Discipline Children Without Spanking?
This article is a commentary by the Christian Parent’s Network editor on Lonnit Rysher’s article, “Please Don’t Spank.” The editor’s comments are denoted by the use of plain text and indented. Ms Rysher’s original article text is bolded in quotes. Her article can be found in original format at her website Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting, Instinctively. My wife and I support breast feeding and favor that all parents should be attached to children, but we disagree with her thoughts on child discipline!
“Did you know that in some countries it is illegal to spank? In the US it is common to spank children, but you better watch out because you might be getting a visit from Child Protective Services! Nowadays, Kids are even reporting their own parents! Maybe you don’t think you are “abusing” your child especially if you never “left a mark” but the most damaging “marks” do not necessarily scar the child’s body, but his or her psyche.”
The laws of a country address the collective opinion of what is wise and expedient in the eyes of the citizenry. The law does not always reflect what is moral and upright in the sight of God. The laws in Nazi Germany under Hitler required patriotic Germans to turn in Jews to be exterminated in the gas chambers. The fact that it was the law of the land did not change the inherent wickedness of the Nazi’s immoral genocide. Neither does the willingness of humanist leaders to interfere in the God-given rights of parents to discipline children in accordance with the time-honored and Biblically prescribed method make spanking immoral. A foolish law does not establish morality, any more than a wicked law makes wicked behavior moral.
Abortion is legal, but who can seriously argue that abortion is moral? It is clearly an unnatural act against our Creator to destroy unborn children in the womb. We should not be surprised that European countries are leading the drive for criminalizing spanking, as they have traveled far down the path of spiritual and moral decline. You cannot draw conclusions about the morality of spanking based on European laws abrogating the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their religious views. When men reject the moral authority of God laws will soon be changed to suit the whims of those rulers and governments. This is done to use the law as a weapon against citizens for religious views that fall outside the government’s favor.
Laws may not always reflect the truth, for the willingness to see truth depends on the morality of the leaders both making and enforcing the laws. The Christian believes that the Bible is a more reliable and accurate revelation of morality than the changing opinions of the masses. For many years western nations have based their laws on the teachings of the Bible. It was the emphasis on Biblical morality that provided the spiritual and cultural underpinnings for the majority of the material and social progress in the west over the last 200 years. Western civilization is now in deep moral decline. Given the disdain western cultures have recently shown for the Bible’s teaching on marriage, faithfulness, and the rights of God over His creation it is not surprising to see that our laws are growing more hostile against time-honored practices and traditions that are clearly taught in Scripture. Neither is it a surprise that as western nations reject Biblical morality we are experiencing a tremendous surge in disturbed and depraved behavior across all parts of our society.
As many liberal spankings opponents do, Ms. Rysher assumes what she aims to prove, and then reasons from her assumption without establishing any evidence for her position. We get just a little hint of how strong she opposes spanking by her delight in the thought of parents fearing a visit from Child Protective Services. Is it natural that parents who believe in the use of spanking should fear the retribution of the the state for something our parents practiced freely? Liberals enthusiastically support enforcing their ideology on others with the full power of the state. They show little regard for the God given rights of the individual, all the while complaining how conservatives impose their morality on others. Liberal beliefs lead to the exaltation of the state’s power over the individual, which ultimately leads to forms of fascism and dictatorship.
Does Ms. Rysher believe that Child Protective Services will do a better job of raising children than loving parents? Would anyone seriously believe that governmental agencies such as Child Protective Services are better qualified to raise children? Her reasoning suggests that not only does the government know better about discipline, but kids who report their parents for spanking also know better than their parents how they should be disciplined! It is inevitable that as society rejects the moral underpinnings of our system of laws we will experience even more social chaos and disorder. Our founding fathers understood that our democratic republic could only continue to function if we remained a moral people.
Ms. Rysher sees nothing wrong with anti-spanking legislation that effectively turns children into informants of the state, reporting on their parents for spanking. She sees no difference between parents who discipline their children with reason and love, as prescribed by the Bible, and those who strike their children in anger and rage. In her mind, it’s all abuse. This is a common tactic with spanking opponents. They lump the most extreme examples of genuinely abusive parents into the same category as loving parents. This, despite the many studies that show that children who are disciplined in love, by caring parents, turn out to be healthier and better adjusted than children who were not spanked. To compare abusers and loving parents, where there is a difference both in motives and results is disingenuous. Scientific studies show long-term benefits in children who were spanked in a caring atmosphere, but anti-spanking proponents dismiss these studies on the basis of their preconceptions.
What shall we make of her dire warnings below on the consequences of spanking to children?
“The damage might not be apparent at first, but it may sit there like a ticking time bomb. It can affect their self-esteem and their personal relationships for the rest of their lives when their unnatural confusion between love and pain causes them to seek out abusive partners. “
What is this unnatural confusion between love and pain that makes them seek out abusive partners? A properly disciplined child has no confusion over the reason for their pain. What research has established the damaging effects? Much of this so called research has been proven to be flawed and driven by the anti-spanking agenda, rather than a quest for the truth. Experts have genuine differences of opinion but some researchers arrived at these conclusions because they were biased against spanking before they conducted their study. Not surprisingly, the study methodology is also biased. They fail to distinguish between parents who spank effectively from parents who are simply unloving and uncaring.
