used spanking, at any time or in any circumstance, hadn’t used other discipline choices, first, then or ever? that you know our hearts & motives? Many of us would fall before your law, were you our lord. I’m so glad we report elsewhere and receive grace!

    I appreciated Tom F’s research on the subject, and his knowledge regarding longitudinal statistical studies. My questions of the studies, Tom, would be as follows:
    * is parental warmth an accurate measure of whether consequences are just/unjust, understood/erratic? (S, S, & G-S 1997 study) what does that parameter entail, & how is it assessed? does subjective warmth or any other parameter in that study address each child’s understanding of wrong & consequence?
    * (re G&M, 1997) does the African American variation point to needing to examine & control for community context, more? (That’s one thing it could indicate, per your summary.) Another aspect is the demeaning social ostracism – such as that seen even here – of those whose families don’t fit a perceived ideal mould. The fluidity & faddishness of American parenting styles over the last 60-70 years just isn’t repeated among societies where we’ve spent a lot of time overseas.
    * [in most of the contexts discussed here, the 1998-1999 studies regarding corporal punishment in adolescents don’t apply, AFAICS. Is that correct?]
    * re the 2007 study, and what were the indications and results if corporal punishment (since that seems the preferred term, here) did not replace communication and understanding? Did the study have any tangents which took those variables into account?
    * re the 2006 Canadian study, it looks as if the study looks specifically at forms of discipline. The results, therefore, are unsurprising to me.

    Here’s the concern raised that I don’t see answered by all the studies, by Scot, and many of the commenters, here. The focus is legalistically narrowed onto forms of parenting. Do this, don’t do that, PERIOD. If anything else, condemn, insult, assign motives. It’s exactly analogous to the type of parenting you’re decrying. Do it because we say so, or else.

    This is apodictic law and ethics, the defining of a point on a legal spectrum as the place where all (perfect) parents parent, in every locale, setting & circumstances, and where all children perfectly learn best. I’ve worked in reconciliation ministry for 12 years, and my observation is that such apodictic assertions are the most graceless drivers of intransigient & irresolvable conflicts. Apodictic law for some utterly replaces principled ethics, or telos ethics. The goal among many here doesn’t seem to be to support parents parenting, to offer a safe place to discuss solutions, but to place an edict or 11th commandment upon any visitor: Thou shalt not spank your children, ever, under any circumstances.

    Yes, we’ve received your message, loud and clear. Some of us are still sincerely seeking, however, and don’t see things so black/white. Moving on, now.

  • Susan N.

    Ann F-R (#43) – I am sorry that my comments (you mention my name specifically in your rebuttal) have offended you and insulted your parenting choices. On the hope that you will read this response, before moving on, I’ll attempt to clarify.

    Have you read all of my comments from the first to the last? My own childhood experiences, my own learning curve as a parent — all of that qualifies me to judge myself and speak from a position of where I have been and where I hope to go. The big lesson for me as a parent has been all about the relationship with my children. Depending on what I want that to be, I cultivate accordingly. I did speak to that back in #6.

    Overnight, as I thought on this topic and reflected on the polarized commentary, I remembered the advice of a caring friend who spoke healing into my life many years ago, at a time of deep loss and confusion. He said, “You did the best you could with the information you had at the time.” I’ve never forgotten that, and the truth in that has allowed me to both move forward and to forgive others who have let me down. Giving others (my own parental authorities) the benefit of the doubt, and extending grace, it is freeing to say, “They, too, did the best they could with the information they had at the time.”

    New information can be an opportunity to grow and be transformed. Sometimes, we get so invested in our past, it’s hard to let go and admit that we didn’t have it so together. I have also heard, in the words of many of the commenters supporting spanking as a punishment/discipline, a rising defense of their own parents’ honor. I do admire the desire to honor one’s parents and avoid disrespecting their good intentions. For my part, as I’ve gotten older, been in the role of parent myself, and grieved the death of my mother, I have had to come to terms with what was good (honorable) and what was less-than-perfect about my mom and our relationship. In that way, I have been enabled to claim, specifically, what from my mother’s legacy I would choose to honor with my life, and in my parenting. I hope that my children can do the same. Face the truth that I was not perfect, but take what was good from what I taught them and use that in their lives.

    Ann F-R, and anyone else who has been taken offense at my comments and heard them as judgmental or condemning, that really was not my intent. I don’t think spanking or anyone whose parenting practices include spanking are to be demonized. Far be it from me! It is good, however, to examine these matters and discuss how we might be the best parents we can possibly be. As Christian parents, beyond biblical proof-texting as a method of making our case, we have to come at the situation with honesty and openness from out of our own experiences with our parents and as a parent with our own children. And maybe most of all, our felt experience as loved by ‘Abba.’ All of my comments have been from that personal perspective / “blik.” I enjoy hearing others’ stories, too, Ann F-R, but not so much that if I don’t do a), b), and c) as per the Bible’s instruction, then I am not fulfilling my parental duties in raising godly children. Some of my comments certainly were a pushback to a few comments along those lines. I hold the line on that point, without apology.

