Thursday, December 21, 1995

My Evil, Barbaric, Inhumane Pro-spanking post...

I am "pro-spanking." Here's why.

From the time that I first learned I was going to be a parent, I rapidly became aware of the increasing movement to convince parents that spanking is both inhumane and ineffective. Although I agree that spanking as a punishment can be abused, it is a reasonable and effective consequence to an action a child may otherwise be unable to immediately interpret as having negative effects.

Definite negative reinforcement -
It is difficult enough to determine what motivates ones peers, both negatively and positively. The thought processes of a child, while not as alien as some may believe, are still in many cases beyond our comprehension (and any psychologist who tells you different should turn in his diploma). It is unpleasantly likely that what you or I may perceive as a negative punishment would be interpreted as either neutral, positive, or even totally misinterpreted as far as cause and effect (Yes, I realize the last can be applied to spanking as well, see the next two sections). However, pain is guaranteed to be perceived as negative. It is hardwired into the brain.

Immediate consequence -
So many punishments recommended by the anti-spanking establishment consist of applying long-term consequences (relative to the immediacy of pain). A child is likely to find herself in a negative circumstance, imposed by the parent, with the misdeed itself a distant memory. With the parent's enforcement a constant reminder of the negative, but the causal act long forgotten, the connection likely to be made is: Parent = negative consequence. This would confuse the brightest child. However, when pain is applied immediately, the connection is made between the deed and the consequence on an instinctive level. The child doesn't have to work out (and probably can't, please see "When is it appropriate?" below) "Why am I here, why is this happening to me?" The connection is made: Misdeed = negative consequence.

Objective application -
An important aspect of the application of spanking as a tool for teaching appropriate behavior is proper administration. If a parent spanks their child while visibly angered, that emotion is likely to be very apparent to the child. Unfortunately, that anger is all too likely to become attached to the punishment, resulting in the undesirable connection of: Angry parent = pain. Obviously, we want to teach our children "Don't dash into the street," not "If your father is angry, he will hurt you." A calm, even-tempered parent is considerably less likely to become an active part of the negative memory.

When is it appropriate? -
I suddenly realize this question can have two interpretations, so I will address them both.
  1. As a response to what conditions is spanking appropriate? - Obviously, this is entirely up to the judgement of the parent, but I tend to agree that not only is spanking less likely to be abused if sparsely applied, but it maintains a greater impact when it is applied. I would say only when life or limb is likely to be at risk, or perhaps when there just doesn't seem to be any other way of getting through.
  2. At what age is spanking an appropriate punishment? - On the low end, I suspect it is a reasonable approach as soon as a child shows the ability to direct her own actions toward an immediate goal. On the high end, once she is able to routinely work toward long-term goals, a more subtle approach is probably best. I would never completely rule out spanking in older children as a last resort, but if it really seems necessary, I would also be on the lookout for more serious problems with the parent-child relationship.
 My rights as a parent -
It was pointed out to me by a correspondent replying to this page that many governments have passed laws restricting or even eliminating the right of parents to use pain as a teaching mechanism with their children. I am reminded that in the last century, many of today's medical practices would be viewed as barbaric, or even torturous. There are even techniques developed in the last few years that would have horrified a doctor in 1985. I refuse to believe that today's psychologists are the be-all and end-all of understanding human behaviour. For that reason, I cannot condone government preventing a parent from raising a child in any way that cannot be absolutely proven to cause substantive damage to the child.

Spanking is certainly not the only effective punishment, and perhaps not even the best, but I feel it to at least be effective, when applied sparingly, in parallel with other teaching mechanisms.

Further reading: I recommend the novel "Starship Troopers" by Robert Heinlein. It is a highly philosophical work which addresses numerous controversial topics. There is an interesting treatise on the reasonableness of corporal punishment in chapter eight. Even if science fiction doesn't thrill you (it is a very good story, in my opinion of course), the point I wish you to see is presented in about half a dozen pages at the end of the chapter. You'll know it when you see it.

Of course, feel free to comment if you have questions, or just want to rip into me for advocating "such barbarity."

First published: December 21, 1995
Last update: July 1, 2010


  1. So you purposefully inflict pain on your child as a quick fix...rather sad if that is the extent of your creativity as a father.

    You state: "However, when pain is applied immediately, the connection is made between the deed and the consequence on an instinctive level."

    That is a rather simplistic and naive understanding of conditioning theory. While it may be true that operant conditioning using punishment that is severe enough may decrease unwanted behavior, it in no way guarantees that there will be any reasoning or moral development associated with that decrease, or that it will last very long. And to suggest that the only connection that can be made is between the misbehavior and the pain shows an incredible lack of understanding of classical conditioning and how that may also operate in such a situation...making a Us--->Ur connection between the pain and the place where the pain is administered, the person doing the pain giving, etc.