One reason little research on spanking is conducted scientifically is there is no financial incentive for the behavioral scientific community to prove a traditional remedy such as spanking works. Spanking empowers parents to solve their children’s behavioral without professional intervention. It requires neither a counselor or doctor’s assistance and does not involve an expensive hourly fee. There are well documented and carefully conducted professional studies which receive little public notice because the conclusions are not popular. If a study does not uphold the liberal agenda it very often will not qualify for funding through government sponsored grants for research.
“Psychiatrists & child experts have recently come to acknowledge the damaging effects of spanking, and have begun recommending against physical punishment. The most ironic discovery they have made is that spanking as a form of discipline just doesn’t work!”
To her first generalization my reply is that many psychiatrists and child experts have recently come to acknowledge the damaging effects of not spanking children. Even if there was consensus among the psychiatric community on the best way to discipline children, it doesn’t mean that we should follow their advice. Consensus represents an opinion shared by a group. We need to look at the group before we embrace the opinion. Here, to buttress her claim that “spanking as a form of discipline just doesn’t work,” the author cites no reputable statistics or studies. This is not the scientific method at work. My opinion that spanking is very effective when properly done has just as much weight as her opinion. But my opinion has something even better to support it. That is the clear advantage of being Biblically prescribed. For a Christian, it is sufficient to find that it is taught in the Word of God to know that it is reliable and sound practice.
“I have spoken to dozens of people who were spanked as children and they tell me the same exact thing over and over… “Yes, I remember being spanked, but I don’t remember for what.” The “lessons” were lost. Many of these same people also stated that their spankings actually made them feel rebellious! Our jails are filled with criminals who were spanked as children.”
How many people do you know that were spanked who turned out normal? They are not the exception, they are the rule. I’m afraid Ms. Rysher is not being intellectually honest here. If I went to my church and asked a dozen members their views on disciplining children I might get 8 of the 12 who substantially agreed in the contents of their answers, although it would never be phrased exactly the same unless I asked them a leading question or a multiple choice answer. If I knew that a dozen of those people shared my views and then asked that dozen I might be able to stack the answers in a way that make the results agreeable. If I were to ask a truly random cross section of the public, however, I would never get the exact same answer from dozens of people. It appears that Ms. Rysher has either deliberately or accidentally stacked the deck of her panel of dozens by selecting a jury favorable to her point of view. Yet she acts as though her informal panel of experts is a formidable argument to which we must all bow and cast aside our own experience.
The fact that I can get ten or a hundred people to agree on something is proof only that I have found someone who agrees with me. In Nazi Germany Hitler’s propaganda machine was able to marshal public opinion in support of their official policy of exterminating Jews. If morality was a function of public consensus, then the Nazi actions were moral! If morality is based on unchanging principles then it matters not how many agree, wrong is wrong and the right thing will still be right even if the majority disapproves of it!
“Okay, so maybe your child won’t end up in jail, but don’t be surprised to see him hitting his little sister, or becoming the playground bully, believing that “might makes right”. By spanking your child you are sending the message that it is acceptable to overpower someone smaller than yourself.”
How about teaching the child that you will use your might to insist that they obey you and act in accordance with your authority as their parents? With all the other representatives of authority in the world, what is so unreasonable about insisting that a child learn to respect and obey the legitimate authorities that God has established? Why wouldn’t a child perceive that righteous authority is there to protect the rights and interests of all, especially the weak, against bullies and aggression? Parents who discipline pushy and rebellious children are demonstrating to these bullies that tyranny and aggression will not be tolerated! If you are stopped for speeding and have to pay a $100 fine are the police teaching you to be wasteful? After you pay the fine, will you have an irresistible urge to start throwing money away? The answer, of course, is no! Immediately after paying the penalty you will most likely pay more attention to your speedometer and drive more slowly than you did before you were ticketed. The same principle applies to discipline. Biblical spanking is an act of love designed to change a child’s behavior in very specific ways (Proverbs 13:14, 29:17).
“Did you ever notice that bullies never pick on people bigger than themselves? Well, not unless they are in a gang picking on an individual, but once again there is an unfair advantage by outnumbering the victim.”
This is a silly argument that overlooks the parent child relationship. First, it makes a victim of the disobedient child when often times they are acting like little tyrants. There is also an unstated assumption underlying the author’s reasoning. That assumption is that there is no difference in results between the loving parent who spanks using controlled force to cause a change in their child’s behavior and the parent that strikes their child out of anger or frustration. What is so strange about this whole line of reasoning is that there is hardly a parent alive over the age of 40 years old who cannot remember being spanked! Yet the majority of us never learned to be bullies from being spanked! I believe it is much more typical for bullies to develop because they have rarely, if ever, been effectively disciplined by loving parents.
“Parents set an example for their children by their actions. Spanking teaches that hitting is an acceptable way to express feelings and resolve problems. The most ludicrous thing I’ve ever seen is the mother who spanks her child for hitting his sibling! Now, did that actually make any sense? Did it resolve anything?”