    I do offer my apology and ask your forgiveness for any part of my comments which read as a condemnation of you personally, Ann. Not true.


  • Amos Paul

    I think that the mosy enlightening post here was comment #2, Leslie’s.

    If we want to call spanking nothing but ‘violence’–then what are the alternatives for a negative factor in discipline? For if we have discipline, we MUST have both positive and negative indicators.

    Time outs and other such ‘losses’ of privilege are often asserted as the alternative. But what if, as Leslie suggested in her cited research, those such pnishments are *also* ‘violent’ to the child’s psyche and relationship with the parent? After all, there’s nothing about physical contact that makes it inherently violent, and there’s nothing about non-physical contact that makes it inherently non-violent.

    No matter what we *say* to a child–if ANY negative consequences flow from ourselves to them, then, for all practical purposes, our love is conditional. Unlike God, we do not have good and nothing but good flow from us to them. Our love has limits and mere human capabilities.

    So if we want to call *all* spanking violence, then I equally name *all* punishment of any kind as violence (assuming that we want to use this specific, polemical terminology). The violent nature about it does not change when one removes the physical contact from the issue.

    But does that mean parents should not punish? Should their discipline entail no negative indicators of what is wrong but only positive indicators of what is right?

    I don’t agree with that. And I think that’s simply the very sensistive position a parent is placed in. Rather, I would say that, much like any other human relationship, parents must simply be honest with their children.

    That they are not perfect. They are not God. That they love them and wish to discipline them for their own benefit, but their discipline is not perfect. It is human discipline. And, whatever discipline methods they utilize, they try their hardest to accompany them with love, communication, understanding, and slowness to anger or wrath. They may not even be always successful at that. But it is a parent’s job to fearfully and wisely discipline their children. And to do what is just and right as far as they can see for each child always with the intention of aiming towards what *is* right and good for them overall.

    I don’t think that spanking is inherently wrong. I don’t think it is any more wrong (in general) than any other form of negative discipline. But also, neither do I think it stands in a vacuum or that any ‘one form’ of discipline is right for every child in every circumstance. All discipline that indicates negative consequence to a child is ‘harmful’. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be indicating a negative consequence. And all methods of indicating negative consequences must equally be used fearfully and well so that such ‘harm’ is not the main body or terminus of the discipline.

  • Amos Paul

    *most enlightening

  • JTM

    Well, what I see in grocery stores, in churches, and in schools, are many many children and teens who are out of control, disrespectful, and thoughtless toward others, especiaqlly adults. I have several friends who have left teaching, because grade school kids today tend to be so disrespectful and so out of conrol no real teaching can be done.

    I don’t know about studies or causations, just not an expert on that. But I do know me and my three brothrer were spanked when we needed to be, usually by my father. Of us four, one is a doctor, one is a lawyer, and two are pastors, and none have been arrested, none have been in a fight or ever shot a gun, and all have children whom others can enjoy being around becaue they are considerate and behace appropriately in public and with family and friends and visitors. And yes, all spank their children when it’s needed.

  • Tom F.

    Hi, Ann. I appreciate your depth of thought, and I understand if we may end up disagreeing on this subject. It sounds like you are/were a thoughtful and sensitive parent, and I would hate to imbue any motives to you other than the very best. Spanking seemed helpful to you, and on the basis of the best information you had at the time, and your very real sense of parental judgment, you decided that it was the best in the case of your children. God forbid I ever pass judgment on that. I hope to be half as thoughtful and sensitive as you seem to have been as a parent when I have kids of my own someday.

    At the same time, the research is becoming clearer and clearer that spanking is harmful. In response to you comments about ethics, I mostly find myself thinking out of a virtue ethics approach, and so I appreciate that this discussion has had very little to do with context that is so important. I think its fair to say that psychological research often really struggles with getting at context, because it is so hard to do research with so many interrelated variables. Mostly they are analytically and reductionistically controlled for, rather than seen as a part of a whole. As you say, this should preclude us from seeing in black and white. However, there is a place for studies that isolate and reduce as long as they don’t take over our ethical reflection all together. For example, replace the effects of spanking with the effects of more violent forms of correction, such as hiting, punching, kicking. These forms will have a negative effect, largely irrespective of context (though not entirely). That is why our country outlaws them, so that even if you are a part of a culture that allows these things, you are prevented from doing them to your children. I am not equating the severity of physical abuse with spanking, so much as I am using it as an example to show that some actions have negative effects on children’s development largely irrespective of the context or culture.

    Maybe we could say that there are some things in human development which are relatively context-dependent (such as overall disciplinary strategies) and some which are relatively context-independent (such as physical abuse). It sounds like you are saying that spanking should be in the context-dependent category, while I would argue that it should be moved into the context-independent category. Let me know if that seems a helpful distinction to you.

    Are there ways to interpret these studies so that it is not spanking, but some other factor that causes negative results? Yes, and always. Psychological evidence, even more so than that of natural science, is tentative and must be interpreted carefully.

    I do think that the explanations needed to continue to interpret the studies in that way is getting more and more convoluted. As I said, back when the data was correlational, pro-spanking folks were so sure that longitudinal studies would vindicate spanking. But they simply haven’t, and the longitudinal studies have to be explained as well now.