    Of course I suspect it is unreasonable to expect someone who suggests science fiction as a good parenting resource in disciplining children to think more than very superficially.

  2. Figures you need approval to comment.

  3. Yup, comments are moderated, see

    Yes, it's a simplistic post for a complex subject. Hope your degree program goes well.

  4. I, as a 56 yr old grandmother, see nothing complex about it! Spanking - is hitting - is abuse FULL STOP. I don't care whether you are 56, 106 or just 6 yrs old. Why can I hit a defenceless child, when I cannot hit an adult or an animal?

    Spanking destroyed my childhood, my trust, love and respect for my parents from the first blow. I learned nothing - as pain tends to knock out the 'oh I shouldn't have .....' from a child or an adult, and just instills fear of a spanking it doesn't instil learning right from wrong. If little Billy takes his sister's dolly - and you spank him, he will only think of the pain and not of WHY he shouldn't do that. And by the time he is older and might start to put pain with not taking his sisters doll together - he is also going to put not taking it when you are around - but he WILL carry on doing it when he thinks he won't get caught!

    I learned too that my parents didn't love me - and the post spanking pep talk of 'oh we love you' never held water as they had just proved how much they hated and didn't love me by hitting me - actions speaking louder than words - and yet ... I wasn't allowed to hit !

    I am lucky, I never became violent due to being spanked but I am still angry, resentful and never had a close relationship with my parents.

    Wife beating, slavery, rape and buggery of 7 year olds in Ancient Rome have all been banned as abusive - and so should spanking a child.

    I never spanked my children and they are now wonderful, gentle adults.

    Discipline means to teach - and you can do that with loving gentleness not with spanking and fear.

    I am a Brit and now live in Portugal - spanking in Europe was banned years ago and the children and young adults here on the whole are far more gentle, kind and upstanding than in the States where there is more crime than almost anywhere else on earth.

  5. Clearly we disagree, and no amount of online chatter is going to change that. You were obviously abused as a child, and inappropriate spanking was a part of that. Unfortunately, this causes you to argue from a very biased perspective. I was spanked, but wasn't abused. While that makes me biased as well, it also invalidates your all-caps absolutist conclusion.

  6. Dave with the deepest respect - most people I know say that I 'wasn't abused' but the fact remains that from MY point of view I was. I felt hitting me wasn't necessary - and found it odd that I was never spanked at school, or threatened with it, and in my High School, I never ever got a detention.

    Talking of High Schools can you help me understand this? MY high school had no Corporal Punishment and our pupils were well known for their courteousness and good behaviour while the other high school just down the road [same catchment area] that did use CP had pupils that were also well know - for their terrible behaviour and general hooliganism!

    And no .. we we will never agree - because I can never in my heart or soul ever contemplate hitting a child - or an adult or animal.

  7. As you can see, I agreed that you were probably abused. Our disagreement is over your contention that all spanking is abuse, where the evidence clearly shows that conclusion wrong, unless you redefine "abuse" beyond usefulness.

    In response to your question though, barring additional information, I can only say that correlation is by no means causation. Most likely, in fact, you have the causation vector reversed.

  8. Dave, if you agree that Anonymous was abused because he/she felt abused when being spanked even though no one else felt that way...then how can you ever know if you are, in fact, abusing your child from their perspective even if you get approval from all around and feel it is useful yourself? If the recipient is the determiner of what is or what is not abuse then you can never actually be sure that your behavior is not abusive. I was spanked as a kid in a way that was perfectly acceptable for the time and place. I felt degraded by the experience. It had a negative impact on the relationship between myself and my parent that never healed and I never expressed my feelings about it to the parent. I also am now a spanking fetishist that I directly attribute to the punishments I got as a kid. Maybe you are willing to take such a change with children...even your own child....when I had children of my own, knowing what I know, I certainly was not.

  9. By such logic, a parent must do nothing to punish, correct, or chastise their child. In fact, a parent should do nothing to or with their child, lest it be perceived as abusive. By the very nature of parenting, we take some level of risk with every choice we make. It is too bad that some adults have never accepted that their parents' intent was good, and choose to live with a misplaced sense of "degradation" for the rest of their lives.

  10. Oh Dave, really? You see no difference between physically hitting and hurting a child and other types of punishments that would be considered removal punishments or logical consequences. How sad for any child in your care. I suspect you probably also believe that punishment IS discipline. And Dave, It was you who agreed that it was abuse because it was perceive as abuse by the child. You said: "You were obviously abused as a child, and inappropriate spanking was a part of that"

    I told you how spanking made me feel as a boy and by all standards of the time and even today, those spankings would have not been considered "inappropriate". No such reaction occurred with fairly provided removal punishments and opportunities to make up for mistakes. There is a huge difference between a child feel corrected and a child feeling that a parent who is supposed to love him is purposefully inflicting physical pain from which there is no escape and which provided total loss of control.

