Spanking Children: Pro or Con?

A reader writes: A new study was just released that concludes that spanking your child is tied to aggression down the line. With all of the concerns about bullying and if a child becomes violent when they grow up, the study gives a good explanation. If you are spanking your kid, stop doing it. Be firm with kids when they do something wrong but spanking should no longer be part of your disciplinary program.

Care to weigh in on spanking children?


Most people ask the wrong questions about spanking children.

People ask, ‘Is spanking effective discipline?’ Or, ‘Is spanking going too far as a disciplinary measure—and if not, where does one draw the line?’

Neither question gets to the point.

The real question to ask is, ‘Do you want to teach your child that the initiation of force is a good thing—or not?’

I don’t mean this sarcastically. I’m not trying to rig the conclusion, either. Objectively speaking, that’s what spanking is: Initiation of force.

Proponents of spanking will reply, ‘You can’t reason with children as a substitute for discipline.’ I completely agree. Childhood is not a democracy. There is no equal vote. Adults are more knowledgeable than children, and adults are in charge.

However, childhood is not—or should not be—a dictatorship, either. A family ‘dictatorship’ refers to a context where the child’s mind does not matter.

Children have minds. Children can think—within the range of their cognitive and individual ability, at a certain age. Even as parents set rules, consequences and incentives, they simultaneously ought to treat their children’s minds—thoughts, ideas, questions and feelings—with respect, when warranted.

Some will say, ‘I was spanked as a child and I turned out all right.’ But that’s no defense of spanking. Some can truthfully say, ‘I was sexually abused as a child, and despite some issues I turned out all right.’ Is this a defense of sexual abuse? Obviously not.

The onus is on the person who claims that spanking is valid and justified to prove it. And this cannot be done without justifying the initiation of physical force as a tool of discipline.

When I was first trained in family therapy, our supervisors told us to discourage spanking, but if parents insisted on utilizing it, then at least coach them to never engage it in for emotional reasons, i.e., while angry or frustrated with the child.

I viewed this as a reasonable position, until I started to think: ‘If you wait until you calm down and can think or reason, then what’s the point of spanking at all?’

No halfway decent parent will ever teach a child to initiate violence against other children. (Self-defense is an entirely separate question, by the way.) Yet if a parent doesn’t want to encourage initiation of violence against others, then by what means can he or she explain to the child use of force by the parent?

I’m not suggesting a parent may never be physical. Sometimes parents must pick up children and move them, particularly when they’re headed for harm’s way (e.g., the street, a hot stove). This isn’t what I mean by initiation of force. What I’m referring to is striking, slapping or smacking a child in retaliation for some nonviolent offense.

Some will claim, “You’re being too hard on parents, especially those with difficult kids!” I don’t buy it. Quite frankly, spanking–while arguably cruel or harmful–is also downright silly. A parent’s choice to give in and spank a child is an admission of unwillingness to stop, take a break, and think. If requiring parents to be rational is being “too hard” on them, then I suggest some people reconsider whether they wish to actually become parents.

Behavior is a form of communication no less than words. Children are paying attention to every behavior. This is why so many become cynical or unpleasant once they’re teenagers. After years of being exposed to adults who state one set of principles and act in completely different ways, it becomes hard to take.

If you’re a parent and you believe spanking is OK, then ask yourself this question: Are you comfortable if a teacher or day-care worker smacks or slaps your child? I bet many of you will say ‘no.’ What are the reasons for this? If smacking or spanking is acceptable, then why not let an otherwise trusted teacher or authority do it to your child?

It’s true that some children are aggressive, no matter what a parent does or doesn’t do. But I don’t see this as a justification for spanking. If a child or young person starts to initiate violence against others, then I can see where physical restraint or perhaps even retaliation is warranted. But whatever the merits or need of such an approach, none of them suggest that spanking is a valid tool of discipline.

What is ‘discipline’ anyway? It refers to rewards, punishments, and/or incentives based on a set of principles or values which you’re trying to teach your child.

Where does force legitimately enter the picture? What have you taught or persuaded your child by spanking him? Not a thing, other than the sad truth that some people in their lives will attempt to ‘reason’ with them via force.

It’s a shame for a parent to ever be one of them.


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