    There is no absolute point where any of us can say that the evidence clearly points one way or another beyond any doubt. But I think that the history of research on this subject is not hopeful for advocates of spanking.


  • Tom F.

    As a quick response to a bunch of other comments, it needs to be said that critics of spanking do not assume that children do not need correction. Perhaps there are some who used to think this way, and perhaps this is a holdover from earlier times when some advocated romantic visions of children’s perfect innocence.

    I would just say that all of the authors of the studies I have quoted are very much in favor of effective, quick, well-thought out discipline. And it also needs to be said that the results of “permissive” or even “uninvolved” parenting are far worse than the results of spanking, as has been shown in many, many studies. So, mainly as a personal plea, don’t associate no spanking with no discipline. Critics of spanking very much want spanking REPLACED with other forms of discipline.

  • Tom F.

    At the risk of seeming like I’m taking on all comers…



    I would grant that spanking is almost never intended as violence. I would also go even further and say that other forms of correction may be violent without being physical (yelling with extreme emotional violence).

    Looking over the various definitions, I would define violence as “force that results in harm”. Therefore, I would definitely say that the vast majority of parents who spank are not attempting to do something violent. The intent of correction is for the benefit of the child, rather than their harm. All correction may result in pain for a child, and in fact low to moderate levels of pain are adaptive (even if the pain is the experienced loss of priviledges). Pain, after all, is to point us away from things that are bad.

    However, if it can be shown that a certain kind of pain does in fact result in harm, that is lasting damage, as opposed to simply pain, which is only temporary, than it may be appropriate to label spanking as violence. So if spanking does result in lasting harm, than I think it could technically be described as violence. I think there is an important distinction to be made between things that are temporarily painful or unpleasant, and things which have lasting damage. Spanking studies tend to focus on the lasting damage aspect, and that’s what sets spanking apart from other forms of discipline in these studies. The studies do not find lasting harm from other disciplinary strategies, and Leslie in comment 2 was referring to a theory of a certain psychologist, not empirical evidence.

    At the same time, this doesn’t really seem helpful to the conversation to me. It risks conflating a practice like spanking, which is probably only mildly to perhaps modestly harmful (although very, very prevelant) with a practice that is severly damaging, like physical abuse (although much rarer). It seems like using the word “violence” puts parents on the defensive, and no one who is on the defensive is going to be open to changing their practices.

  • MarkE

    I have worked professionally with children and parents with behavior problems for the past 20 years. Here are some of my observations:

    Spanking has lost favor among professionals and parenting advocates over the years

    Most parents have and continue to use some form of spanking, despite the recommendation of professionals

    Spanking works for most normal kids, that is, they learn and do less of the behavior that got them spanked (thus parents have to spank less)

    Technically, whether an event is a punishment, depends on its effect on behavior. Punished behavior decreases, by definition. If a method (spanking or otherwise) does not decrease the behavior it follows, it technically is not a punishment.

    The vast majority of parents of children with severe behavior problems that come see me have given up spanking on their own because they report it did not work (not because someone told them not to)

    Punishment is a legitimate strategy for behavioral reduction, that is, the principle of punishment in the behavioral sciences is well documented and not disputed.

    The punishment strategy when overused and not in balance with other behavior change methods can worsen behavior (makes kids more mad – which can make them act out more)

    Punishment works best when used in a balanced (secondary to proactive and positive reactive methods) and coordinated manner with other methods.

  • Resi Arriot

    I have a question for the spanking proponents here. Do you think it is acceptable to spank adults as a consequence for wrongdoing or punishment for breaking laws? If so or if not, why?

  • Amos Paul


    When you say,

    >The studies do not find lasting harm from other disciplinary strategies, and Leslie in comment 2 was referring to a theory of a certain psychologist, not empirical evidence.

    It seems to me that the empirical evidence psychologists find against spanking (and not against other forms of discipline) is based exactly upon their theories of harm and what ‘counts’ depending on what kind of damage they’re looking for. I’m not certain I agree with the conclusion that other disciplinary methods are free from demonstrable, long-lasting harm.

    Though the experience is, indeed, anecdotal–I can verifiably say that I *know* I was spanked as a child, but hardly remember it. What gave a lasting impression upon me in my life was memories of the ‘time outs’, yelling, and other sorts of non-physical responses to my wrongdoing. Those are the things that agitated me in regards to my parents and, in general, made me nervous when engaging with others.

    Again, I must stress that I think that children *will* differ depending upon what are better and worse methods of discipline for them as they age. But *in general* I don’t see how spanking is going to necessarily be a more violent and long-lasting harmful method of punishment than other correctional methods. Indeed, *any* punishment creating a negative consequence to a child’s actions is, itself, going to necessarily produce *some* harm for the child. If we don’t want to directly cause our children any harm *at all*, then the only option really is no punishment of any kind ever.

    I, moreover, do not actually think that punishment, in general, is ‘violent’ myself–but was merely equating the ‘violence’ people saw in spanking with the ‘violence’ in other discipplinary methods. ‘Harm causing’ might be a nicer way of putting. Real violence, as per the definition, rough, extreme, and/or undue force.