  11. Being perceived as "abusive" by a child doesn't make an act abusive, and I said no such thing. A child may easily take denial of dessert as abusive.

    The simple fact is that you see no difference between your experience and that of every other child in the world, and cannot accept that what you experienced as "fairly provided removal punishments and opportunities to make up for mistakes" may be perceived as abuse by another.

    The solution for us as adults is not to dwell on the perceived injustice of our youths, but recognize and appreciate the intent. And as parents it is to make clear our intent, no matter how we choose to correct, discipline, or punish.

  12. "Being perceived as "abusive" by a child doesn't make an act abusive, and I said no such thing."

    You certainly seem to have said exactly that. Now here are other questions: If the child genuinely does perceive a spanking as abusive, demeaning and uncaring, is it? Or is it all about the person doing the spanking? And if the child's actual perception does have any relevance to you, then how can you truly know what is going on inside the head of a child upon whom you are inflicting pain?

    "The simple fact is that you see no difference between your experience and that of every other child in the world,"

    That is absolutely NOT true and merely a figment of YOUR imagination in order to support your own belief system that allows for big people to physically hurt children as a means of showing authority and exacting painful penalty.

    "and cannot accept that what you experienced as "fairly provided removal punishments and opportunities to make up for mistakes" may be perceived as abuse by another."

    Also not true. Which is why I think that punishment should be used sparingly and reward, encouragement, and other types of positive reinforcement to increase wanted behavior is a far more appropriate approach to discipline than you apparently do.

    "The solution for us as adults is not to dwell on the perceived injustice of our youths, but recognize and appreciate the intent."

    Oh really? That is a tremendously distorted viewpoint. As long as you perceive your intent to inflict physical pain on a child as good...the recipients of that pain must also share that view?

    "And as parents it is to make clear our intent, no matter how we choose to correct, discipline, or punish."

    But if you spank you often lie when you do that. You state as your intent an attempt at correction and reasonable punishment when the reality is that the intent is to inflict pain on a small child whom you claim to love because you have the power to do so even though far more reasonable and human approaches are readily available and work just as well or better.

    Evil, barbaric Dave?
    Perhaps more misguided than evil but certainly barbaric!

    Now you get the last word, Dave, and I am out of here. Clearly you care far more about yourself and your opinion than any willingness to listen at all to the experience of someone who was spanked and was damaged because of it. I feel very sorry for your child.

  13. I am a mother of two beautiful, bright, compassionate, funny, talented and never spanked daughters. I am also a licensed clinical independent social worker and have worked with children and families for the last twenty four years. I have spent many years working in a child protective social service agency and believe that my education, professional license and experience must count for something. Do you have the right to voice your opinion, certainly, but it is just an opinion and I believe an uninformed one. There are books, articles and references filled with effective and non-physical tools and techniques that parents of all aged children can use. There are tons of parenting groups led my experienced, sensitive and skilled professionals who offer support and guidance on all areas of parenting and will listen to your concerns and frustrations. You can even consult your child's pediatrician as a resource. believe me they will not suggest spanking as the literature and research is clear that spanking may change immediate behavior through threat, fear and intimidation but with the potential for a multitude of unintended negative consequences. There can be a very thin line between physical punishment and abuse and I have had to remove children from homes in cases where physical abuse has crossed the line, it's traumatic for all and in the end the parents will have to re- learn new and safer ways to set limits in their home.

  14. For what it's worth, I happen to agree with you. I say this from the perspective of an adult who was spanked as a child, infrequently, mildly, and appropriately. I never felt unloved. Quite the contrary. If it were possible for a child to be spoiled by too much love, that would have been me. Fortunately, love is the one thing no one can have too much of. I consider myself truly fortunate to have the parents I do...and to still have their unfailing love and support as an adult.

    "Ideally, a home is a place of emotional supportiveness, security, and well-being. It is also a place of clear and constructive communication among family members and a place where rules of behavior are understood by all members of the family and enforced consistently and fairly, usually by parents. Under these circumstances, the particular type of punishment used to enforce rules (e.g. a stern warning, a time-out, being sent to one's room, or being spanked) may primarily indicate to children the severity of their own misbehavior. For example, children and parents in many families may consider spanking a serious consequence brought on by serious misbehavior, such as physically dangerous acts. After a spanking has been given, a parent's verbal or physical indication that the child is loved by the parent (e.g., a hug and a kiss) and that the spanking was a consequence of the child's violation of family rules is often enough to dispel any lingering negative feelings."

