Vol. 5, No. 1 • Fall 2000

Parenting Without Spanking

Red, White, and Bruises: Spanking in the USA
by Stephen Bavolek

Hitting children in America as a child-rearing practice has been around as long as anyone cares to remember. The practice is deeply rooted in our historical, religious, cultural, and personal past. Over the generations, the practice has had the backing of some prominent pediatricians, parent educators, psychologists, clergy, and politicians who have recommended its limited and moderate use in teaching children to stop misbehaving. So, what’s the problem? If spanking children works, why mess with a good thing? Here are a few important reasons why spanking children should be eliminated as a parenting practice.

Spanking and Stopping Behavior
There are volumes of research studies conducted that have proven without a doubt that spanking children is neither a good thing nor does it work to stop misbehavior. If it worked like a lot of people said it does, parents would only have to spank one time and the misbehavior would be gone. Not so! The misbehavior usually stops for a little while, then recurs like a bad cold. That’s one of the problems with spanking. It often works to stop misbehavior on the spot . . . but turn your back, walk away, and wait a few minutes, hours, or days, and the misbehavior usually returns. All this frustration on the part of the parts often prompts additional spankings coupled with statements such as, “How many times do I have to tell you to stop_____,: or “I thought I warned you the last time that if I ever catch you again, I’ll____,” or “You didn’t learn your lesson yet, did you!”

Spanking doesn’t work because it never teaches children what to do instead. It only focuses on what not to do. Real learning takes place when an inappropriate behavior is substituted by an appropriate behavior that is consistently reinforced with praise.

Spanking as a Cultural Practice
Many believe that hitting children is a way for parents to express their cultural identity. Parents with black skin, white skin, brown skin, yellow skin, and red skin all believe hitting is unique to their culture. Hitting is so widespread throughout society that hitting children is a societal belief rather than a cultural practice. Parents today feel that because Great Grandpa hit Grandpa, and Grandpa hit Dad, and Dad hit his children, a cultural tradition is being practiced. Most people today, regardless of culture or race, have been hit as children.

Look at Me: I’m OK
Finally, when all else fails, adults are quick to reference their own past experiences as a child who was spanked occasionally and who turned out okay as an adult. The key to understanding this pro-spanking argument is how often and to what degree the adult was spanked as a child. Clearly, adults who were spanked severely and frequently as children often do not turn out okay without a lot of rehab work. Rejection of pain, suppressed anger, low self-worth, inability to form meaningful lasting relationships, and uncontrolled fits of violent anger are just some of the consequences all children experience to some degree as a result of childhood victimization. Adults who experience such pain as children don’t go around suggesting they turned out okay because of their maltreatment. Rather, they are quick to point out they turned out okay in spite of their childhood victimization and because of a sincere effort to learn new patterns of behavior. Because of and in spite of are big differences in interpretation.

Stephen J. Bavolek, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Family Nurturing Center, Inc.

Source: This article is adapted from the address Stephen Bavolek gave at the Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina’s conference April 7, 1997.

Copyright © 2000 Jordan Institute for Families