    I must disagree with your definition of punishment, as well. Punishment is a penalty–not a behavior altering device. While punishment *can* be used to alter behavior and *may*, in certain circumstances (such as parenting) be justified by its goal of behavior alteration–it is not defined by it.

    If someone commits some wrong, for instance, some authority may also be justified to punish that person merely because a penalty is due to their actions. If we say that punishment is defined and justified by and only by behavior modification–then justice and the dignity of the individual are evicted entirely out of the picture in favor of a purely utilitarian formula of pre-determined behavior preferences and alteration devices.


    I do not advocate the spanking of adults. But, likewise, I also advocate an end to spanking as a viable and well-serving punishment at an earlier age than many others might. I see spanking as more of a simple and direct communication to children when they are individually and intellectually established enough to comprehend other forms of correction. I personally feel that spanking loses its appropiateness exponentially as the child develops further.

  • Tom F, I’ve read your comments and reasoning thoroughly, and I appreciate that you’ve responded respectfully to my pushback. Yes, I view this issue as context-dependent, for good reason. Here’s some background that contributed to my studies & work in reconciliation.

    The major issue I’ve had w/ this particular subject is its simplistic limitations; those inadequacies account for the repetitive trajectories that the above comments & cited studies take. Humans naturally want a law to resolve their conflicts & tension. Where there isn’t one, they’ll make law up – by appealing to scripture (proof-texting), or by appealing to science, or psychological studies, or by anecdotal evidence.

    Within my extended family, we have a childless-by-pro-choice female relative connected to those w/in psychotherapeutic community who are rabidly pushing these studies & laws. (I use “rabid” because it is obsessive, and as in comments above, you can see how polarizing the issue is.) She has done her utmost to rip apart our extended family by pushing the same lines I’ve been reading, here. The healthiest family members – all of whom disciplined their children using various methods, some corporal, some not, always within informed context & clear boundaries – refused to allow this woman to ostracize all the parents w/in the extended family who didn’t agree w/ her edict, and their children along with them. She literally removed them all from her “family of choice”.

    I met some of her friends behind such studies, driving this agenda; they are self-acclaimed gnostics. The majority are women, childless and some, as she, seem to project onto other parents’ disciplining their own sexual & parenting choices, all the while asserting their academically disembodied but superior knowledge of parenting.

    My background is economics, includes econometric analyses & regressions similar to that used in psychological studies, which is how I know how subtly skewed the studies can be by people w/ agendas.

    Leslie’s #2 comment which Amos Paul aptly picked up on, is that other forms of discipline also have negative consequences. Quoting Leslie: Meaning the children soon realize there are circumstances in this world which will render you banished and ostracized from the parents. “I (parent) withdraw my invitation for you to be with me until you measure up.” Instills in the child a deep restlessness.

    Obviously, I speak from the POV of one extended family, but it is a fact within our family that the deep conflict which has permanently & irreparably severed family ties has been driven by one childless woman’s conceptual psychotherapeutic agenda far more than any of the 16 adult cousins (14 of whom have children) and their 3 sets of grandparents who spanked/didn’t spank their children. The distinctives among ourselves and our offspring have little to do w/ the forms of discipline our parents or we chose, and more to do with the context of presence/absence of active & constructive correction and honoring of one another.

    Now, I would guess – based on all the psych studies &/or articles I’ve read summarizing those studies – that our relative’s behavior doesn’t rise to the psych criteria of “antisocial behavior” or cultural assumptions of “violence” because it’s without visible physical effects, is strictly limited to verbal slander, imputing motives, social ostracism, and attempts to garner support in her attempts to divide the family. This anecdote points to the inadequacies I’ve noted in those psychological studies: there will be always be serious under-reporting of psychological problems stemming from misapplication of non-corporal or uniformed discipline, or outright neglect to discipline, simply because one is objectively observable w/ the eyes, and all the others are subjective abuse/not to parents or observers. Attorneys generally only prosecute empirically quantifiable outcomes, unless there are multiple corroborating sources of outspoken motivations (e.g., what undergirds the charge of “hate crime”).

    Does it occur to anyone else that there’s a preponderance of women behind this anti-spanking drive? The passive aggressive bullying of social ostracism (time-out, etc.) that I’ve witnessed is the female flip side of the bullying male aggression which too frequently informs the other extreme of spanking-only. Add in the logical empiricism’s assumptions of AJ Ayers and we’re stuck w/ a world view that is neither holistic or adequate.

    (BTW, when I say that our son responded to physical discipline better, I do not simply referring to spanking. Physical discipline included regular exercise, walking or biking instead of receiving car rides, etc. He was a physical learner – he simply needed physical/body memory to help him absorb all the spoken words parents use to explain the Why? of “do” or “do not”. Passive sitting simply didn’t imprint the bodily-based memory which checks the impulse long enough for a boy to engage his mind.)

