by Brook Warren, December 2013
I've found that people get more worked up over being challenged about spanking than any other topic; politics, sports, even religion.
I was spanked as a child and I spent most of my adult life supporting spanking. I criticized people whose children didn't do as they were told if they weren't spanking them. But with the parents whose children weren't being spanked and still not obeying, I didn't have a solution to their children's behavioral issues, so I started seeking information to explain why spanking wasn't working on some children. That is what led me out of believing in spanking.
After being enlightened on the problems and "alternatives" to spanking, I no longer hated the idea of having kids. Once I learned that you not only don't have to use violence against children to guide their behavior, but that ethically you shouldn't and efficaciously it is a failure compared to the alternatives, I became open to the concept of raising kids and actually just being around kids in general. Until that point I hated the idea of having kids and wasn't comfortable interacting with kids because I was always guilty that my treatment of them as equals was somehow against how adults are supposed to treat kids.
The first thing I learned that challenged my original position was that children who are spanked either just happen to have lower IQs, or the spanking is lowering their IQs (http://www.sciencedaily.com
...). I've since learned that the situation is more complicated than just physical violence against the child directly causing a physiological impact of development in the brain, although it is still a factor. To start with, when you don't negotiate with your children, you fail to teach them and they fail to learn the importance and efficacy of nonviolent means to solving problems. It's as simple as showing the child that when the parent wants something it is ok to use violence to get it. Children echo the behaviors of their parents so it's almost guaranteed the spanked child will use aggression and passive aggression in their interactions with other; Aggression with those they judge to be successful targets for aggression (other children, especially younger ones), and passive aggression against those they don't (parents, adults, and more threatening children). As the endless opportunities the child has to negotiate with her parents are turned into instances where she can either obey or experience violence, she only learns to subjugate to the parent instead of exercising and developing her intellect in an aim to get what she wants.
A child is desperately dependent on the parent for survival and knows it intrinsically. It's why they cry their eyes out when callous parents make the mistake of threatening to withdraw that protection and security. This dependency for survival is part of the psychological learning link to the parent that nearly guarantees (I'm not claiming it is the only reason though) that the parent is the primary set of examples and behavior that the child inevitably will learn to follow. So if the parent teaches the child aggression is ok, then the child will learn that aggression is ok. In other words, spanked children are learning to act violently because spanking is violence no matter how diligently anyone tries to mask it in euphemisms like "pat," "light spanking," "swat," etc.
This study that shows the aggressive correlation to being spanked, as well as the cognitive impact:http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/
What does spanking really mean to the child? The parents, at least the ones who claim to be diligent about their desire to avoid being abusive, want their child to believe exactly what the parent believes: That it's for their own good, it's going to make them a better person, and somehow, it isn't really violence. I can usually get the same parents to admit that fear is the actual end result here. I've heard the argument (many times) that the idea is to associate pain with a particular activity so the child will think of the pain when thinking of doing the activity, along with euphemisms like "wake them up," "make them aware," and so on.
The 2 most common examples to demonstrate the above that I've heard are:
1) Child running into the street.
2) Child climbing on the stove.
I also share the need to protect children from injury. I don't want a child to get burned and I definitely don't want a child to be hit by a car. The thing is, why would I leave a child unattended in a dangerous situation? Why wouldn't I just use the back burners and keep my eye on children young enough to do something so dangerous, but old enough to climb the stove? Why would I put the child into a situation where he would be playing near the street unattended? If my top concern is the child's safety, then I won't make excuses. No, instead I will protect them constantly and diligently because spanking a child is no kind of guarantee that they won't repeat an act or that they won't do some other dangerous act. If I am so inattentive to my child that he is getting into dangerous situations without me around, how will I always be there to deal out a spanking to keep him protected from danger, in the nature of this association argument where I must make him think of pain when he thinks of a particular act?
What follows is that spanking isn't really a solution to these things. Even if the child associates pain with an activity out of the endless list of activities the parent must attempt to protect children from, the child still needs the actual solution to safety. The actual solution is understanding. If the child understands danger from fire and cars and heights and knives and electricity and so on, then the child will learn to function with care in potentially dangerous circumstances instead of continuing to blindly stumble into one act after another while the parent hopes to rush in and start spanking to "protect the child." But if the child is only being taught that they will be spanked if they do a specific act, the child isn't learning safety just what behavior to avoid due to fear of the outcome with the parent.If the child doesn't have this understanding about danger how can the child truly understand the motivation behind the adult's use of violence?
He must just take the adult's word for it based on, "for your own good." If the adult spent the time to explain why it was dangerous, then the child would have an actual reason to know why the adult spanked him in the first place. But in that case the child also wouldn't have needed to "benefit" from being spanked in the first place because the understanding invalidates it.
The argument that accompanies this use of spanking is the child is too young to understand the explanation of being in the road or getting burned but he understands pain and thus he will be protected because of an association of pain.
