on spanking and child abuse

> I would like to have information on the views Christians have about
> spanking and child abuse.  I need this by next Tuesday, November 19,
> 1996.  If you could send this to me soon it would be greatly
> appreciated.  Thank you for your time,

the response

Hmmm... do I know you? How did my name come up on the list of people to ask about this subject?

I should start out by saying that I don't think I am able to tell you about the "views Christians have about spanking" any more than you could tell me the views women have on Clinton. As just one of millions of Christians, I have my own opinion but can't speak for anyone else and especially not the body of believers as a whole. But I'll tell you what I can.

First, on child abuse. Clearly a bad thing. I think everyone would agree that child abuse is a definite no-no, especially for anyone who claims to be a Christian. Some scripture on the topic:

Luke 11:11-13 (Jesus, speaking to His disciples)
"If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"

Ephesians 6:4 (Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus)
"And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."

Colossians 3:21 (Paul, writing to the church in Colosse)
"Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."

Matthew 18:5-6 (Jesus, speaking to his disciples)
"Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. But whoever causes one of these little one who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea."

Pretty much the Bible is clear that children are to be trained in righteousness and protected, not provoked or led astray. And I'd say that abused children get a pretty screwed up picture of the world. They are definitely not protected and are often led to believe that fierce violence is the proper response to an offense.

Now to a more subtle issue and one on which Christians might disagree. Is spanking child abuse? In my opinion, no. But, that depends on a lot of things. I have seen "spanking" which I would consider child abuse.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a paper for my Child Psychology class about my views on spanking. I'll include it here, since it has relevant discussion. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion (backed up with a little empirical data). I am a Christian, but on this I cannot speak for the whole of Christianity. My boss, for example, who is an awesome Christian lady, never spanks her son; she puts him in time out instead. And he seems to be turning out fine. This is my take on the issue, though.

[begin report]
Second Short Paper Assignment - "Spanking as a Disciplinary Practice"

It seems funny for me to state whether I think spanking is a "useful disciplinary practice" or not since I have little experience with spanking, and have definitely never had the opportunity to raise a child. My experience with spanking is limited only to that which I experienced as a child and the little I have gathered from talking with others.

One thing which I have noticed holds almost without exception: children have the same views on spanking as their parents. Children who were spanked will spank their children; children who weren't see it as somewhat barbaric. I'm afraid I'm no exception to this rule. I was spanked as a child, and see no problem with it as a disciplinary technique. Let me go into a bit more detail about this.

I come from a strongly Christian family, and have been a Christian myself from a young age. I have long then heard and believed what the Bible has to say about spanking: "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly." (Proverbs 13:24); "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15); "Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell." (Proverbs 23:13,14) (An important cultural note: the death of a child was considered punishment for that child's wickedness; thus "if you beat him with a rod, he will not die" probably refers to preventing this manner of death.) "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother." (Proverbs 29:15), and "Correct your son, and he will give you rest; yes, he will give delight to your soul." (Proverbs 29:17) All of these came from the mouth of Solomon, of whom God Himself said "I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you." There is a lot of cultural reinforcement, then, for me to support spanking.

As I mentioned before, I was spanked as a child. I was not spanked often, or violently, and my parents always made sure I understood my crime before administering my punishment. I agree with this method of punishment, and will probably deal with my children in a similar way. Let's now discuss some of the scientific backing behind my beliefs.

We discussed in class the finding that the most permissive parents, who did not discipline their children, had "delinquent" children. Similarly, parents whose punishment came often and violently (authoritarian parents) had children with discipline problems. The most effective type of discipline was that which was clearly-defined and consistent.

Whenever I got a spanking, it was a clear sign that I had crossed the line. In fact, I usually knew when I had done something which would merit a spanking, as opposed to just a lecture, and I was seldom surprised. These occasions were rare, as my parents tried to explain to me first why what I did was wrong, or why I should have known better. Spanking was reserved for those special cases, when the crime was especially heinous or I clearly did what I knew was wrong.

My spankings also served to heighten my anxiety, and to associate that anxiety with the misdeed. I was almost always spanked with a wooden cooking spoon, and always on my buttocks, with my underwear on. I was spanked hard enough to sting, and hurt (for a little bit, anyway), but never hard enough to leave a bruise, or even a red mark for more than a few minutes or so. Usually I was told to go sit in my room, and wait for the punishment to come. This was very stressful; I always had a lump in the pit of my stomach, waiting for my dad (or mom) to come in. Then, when they had come in, they would "prolong the agony" by explaining exactly why I was being punished and making sure I understood before giving me the ten or so brisk whacks which would start me crying (though not from pain; falling off my bike hurt worse) and finish the ordeal.

So punishment in my home was a great example of how discipline should be done. It was clearly-defined and consistent, and took a variety of forms, only one of which was spanking. The punishment was tailored to fit the crime; cognitive and subtle moral issues were often explained, while flagrant misdeeds were simply followed by their "natural consequence." Spankings were rare and served more to administer anxiety than pain, and were also duly applied; never did any parent simply lash out; physical punishment was always discussed and agreed upon by both parents.

For these reasons, and by this method I support spanking. Parents who use physical punishment extensively and violently, or in any other manner which is very different from the above guidelines are misusing a potentially dangerous form of punishment. Spanking should also only be used for more serious misdeeds, and should never be used when another form of punishment would suffice. Properly used, spanking can be a very effective disciplinary tactic, and a valuable, if occasional, child-rearing tool.
[end report]

My professor, who was die hard against spanking, had to agree that spanking under the conditions I outlined in my report, was probably fine, and clearly wasn't the same manner of beast that he was campaigning against.

Well, I hope this discussion helps you out in whatever you need it for. I'm sorry I didn't get the information to you sooner. I've been fairly busy. And please let me know who gave you my name/address or why you thought I'd have anything to say on this issue.

reflections/second thoughts

Hmmm.... Since I wrote this response I've been doing some thinking and have talked about spanking in general with some friends of mine. I've had some acquaintances who were basically physically abused by their parents in the name of spanking. So I think I've got a bit more to say.

While it is true that the method of spanking outlined above can be a very effective disciplinary tool, it is not so much due to the spanking itself, but to the entire system which surrounds it. Thus probably any disciplinary measure would be as effective in the same context.

In addition, and though it certainly never happened with me, I know some people who have serious hatred toward their parents because they were beaten by them. While the spanking that was administered to me could never be considered beating, it is nevertheless a dangerous tool. No matter how carefully done, a so physical punishment as spanking risks engendering resentment and hatred in the children on which it is used. And since many other tools might be just as effective when applied similarly, perhaps they should be used instead.