    Susan N., yes, I’ve read all your comments. FWIW, I believe you sincerely (& still) don’t perceive how apodictic & condescending are your comments. You said, “You did the best you could with the information you had at the time.” Gee, thanks! (eye roll)

    My point is that it is possible – if not likely – that we’ll always see as through a glass darkly on this issue. Based on your remarks, that may not be an acceptable conclusion to you, because it won’t resolve the tension. As my relatives & I have studied it, and experienced it in our own nuclear families, we have found there are far too many variables involved to be graceless and legalistic in our assumptions. My extended family has been embroiled in this issue for more than 50 years, from every angle imaginable – and among my high-achieving relatives, we have 5 medical doctors, 1 RN, 3 attorneys, a college president, 6+ teachers/professors, plus assorted business folk, scientists, financiers, engineers, a chaplain/mediator (moi) and a psychotherapist. We’ve had passionate & well-reasoned disagreements, but the common thread of agreement is grace-based love for one another & children, and the family’s brokenness lies along the fault-line where such apodictic assertions are the most graceless drivers of intransigient & irresolvable conflicts.

    Lastly, Tom, those other forms of discipline with which spanking critics want to REPLACE spanking? Is it possible that their effects will merely be less visible, more underground, more psychological, and therefore more difficult to sort out & overcome than a sore bottom? I’m reminded of the doctor whose wife needed to take refuge in our shelter for battered women. He knew exactly how to abuse her in ways that couldn’t be assessed with photographic evidence. When she left our shelter because the DA had insufficient evidence to prosecute him, he killed her. Be careful what we wish for.

  • Tom F.

    Ann, good thoughts. I am sorry that your relative is acting like…well, to put it in non-scholarly terms, a dork. Ironically, I am sure her frantic efforts are achieving the opposite of what she intends.

    Again, I understand where you are coming from on the data. Of course, there could be invisible effects of other forms of discipline. We should be careful, as human intuition may sometimes be more cognizant of these hidden variable than a bluntly positivist view of science might allow for. But there are also probably other effects of spanking that might be invisible as well. And if the effects are invisible, why? The studies on spanking often focus on anti-social behavior or “externalizing” behavior or aggression. They often occur in big surveys, where there are lots of other chance to pick up negative effects in a broad domain of areas, including life-satifaction, relationship quality, and other forms of psychopathology. If there are invisible effects of other forms of punishment, I might humbly suggest that they are not as significant as the negative effects of spanking.

    I also agree that doing away with spanking will by no means prevent lasting harm from other forms of discipline, to refer to your doctor/wife example. Very modestly, I am only saying that replacing spanking with other forms of discipline is likely to be better on balance than not replacing spanking. It is by no means a cure-all.

    I can’t comment on the gender thing, except to point out that I am, in fact, male…


    Amos, yes theories affect conclusions about what is harm. But as I said, these surveys often have questions about life that are very broad and have a good chance to pick up significant effects of harm in a variety of areas. You are, as always, welcome to question them, however. What sorts of questions do you think a survey would need to ask to pick up the kind of harm that you think other disciplinary methods leave? What domains of life need to be asked about in order to pick up those lasting effects (i.e. spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, ect.)?

    I do have to fundamentally disagree about punishment and harm, though. Surely the point of correction is benefit, not harm to the child. Again, I think the distinction between harm (=long-lasting) and pain (=perhaps only temporary) is crucial. Punishment/correction/discipline, whatever you want to call it, should only cause temporary pain in a child, not long-lasting harm, no? I think this is a really crucial point.

    Finally, I agree that other forms of discipline, if used incorrectly, can be more damaging than spanking. I am sorry if that happened to you as you grew up. Again, I am only making the modest claim that the best use of spanking will be more harmful than the best use of other disciplinary strategies, all other things being equal. We need to compare apples to apples here, no fair comparing the best possible uses of spanking to the worst applications of other disciplinary techniques.

  • MarkE

    I was speaking technically from behavioral theory. A punishment is something applied which has the effect of decreasing the behavior it follows. Of course, that is one of several dictionary definitions.

  • Susan N.

    Ann F-R (#54) – From your remarks, the irritation you feel toward me is in no way assuaged (perhaps increased). I am sorry that this is the situation between us. In reading your detailed comment, I wonder — as you have wondered aloud about my lack of awareness of my perceived condescending, graceless, legalistic tone — whether something about the way I have worded my comments remind you of your childless, pro-choice, rabidly anti-spanking relative who has generated so much strife in your extended family?

    I’m definitely *not* her! I’m not against you at all, Ann. I’m not setting myself above you, either. I believe that you are a thoughtful, caring, highly involved parent, and a smart woman from a good, upstanding family. For my part, I choose not to take offense at the fairly scathing remarks you’ve leveled at me. I would hope that if we knew one another better, the cause of this antagonism would quickly be reconciled as a misunderstanding. This discussion hasn’t been about pointing fingers or drawing battle lines; for me, it has been about working through some important ways of thinking and living (beyond biblical proof-texting, as I mentioned before.)

    Tom F. and MarkE – I appreciate the information you have shared, and the gracious manner in which you have presented it. This has been an encouragement to me; I hope to other parents (or future parents) as well. Thank you!