So let's just be clear that this means the adult is acting on the belief that the child will not understand why he is being spanked and must just take the adult's word for it.
The problem is that the child only sees this violence as violence and the person delivering it to be acting abusively. No matter how much the adult wants to wrap it up in euphemisms and rhetoric, in the child's eyes it's still violence and the adult is the aggressor.
Because if a child is too young to understand how dangerous playing in the road is, how is the child possibly capable of understanding something as complex as the violence being done to him isn't abuse, but love? If the child doesn't have this understanding, no matter how much the adult wishes otherwise, then the child is being abused, and thus will suffer the mental trauma that follows.
In my experience, children can learn about safety. And if they're truly too young to learn about safety, then it's the adult that fails to understand safety as the adult should be there to protect the child in the first place and provide a secure environment.
But expecting a child to learn that abuse is love is purely a demonstration about the parent's mental health; whether impacted by the parent's own childhood of abuse or just the ideology the parent acts on. And I feel that I can make a logically and morally consistent argument against that ideology.... What I'd really like to say instead is, expecting a child to learn abuse is love is just right in your face obvious fucking insanity. But that isn't very empathetic or understanding, although it might be accurate to some extent.
I find the association argument to be illogical. When a child climbs onto the stove and is reaching for the burner, and the parent rushes up behind and hits her on the butt, she doesn't look at the burner or at the stove and say, "Ow stove! Stoves hurt!" - And then in her mind she somehow will now know that being on top of stoves results in pain from stoves?
The child looks straight at the parent. She knows where the pain came from. And depending on how violent the parent has been with the child in the past, that look is going to transition somewhere between surprise, confusion, pain, anger, hate, and betrayed.
Thus the association is with the parent's punitive force, not the stove's danger. How could it be otherwise? The child didn't experience any danger from the actual stove. Then of course I've heard parents talk about spanking their child after they've been burned on the stove. Those parents basically prove they aren't really in this for association or else that they are acting irrationally in their usage of it. If association was the key then isn't the pain of the stove the associative pain and the situation is now resolved?
I've also listened to parents saying that they can just give the child a light slap on the bottom, not enough to cause damage or maybe even redness, but enough to get the child's attention. That type of parent admits that the punitive force is purely about making the child understand that the parent is delivering punitive force and the child learns to avoid that punitive force. But this is a demonstration of how the parent has treated the child in the past.
If you only make painless light contact to a child, clearly they will not have any concept of it being punishment. If you have a history of hitting the child hard enough to hurt and bring out tears, then the child will understand this activity and will perceive the parent as angry and displeased. So doing the same activity to the child, which is commonly an open handed hit to the bottom, but reducing it to the level of painless, can still make the child cry because the child understands that the parent is angry.
I left yelling out of the arguments above. If you make a light contact with the child but match it up with an aggressively loud voice with threats, then violence is still being done no matter how much you have talked yourself into believing that making punitive contact with your child isn't violence. You can erase the light contact from the situation and still rely on the aggressively loud voice with threats and the desired behavioral guidance can be received because the child will recognize the violence and act accordingly and predictably - to avoid it.
Another thing I left out of the equation is when parents take dominating physical control over the child. Grabbing by the arm(s) and moving to a specific location or position, and so on, often combined with a down pointing figure into the child's face which is really just humiliation. These are all about violence and the threat of more violence. Of course the child is going to react accordingly. But parents doing this must admit that they are using fear from the parent, not associative pain, to guide the child's behavior. And thus they are setting themselves up as a person to be feared by the child, which creates a traumatic cognitive dissonance as the child must love and fear the same person.
It's basically as simple as this; the parent believes that it is ok to use violence on his child. But the child didn't have a history of being taught that this was ok, so he won't believe it is ok, and thus he can only perceive this experience as being violently wronged. In other words, the parent is making excuses for abuse and the child is suffering the abuse.
Everyone hears about the slippery slope of abuse that spanking children can lead to. But what I've found most people haven't heard of is the slippery slope of expediency:
It takes patience and effort to teach a child safety or to guide their behavior at all. It can be frustrating, lengthy, and it can require a lot of diligent negotiation.
For a parent raised learning that violence is an okay way to guide the behavior of children and didn't learn much in regards to parent/child negotiation, this can be a painful task, or even an impossible and unavailable option. Spanking, yelling, threats, and physical domination all give immediate "results" as the child is stopped and the parent believes he is getting through because the child has no choice but to be absorbed into the parent's attention, combined with the parent's ideological belief that it is working in some way. So it feels like progress to that type of parent. It relieves the need in the parent to protect the child, among other issues. So the parent relaxes, believing his needs have been satisfied.
So why wouldn't spanking become the immediate go to tool for this parent with such quick and satisfying "results."
If I truly care for my child I will spend as much time as needed to teach her actual safety, instead of adding violence to teaching safety and not resort to my own personal need for expediency to guide my behavior towards her.