Why is it impossible to believe that spanking teaches the child that authority will not tolerate the abuse of the weak by those stronger? Where does a child learn the concept of justice if parents do not demonstrate it in the home? It is the child’s acceptance of the rightful exercise of God-given parental authority that prepares the child to accept the authority of the state. Ms. Rysher believes that a child is not smart enough to understand the concept of benevolent authority exercised to protect society from antisocial behavior, yet she believes that the child will respond favorably to “instinctive, gentle, parenting.” Practically speaking what does she mean? What actions will change the child’s behavior?
“Too often it is forgotten that children and babies are people too. Why would you treat a child is such a disrespectful way as you would never treat another adult? The following is the most effective example I’ve ever heard, that points out how inane and unacceptable spanking is. Just replace the word “child” with the word “wife” in any scenario you can think of which involves spanking.
If someone hit their wife for spilling the milk, or breaking a dish or whatever action that might typically result in the spanking of a child, you’d certainly think him a brute, a monster. You’d want to get that woman removed from that situation as soon as possible. Everyone agrees that spousal abuse of that sort is unacceptable so why is it tolerated, even condoned, when the victim is a child? Would you ever dream of telling your grown son to hit his wife? Then why would you tell him that his child needs a “swat on the bottom”?”
This line of reasoning is absurd! A child responds to the world differently from an adult. What is appropriate for an adult is not appropriate for a child! Ms. Rysher also further muddies the argument by using an example inappropriate for a reasoned discussion about child discipline. First, in an attempt to color the argument she uses the word “hit” in her ridiculous example of a parent hitting their child for spilling milk! No parent should “hit” a child! Hitting and spanking are not the same. Hitting is an emotional response that is uncontrolled. Opponents of spanking will not acknowledge the difference between a spanking (which is a reasoned application of force appropriate to specific behaviors) and the violent and uncontrolled actions of an abusive parent. It is dishonest to lump them together.
Secondly, no parent with an adequate understanding of the Biblical principles of child training would ever spank a child for accidently spilling milk or breaking a dish! Ms. Rysher attempts to paint an unflattering picture of parents who spank by deliberately choosing a ridiculous example of discipline. This is a dishonest tactic, which insinuates that all parents who spank are harsh and demanding. It is a deliberate effort to use a straw man argument to prove her point.
“What happens when the spanking doesn’t work? It can lead to more frustration on the part of the parents, who find it more and more difficult to control their anger and spanking escalates into beating. It is virtually impossible to be angry enough to be brought the point of spanking, yet be calm enough to control the intensity of your swats.”
Ms. Rysher believes that no parent could find it in themselves to spank unless they are propelled to a violent anger first. On the contrary, parents who discipline effectively spank on the basis of clearly defined rules, not on their feelings of the moment. They spank their children for acts of disobedience, defiance, and rebellion. They need not be angry to spank, just as policeman need not be angry to arrest a lawbreaker. Officers of the law have a duty to enforce the law, regardless of their personal feelings. Effective parents may not “feel” like spanking their children, but they do it enforce the moral law God has revealed in scripture.
“If you claim that you “never hit in anger” and wait until later to deliver the “punishment”, then the “punishment” will be less effective because too much time has gone by in the child’s mind for the action to be associated with the “punishment. “
Ms. Rysher neatly wraps up the parent who spanks in a box of her own making. Children are smart enough to make the connection between why they are disciplined, even if it happens later. Are citizens incapable of associate their sentence to a correctional facility for committing a crime when it has been several years since they committed the crime, due to the lengthy justice system process? In the same way, even children are capable of understanding the concept of consequences delivered after the fact, for breaking the house rules.
“Our newspapers are filled with stories of such adolescents who, once the boiling point has been reached, strike out murderously against their parents or devastate the community in a deadly assault upon their schoolmates.”
A careful examination of children who killed their parents more often than not show a pattern of permissiveness with inconsistent discipline. See the book by Police Detective Robert Surgenor for detailed statistics showing that violent children are more likely to have never been spanked or effectively disciplined by their parents. It is curious, that today when spanking is less prevalent than any other time in our history, we are seeing so many more of these incidents. Spanking in society is on the decrease, yet violent acts by children are on the increase. Hmm…so we should believe that spanking, which is practiced less, is causing more violence? Yet 30 years ago when nearly all parents spanked we had much less violence? How much sense does that make?
“The spanking cycle often perpetuates itself down the generations until at last, someone finally wakes up and says “I’m not going to do that to my children. They realize that what they experienced at the hands of their parents didn’t feel right, because it wasn’t right. “
Ms. Rysher, your children were less than 4 years old at the time this was written, so you may have the opportunity to rethink your views between now and the time when your children become adults. I spanked my children and they thank me for it today as adults with their own children. They have both been successful in their academic and work careers, while providing great joy to my wife and myself. Other adults were always impressed by their demeanor and the warm relationship we enjoyed. Teaching children to respect and obey parents is not a vicious cycle, it’s called loving discipline. Children thrive on it!