    Source: Pediatrics for Parents -

  15. Dave I agree with parents keeping their right to spank their children when necessary. We wonder why crime is at an all-time high. It is idiots advocate against spanking who advocate and then cry wolf when a crime against them has occurred. There is a difference between spanking and child abuse or spanking a child after a certain age. Clearly one would not spank a helpless child, but 10 and up you can have been over to a spanking while being told what they did wrong. I may also be bias when I say that it comes down to culture. Why is it that African Americans or Hispanic children do not self-inflict pain upon themselves? I will tell you why, they know what pain is like from the belt to the rear!

  16. Jennifer- (didn't want to sign in, but listing name for clarity)
    I was never spanked as a child - and I spank my children and firmly believe in it. There are several issues I have with the anonymous anti-spanking posters.

    (1) Your post accents something important - parents should not spank their children when they are angry. I want to know how many were spanked as children by an angry adult and anti-spanking vs. the number of posters who were spanked by a calm adult and are anti-spanking.

    (2) Children need a clear set of rules and consequences. My mother (without spanking me) dished out discipline in very illogical and unexpected ways. I never knew what to expect. Whether a parent chooses to spank or not, rules and consequences must be clearly, simply defined. “If you do not lay quietly at bedtime, you will get spanked. (I would love to know how non-spanking parents deal with this, since psychologists teach young children do not understand delayed discipline.) I want to know how many anti-spanking parents were spanked and had clear rules and how many did not. A parent does not have to be abusive to leave children confused.

    (3) Claiming that children who are spanked get in trouble when unsupervised, actually goes against current research. Unfortunately, most researchers are anti-spanking. Because they equate spanking with abuse, they naturally see poorer outcomes in the "spanked" group, which includes abused children. However, one study actually did define spanking as a single swift swat across the butt (this is not the sole definition of spanking, the study was just trying to be specific since so few are). This study found that the children who were spanked not only did better but also were MORE likely to follow rules when no one was watching vs. children who were not spanked. (Anti-spanking posters don’t distinguish between spanking and abuse- perhaps they do not know that some adults break the arms of their children, leave lash marks with metal hangers, burn them with cigarettes, etc. and frequently do so for minor issues like a 7-year old peeing his pants [i.e. they are abused for a medical condition, not for disobeying]. To equate a parent spanking a child on the butt after the child has run out in traffic with abuse is the equivalent of saying a person who finds a penny on the ground and keeps it should be locked up for theft.)

    (4) To say that spanking leads to violence is absurd. I offer a story of my own children. The very FIRST time my oldest son was spanked he was 2 years old. I was breastfeeding his brother, and he wanted me to play with him. Although he had never been spanked, he began hitting me and was acting violent. Aside from PBS children's programming, he had never watched television, he had never seen anyone hit another person (to the best of my knowledge and I was with him constantly), and he had never played video games. Still his reaction was one of violence. I spanked his butt, mainly to prevent him from hitting the baby, and guess what? He stopped. I think it would be more appropriate to say that if you are satisfied with the way your parents raised you, you will continue to do the same with your children. If you are not, you will seek new methods of parenting.

    (5) On a minor note - someone said something like I cannot hit animals or other adults so I shouldn’t be able to hit a child. I do take a rolled up paper and swat animals when they do something inappropriate. I realize my hand could hurt them permanently. I also lock my cat in the bathroom if he keeps me up all night - perhaps I should do that with my children when they don't go to bed? (That question was asked with sarcasm - what we do with animals does not translate to humans well.) I could get into trouble swatting John Doe on the butt. However, if I swat my husband, whom I love, on the butt as we are cooking together in the kitchen or even in time to the music at church, it is legal. It is okay to spank adults we love, so it should be okay to spank children we love (by the anti-spanker's logic).

  17. Dave, after reading your comments, I can only conclude that you are a self-important prig who really is devoted to the concept of inflicting pain on children as a teaching method. Aside from any efficacy that might have in deterring unwanted behavior in the short term, I find it rather perverse that you so adamantly cling to the need to hit children as an option. Are you on a power trip or is this need more erotic in nature?

  18. Amazing! Mr. and/or Ms. Anonymous there has managed to encapsulate practically every inane comment I've ever received on this topic, in a single, easy-to-scoff-at paragraph. Kudos, Mr. and/or Ms. Anonymous! Kudos indeed!

    On the other hand, Jennifer, thank you so much for your eloquent and well-considered reply.

  19. Please, please, PLEASE stop being an open atheist. We don't need evil people like you joining the movement.

  20. Francois, it's a rather religious viewpoint to think that for some reason all people lacking a belief in gods must share a monolithic front on parenting philosophies. Regardless, I encourage you to actually read everything I've written, and describe your reasoning behind calling me "evil" for advocating for the right of parents to choose an effective, if suboptimal, child correction technique.