s I said before, I don’t remember much about my childhood. My earliest memory was my acceptance of Jesus into my heart and then nothing until about 10 years old. It’s been suggested by more than one therapist that I’ve repressed those years because of abuse but I have no real reason to believe that’s the case. Although, corporal punishment in my family was applied (pardon the pun) religiously.
I and my siblings were spanked with hands, belts, rulers and wooden spoons. I had a wooden spoon broken over my tush — an occurrence over which my mom had voiced much lasting remorse. As long as I can remember, spanking was nearly the first line of correction and it wasn’t until later in life that punishments like grounding were implemented. My dad always told me, “You’re never too old for a spanking.”
No doubt my parents were raised this way and their parents and so on, and I have to at least suspect that our cultural basis lies in Proverbs 13:24 – “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” and Proverbs 23:13,14 – “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.” Good old Biblical wisdom! Of course, this is the same Bible that tells us to stone disobedient children to death.
In an article evaluating these verses (and many, many others), the author of Suffer the Little Children discusses just how out-of-context these verses have been taken. She goes on to say:
So many Christians have taken FIVE verses and hung a whole child rearing philosophy on them! Parents are told to use this as a primary form of punishment (what these experts refer to as discipline). Some use the words “punishment” and “discipline” interchangeably when they mean two entirely different things. These people are basing their theology on nothing more than the traditions of men!
Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame recommends implementing spankings as punishment to children as young as 18 months (although it appears the organization has revised their stance and recommends more reasonable methods before spanking). He says, “the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely” and goes on to say the following:
“If children cry for longer than five minutes, the child is merely complaining…I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears.“
This is common in the “Jesus Loves You” crowd where you’ll hear such gems as, “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” This isn’t loving guidance, people. This is abuse. Ask yourself this question:
As a reasonable adult, is it ever OK to hit a child who depends on you for nurturing and protection?
The answer ought to be, “No.” It’s hard to understand why, in our advanced civilization with all of the cumulative knowledge of human experience, we’re still smacking kids around.
Much like the hand-me-down mentality behind circumcision, spanking is an old habit that dies hard. As a child I, of course, vowed that I would never spank my children because it was cruel and hurtful. However, when I had children I found that my instinctive corrective action was a quick swat on the butt…or two. Coincidental or not, this was also a period of time before I had rid myself of religion and fully embraced a secular humanist view. What gets to me now about this type of behavior is the utter hypocrisy and ineffectiveness of the action. I’ll explain:
- I’ve experienced parents whacking their child repeatedly on the butt while yelling such things as, “You don’t hit other kids!”
- I’ve been repeatedly whipped with a thick, leather belt while being told that I’m being beaten because my parents love me.
- My siblings and I would sometimes choose a spanking over being grounded because it got the punishment out of the way quickly and we’d be able to go back to play with our friends sooner than the alternative.
- Whenever I was spanked, instead of thinking about how wrong my transgression was I instead fumed about how mean my parents were and conspired to find a better way to hide what I doing the next time.
I really wasn’t a bad kid and I think I turned out fairly “normal” — whatever that means. I got into trouble here and there and I certainly deserved to be punished sometimes. I question my parents’ means of discipline but I can’t really hold them 100% responsible for their chosen method. It was, after all, handed down from generation to generation with conditioning and patterned behavior. These things tend to run unchecked until someone steps up and breaks the cycle. I’ve decided that I will never again hit a child. I hope you do too.