  • Susan, my objection was not to you, personally, but to a persistent thread that was noticeable in your comments: you have a perspective – which isn’t surprising given what is broadly pushed, today – that not-spanking is the higher, better road, of course. How you come across – and I did note that I won’t assume that you perceive this, or do it deliberately – is that the other folks just need to learn more, study more, and buy a few clues so they come along to your more enlightened perspective. I quoted your own words which conveyed that. I never conflated you or your POV with our divisive relative. As a mediator, however, part of my job is to spot common points of irresolvable conflict – apodictic legalism is a flaming red flag.

    One of my relatives with an MD & an MPH from Harvard was the Director of Family Medicine programs in 3 prominent medical schools. He was an excellent doctor who remains well versed in these studies, particularly because of the implications within our family. For goodness sake, he has more humility in discussions than what I frequently read/hear when this subject comes up, here. We recognize the limitations of these studies, the questions and data that can/cannot be asked or gathered, & the boundaries of the conclusions.

    My last comment, Tom, is to this statement: If there are invisible effects of other forms of punishment, I might humbly suggest that they are not as significant as the negative effects of spanking. That seems a comforting thought, doesn’t it? However, this is beyond the reach of statistics-based psychological studies because of the lack of quantifiability of other variables and effects. We need to be far more humble & careful about conflating what we prefer with what is verifiable.

    The Duke prof of English, author & biblical scholar, Reynolds Price, commenting in an interview, that suffering seems to be “the only way we hound dogs can be brought to heel”. (He suffered from pain & paralysis due to spinal cancer’s effects for the last 27 years of his life. He died in January, 2011.) How humiliating that is, if it’s true. A lot of scripture seems to affirm suffering as cleansing & correcting, though…including for Jesus (Heb. 2). As Christians, we have to know that the goal of avoiding suffering isn’t God’s goal. Is it? Does God not correct us? Shall we expect no suffering? Shall we raise our children to expect no trials?

    Out of the statistical/psychological firestorm, ISTM our efforts are much better suited in the church to supporting parents and helping them change focus from legalistic parenting to raising loving, wise and thoughtful children. IMHO, these discussions center on trying to make laws of discipline forms, rather than the love we’re trying to convey and nurture in families. We’re going to destroy families and fellowship, if we don’t make it safe for families not to feel threatened as secular laws are beginning to do. If truly abusive parents are beyond love and grace, how can we help them or reach their children?

    I sincerely apologize for the length of my responses on this thread. We come from an academically-oriented tradition in a peace church, too! ha! I’ll leave our family gatherings to your imagination. 🙂

  • James

    In every news story I came across about this study, nothing concrete from the study is cited, just *interpretations* of the study.

    One a more cheeky (no pun intended) note…I wonder if Joseph and Mary were time-outers or spankers?

  • Susan N.

    Ann F-R (#58) – I appreciate your commitment to the process of resolving conflict, and the importance of rightly understanding our partners in relationship. Digital, long-distance communication certainly does make this effort more difficult.

    What has puzzled me most about your strong dislike of my comments (not me personally, I hear and accept that to be your true focus), particularly on the matter of “legalistic, apodictic” parenting practices, is that my strongest comments were directed at two comments which cited the Bible’s absolute command to employ “the rod of correction” and another that came from a man who claims the title “Patriarch” in his home/church. (I followed the hyperlink for his name, because I had a feeling from his “authoritative” commentary that that philosophy was behind his comments.)

    I would like to believe that this is not your theology or philosophy of parenting (Patriarchal, male headship.)

    In your additional comments to Tom F. at #58, I read more of your theological perspective. Ann, with all due respect, I feel it is acceptable (not rude, condescending, graceless, etc.) for me to *risk* strongly disagreeing with you on these points:

    1. “As Christians, we have to know that the goal of avoiding suffering isn’t God’s goal. Is it?” I do not believe that God causes us pain or suffering. It is a part of our collective brokenness in this world. God does not necessarily prevent suffering; He is able to use it for good and redeem it, rather. Let us not be arbiters of suffering and pain meant for others, believing that it is a good thing that we’re doing. If you find that to be condescending, so be it. Our view of God is clearly quite different. We aren’t the first two to disagree this way. 🙂

    2. “Does God correct us?” I believe that God teaches us through our trials and temptations. He doesn’t bring about trials in order to punish us.

    3. “Shall we expect no suffering?” Jesus said that in this world we will have troubles. It’s a part of living in an imperfect world. He also said to take heart, because He has overcome the world.

    4. “Shall we raise our children to expect no trials?” In my experiences personally, and in raising my children, trials come aplenty, without me bringing more on, “compounding interest” if you will, for the benefit of teaching a lesson. I have worked very hard over the past 3 years to communicate to my children that I am *with them and for them* in every way. I won’t lie to them and tell them that everything is rosy, or that they are wonderful (phony self-esteem) when they are acting rotten. They know that I am paying attention and will make it my business to straighten out any wrongdoing. But, I have no desire to cause either one of my children more suffering or pain than the world already gives.