As children get older, parents tend to stop feeling that spanking is as effective. The reasons behind this are interesting. One is that to continue guiding a child's behavior with violence requires an increase of that violence as they grow older, larger, etc. The action of slapping the back of a 2 year old's hand isn't going to have the same effect on a 13 year old. I hear parents say, "he's too old to spank, so he is ruined." Basically they know one tool and now that their tool can not possibly be perceived as anything but abuse, they are no longer capable or interested in guiding the child's behavior.
Another reason is that the child is old enough to know with certainty combined with the verbal ability to make it clear to anyone else, that he is being abused. That is, unless the child has been truly broken by the abuse to the point of being fully without capability of speaking out against it.
Something else I haven't even touched on is what happens physiologically to a child's mind up to about the age of 2 if they are abused. Children at this age are still undergoing major mental physiological growth. When abused, it leads to a direct reduction in that child's reward response, due to an impact on the child's ability to receive and produce dopamine. So the child starts tipping the scales towards the extreme end where things are highly mentally rewarding like danger, abusing others, drugs, and power over others. It's basically the brain recognizing the child needs to live in an environment where violence is present and where one's ability to survive needs to shift away from being empathic towards being sociopathic. So it's no wonder these kids grow up to be violent, impulsive, drug abusers, power abusing politicians, the immoral abusive types of bosses, and so on. Oh yeah, and they beat their children, or as they call it, spanking their children.
If the welfare and development of children are truly a people's aim, then it seems that they would naturally be willing to do their due diligence to ensure their methods are consistent and efficacious. Instead, no one I bring this up with who supports spanking has been able to demonstrate any actual effort in this regards. I've listened to a lot of parents say, "I've read the studies, and I still disagree," but then can't describe the studies in any way, don't know any of the details, don't know any of the conclusions, and basically make it clear I'm listening to false excuses to continue their behavior unchanged. The difference with me and these parents is that my aim was truly the welfare and development of children, so when confronted with this information I took it extremely seriously and given my childhood of spanking and my adulthood of supporting spanking, I was wrenched into irresistible action to ensure my integrity. Not to protect the sanctity of my doctrine like the lying parents but to ensure that I behave with true integrity and make any changes needed to do so. My conclusion is that I was wrong about spanking; Spanking was wrong and is always wrong; I was wrong to have been spanked and I was wrong to support it; I owed my parents a confrontation and I owed all of the people I supported being spanked apologies. It was a lot of painful purging of guilt and a lot of acknowledgment of mental scars.
And yet, I still hear these parents say, "I only spank them when I absolutely have to." And, "I don't beat them. I only spank them in a specific way (such as on the butt and often with a specific tool) and I'm clear to them why they are being spanked." This is a clear admittance that the act is potentially damaging and dangerous and thus requires diligent effort to avoid a negative outcome. The parent clearly believes there is a line between what he believes he is doing and abuse. So what has the parent done to ensure he isn't crossing the line? What has the parent done to ensure with diligence that he knows what that line is and how to prevent his crossing it? What has the parent done to ensure it is the right thing to do and that it is better than the alternatives? The answer is essentially that they use their own compromising experience as a child and their continued derivation of that experience.
I read the psychology studies that show spanking making children dumb, permanently traumatized, aggressive, and turning them into spankers as well.
I read the alternatives to spanking: articles, studies, and books.
If the welfare of children is truly a person's aim, then why wouldn't she spend the time reading parenting books? Why wouldn't she take it seriously when people talk about studies showing the dangers?
The argument that, "I am 100% top priority focused on my child, and thus whatever I believe in is good," is just circular reasoning.
The argument, "I was spanked as a child and I turned out ok," is an anecdotal fallacy, and basically a fish in water argument as the very intellectual ability that it takes to disagree with this concept is impacted by being spanked. In other words, how could a person ever know how much better they would have turned out if their parents had reasoned with them instead of choosing violence?
And the, "I spanked my children, and they are ok," argument is an incredibly corrupting opportunity to be guided by the avoidance of anxiety as admitting being wrong about spanking one's own kids is one hell of a psychological battle.
So when I challenge people for spanking, yeah, I know it's hard for them. Not only are they being accused that they wronged their children, and that is significant, but they are being accused of accepting abuse in their own childhoods. That is the kind of thing that tends to require therapy to work through. If they admit spanking their children is wrong then they must also admit that they were wronged by their parents - these paragons of virtue and source of survival that they mimic. It's a painful experience.
So of course people feel defensive and use logical fallacies in response to these arguments. Of course they make emotional arguments. Of course they stall by wasting time on making ad hominem arguments instead of sticking to the facts and actual argument. Of course they reject logic and science. Of course they act irrationally and subjectively. Of course they will lie. They're just acting out the same thing as any apologetic for an abusive ideology. They are avoiding the anxiety of admitting the truth: They're victims who don't want to admit they're victims. They've victimized and don't want to admit they've created victims. They're wrong, but admitting it means admitting that they have betrayed those who most need them for survival and happiness and were betrayed by those they most needed for survival and happiness.