    Ann, perhaps my reference to Piper’s wrathful, punishing God was a large part of your negative reaction to me? I do not believe in this god of Piper’s. I cannot believe in that god, and be a whole, relationally-healthy human being. It is entirely possible that you and I mean something different when we speak of “grace.” What I mean by it is that God is so good, merciful, and loving that even in our imperfect ways of loving others in this world (our children and family included), He is able to redeem all of it and restore what is beautiful and right. I pray this for you and your family as much as for myself and my family. May God bless and guide us to honor Him with our lives, and love others well, always. ~Peace~

  • Matt

    Anyone who has two kids and has spanked both realizes how bogus this trial is. Syblings often turn out totally different even with the same parents and same parenting style.

  • Amos Paul


    >I do have to fundamentally disagree about punishment and harm, though. Surely the point of correction is benefit, not harm to the child. Again, I think the distinction between harm (=long-lasting) and pain (=perhaps only temporary) is crucial. Punishment/correction/discipline, whatever you want to call it, should only cause temporary pain in a child, not long-lasting harm, no?

    This is entirely conjecture. *NO* Punishment is guaranteed to modify the behavior of a child. All it’s guaranteed to do is harm them in hopes that they will ‘learn their lesson’.

    As I stated, behavior modification is the *most* prevalent form of justification for punishment in parenting–but what of other forms of punishment? For instance, what justifies a human authority government to punish an individual for crime?

    If we say that the government is justified in punishing criminals because and only because of behavior modification–then this sets the governemnt up as the legal arbiter what defines ‘normal’ behavior for a person and their punishment methods are entirely justified based upon whatever is effective in modifying that person’s behavior.

    But what of cruel and unusual punishment? And what of the dignity of the individual to act as they choose (even if we restrict their freedom to actually cause harm to others)? And what of the justice of weighing the crime against the punishment? None of these things enter into the consideration of behavior modification because those ideas are not based upon that theory. They are based upon the theory of desert. That if someone does something wrong, they deserve only some appropriate degree of punishment.

    This is and *must* be the fundamental justification for punishment. Because it and only it directly relates a wrong-doers wrongdoing to the punishment allocated to it–and it and only it fundamentally respects them as a human individual and ensures the responsibility of *whatever* authority to respect their appropriate limits over another person.

    We may, then, get to throw in some rehabilitation, behavior modification, or whatever as a “bonus” if they are rationally justified and respectfully presented within the punishemnt. Although, at least in the States, we have fine legal line between rehabilitative work and coercive slave labor on the part of the criminal.

    Yet, in child-rearing, parents are offered an absolutely extreme degree of authority and responsibility over thier children. The children are so un-established as freely choosing, adult individuals that parents are expected to guide them in the ‘right’ directions (whatever those may be). But just becuase behavior modification is the primary justification used *in this instance* does not mean that behavior modification is the primary justification for punishment *in general*.

    Indeed, one of the fundamental lessons a parent can even teach children when it comes to punishment is re-enforcing the very idea that certain wrongs are unjust. That punishment was ‘deserved’ because of the wrongdoing. That bad = bad consequences and good = good consequences. I’m not even entirely sure how many other lessons parents can teach through punishment.

    Because, and this is important–what ethic are parents punishing their children upon in the first place? That seems *just* as relevant to me as what appropriate methods of punishment they utilize. For there may very well be an extremely basic break between the ethic parents punish their children upon (if any) vs actual ethics. The children’s moral intuitions may cry out for justice and, instead, receive lessons in immorality from the hands of their parents which, itself, would cause a lot of damage (I think) to children and their relationship with their parents/others.

    If I were designing a study of punishment methods. I would certainly investigate what sorts of ethics drove those methods and how they related to more clearly look at their effects.

  • Tom F.


    The irony here is that Proverbs (which is the proof-text for spanking) does not insist on discipline in order to uphold a moral code. It has a strikingly un-punitive view of moral action, instead comparing evil to folly or foolishness. In fact, folly is punished not by God or even human authorities, but by natural consequences. How ironic that Proverbs is used against those who would argue for the simulation of “natural consequences” rather than spanking in correcting children.

    I think you present a false dichtomy, where we either ground punishment in an entirely utilitarian or entirely retributive context. As I mentioned before, I tend to think along primarily virtue ethic lines, so I don’t have as much of a dog in that fight anyway. The bible uses many different methods to talk about moral reasoning, including utilitarian, which figures prominently in Proverbs. We need all of them to get at the reality of the “good” that is bigger than any of us or our conceptions of the “good”.

    I would argue that for children, especially young children who are the primary recipients of spanking, their moral reasoning is often cognitively limited, and thus retributive notions of justice need to play a much smaller role. On the other hand, it may be important when thinking about societal and theological levels of justice to talk about retributive justice. (Although, again as a virtue ethics guy, I’m not going to get super excited about that.)

    Furthermore, I would be interested to hear a situation where the retributive demand for justice insists that permanent harm be done to a child. What sort of “crimes” are we talking about here? Surely most instances of spanking are for crimes that do not leave permanent injury to anyone, so it is strikingly “un-retributive” that they would be punished by a method that may leave permanent harm. Even retributive justice says that the punishment must fit the crime.

    Perhaps the best example would be one child hitting another. At least in this case, retributive justice would seem have the best case for spanking. But the experience of being hit by another child is very different than the experience of being hit by ones primary caregiver, so even here, the punishment is worse than the crime.

    Overall, I think it is unhelpful to see the stopping of spanking as the triumph of utilitarian behavior modification. If the theological/ethical stakes are really that high, than what of the cultures that don’t spank? Are they ethically bankrupting their children? I doubt it.

  • I wonder if the type of parent who is prone to spanking has other anger issues that skew your data to conclude spanking doesn’t have a positive effect. I am no expert, I can only offer what I observed in my sister: she and her husband spanked their four kids when the kids were very young. The child got one, two three warnings, and then was spanked. They took the child aside, away from public view. I listened in as they talked to the child about what had, tell the child they were loved, and gave them a kiss. I’m watching the four kids grow up, and they’re all well adjusted, vibrant kids, respectful of others. Not perfect, but they’re a pleasure to be around.

    Contrast that with just bout every trip I take to Target or Walmart or a department store, adn there are kids racing around, screaming, throwing tantrums, and a parent is ignoring the behavior, bargaining, pleading or just mildly saying, “when you do ___ it makes me feel____.”

    A very young child cannot understand abstract thought or empathy with the community, necessarily. But a sharp swat on the bum is immediate and says, “no don’t do that!” I think it can work, if the parent who spanks follows up by talking to the child and assuring them that they’re loved. A parent with anger issues, or a parent prone to abuse, physical verbal or otherwise, may gravitate toward spanking for all the wrong reasons.

  • Amos Paul


    >The irony here is that Proverbs

    I never brought up Proverbs.

    >The bible uses many different methods to talk about moral reasoning, including utilitarian, which figures prominently in Proverbs. We need all of them to get at the reality of the “good” that is bigger than any of us or our conceptions of the “good”.

    But if you want to bring it up, I never said that utilitarian reasoning isn’t useful in talking about morality. Merely that if you *base* ‘punishment’ upon utility–you remove it out of the context of Justice. The only *primary* theory based on the concept of Justice is consequentialism or retrubitive theory. There aren’t any other theories that can *begin* with Justice qua Justice as the basic framework of the view.

    >I would argue that for children, especially young children who are the primary recipients of spanking, their moral reasoning is often cognitively limited, and thus retributive notions of justice need to play a much smaller role.

    An incredible claim. You don’t think that even the youngest of children don’t have moral intutitions? I find this distinctly doubtful. Even if moral intuitions are a ‘way’ of knowing that is undeveloped–it’s either natural or it isn’t.

    >Furthermore, I would be interested to hear a situation where the retributive demand for justice insists that permanent harm be done to a child.

    What permanent harm? I see all harm as harm. Your claim now seems to indicate that some harm (say, all forms of spanking?) necessarily has permanent effects whereas some other forms of harm (time outs?) do not? I don’t see the justification for that. Even the studies mentioned are inductive, not deductive. Inherent permanence implies a certainty–not a tendency.

    The punishment is intended to fit the crime in its severity. We can argue all day about whether your think spanking is too severe. But many here have now countered (and I agree) that alternative forms of punishment are just as *potentially* long-lasting and severe in their harm as spanking. Many of us have also accounted for successful cases of and non long-lasting, unsevere spanking harm.

    As I stated before, how spanking is done procedurally and proceeding out of what kind of ethic is what I’m interested in *just as much* as what method is utilized because I think that the procedure inherently communicates the most about morality (bad = bad, good = good). Many of us have presented cases of successful and non-long term harmful spanking. You’ve presented studies demonstrating a tendency in other groups of cases towards the opposite. Do you not believe our cases of successful spanking or is there a break in the facts that’s un-accounted for on your view?

    >Perhaps the best example would be one child hitting another. At least in this case, retributive justice would seem have the best case for spanking.

    I think you’re confusing retribution for revenge. Retribution is *not* about the one who has harmed ‘getting even’. It is only related to the one that did the harming receiving due consequences.

    Indeed, retributive theorists have *long* theorized that for retribution to be just retribution–it must come from the hands of a legitimate authority. There is a distinct difference between me hunting down someone who stole my stuff and locking them in my basement for a year vs a legitimate governing body over society placing that person in jail via the legitimate law enforcement.

    >I think it is unhelpful to see the stopping of spanking as the triumph of utilitarian behavior modification.

    It’s all in how we *justify* our methods and what deductive claims we assert. I say that alternative forms of punishment are not inherently better than spanking and I justify punishemnt *in general* by asking what a legitimate authority’s responsibility is over individuals that commit unjust acts so that such an authority still respects their dignity as free-acting, self deciding individuals.

    Yet I’ve still agree that parenting *specifically* entails a lot more behavior modification than most punishment because of the role of ‘guiding’ children in their development. However, I still contend that morality in general is still the *primary* value what we’re attempting to communicate via punishment rather than mere behavioral obedience. And I say that both practically and with an eye towards Justice qua Justice as the foundation justification for punishment *at all*.