Little children are what we love most, and oft times, what most frustrate us. In reviewing studies, I found that most countries have laws that allow parents to spank their children within reason, especially if no physical harm takes place.
At the same time, I also found that there are growing numbers of parents who have decided that spanking children is not appropriate. It appears that a de facto non-spanking ban is starting to emerge throughout the world.
With very few exceptions, the vast majority of studies I read find that spanking children has little if any effect on how a child ultimately turns out. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Certain studies show that if a child is spanked severely enough, over an extended period, within a child’s critical phase of emotional development, a disposition in certain children for violent behavior toward others develops.
Children In Different Cultures
My own experience in different cultures over the years has helped me evolve on the subject of how to discipline children. Let me share three experiences with you, one from Chile, one from France, and one from the Arabian Peninsula.
In Chile, children are allowed to run around in public places with hardly any correction coming from their parents. My first thought when I saw this was that these children were going to grow up to be wild. It felt like I was at Disneyland where little children were let loose, free of parents. Yet, I observed that as these children grew up into young adulthood, there was no measurable increase in deviance in their behavior compared to any other culture I was aware of. In fact, there was probably less. As a people, Chileans are soft spoken, polite and orderly. It was while I was living in Chile and observed this phenomenon that I began to ask myself the question: “Why be so strict with children if as they grow older, they seem to turn out OK?”
In France, the population is shrinking, hence an effort is on the way presently to grow the population. It is obvious when you visit France that it has become a very adult centric country. Even so, as France works at increasing its population, I have noticed that they have also become one of the most active nations in the world in supporting a non-spanking approach in rearing children. France has a very refined culture. In keeping it so, it appears that the French have decided that along with keeping France growing, they also have determined that France will increase its sense of refinement by becoming a “spanking free” zone.
The Arabian Peninsula
Children in Arabian culture are kept close to their families well into adulthood. It’s hard to determine how Arabian children are disciplined. Arabians keep to themselves and are not inclined to relate to people outside their family and tribe. Nevertheless, Arabians grow up and are among the most mellow people to which I have ever been exposed. Their guttural language does not bespeak their overall shy nature. In keeping with this placid quality, Arabians, especially those living in the United Arab Emirates, measure the lowest in the world when it comes to supporting the spanking of children. For example, when surveyed, a full eighty percent of Emirati people feel that in a modern society spanking is not necessary.
This brings me to Americans. As for spanking, it appears that America has started to resemble countries like Chile, France, and The United Arab Emirates. While we still tend to discipline our children on the spot, we definitely have evolved and use different methods. Whereas, in the past, parents may have swatted their children in public for acting up, there is not a lot of that today. Instead, Americans use strategies like “time outs”.
Child rearing is taxing. Almost every other occupation in life is easier than being a parent with small children. Little children, as well as being completely dependent, at times are not quite rational in their behavior. As a result, parents are challenged by their unpredictable nature. Little children do not automatically follow rules. Hence, in addition to everything else going on, parents have to teach children what the rules are, how to follow them, and what the consequences are if not followed. Usually, out of frustration, parents are tempted to shortcut the process by going directly to corporal punishment for bad behavior.
In today’s America, shortcuts are becoming less and less acceptable. My own experience bares this out. I was strict with our first child without knowing it. Once, many years ago, while we were visiting my wife’s parents, I was in the process of disciplining our daughter. Maybe she was four years old at the time. In a somewhat authoritarian tone, I sent her to one of the bedrooms and told her to stay there until I told her she could come out.
My father-in-law approached me, and said, “I would prefer you not come over if you’re going to be so stern.” I was taken completely by surprise. I was mad he said that to me. I thought I was being a responsible parent.
I asked him what was wrong with what I did. His only comment was, “it just makes me feel bad.”
This was a tough man. Among other things he had been a drill instructor during the Korean War. He was a no nonsense kind of person, who did not overtly manifest tender feelings.
Later, I asked my wife if she “had ever been spanked by her father.” She said she hadn’t. “Has your dad ever slapped you?” Again the response was that he hadn’t. “Then how did he discipline you?” I asked. “I didn’t need a lot of discipline,” was her reply.
The experience with my father-in-law didn’t immediately impact me. But as time passed, it began to seep in. Harsh disciplining of children started giving me a sick feeling. At some point, a switch turned off inside of me when it came to things like spanking.
Evidently, I am not alone in feeling like this. The anti-spanking movement, for example, has clearly spread throughout the world, and has awakened our better angels. As one young American mother shared with me recently, “I was spanked maybe three or four times in my life, but I don’t feel it had any impact on me one way or the other. And, in that very rare moment when I spanked my own child, I felt so bad that I couldn’t do it anymore.”
The Weak and The Strong
Yet, spanking still takes place. Why?
Children can be difficult, and some can be very difficult. But artists and professional athletes can be difficult too. We don’t spank them. My suspicion is that one of the reasons we spank children is that we can. Adults are large, children are small. Adults are strong and children are weak. To spank because we can spank is no reason to spank, especially in a civilized culture that has worked so hard to protect the weak.
My sense is that as we become more and more democratic throughout the world, and continue to internalize the profound virtues of protecting those who cannot protect themselves, disciplining activities like spanking will become less acceptable as a supposed means of socializing children.
Enough For The Guilt Trip
At this point in my life, I am no longer involved in raising children. I am an observer only. So, believe me, I am not trying to put any hard working parent on a guilt trip. I have made too many mistakes myself to not realize what a daunting task it is to properly discipline children as they go through their many different stages of development.
Disciplining children seldom leaves a parent feeling good. And there are plenty of times when a parent feels that all they are doing is disciplining.
This is a complex subject. For example, when a three year old runs out into the street, and a parent’s panic button is pushed as they run out to retrieve the child, it’s very hard to resist the temptation to give a couple of swats to the bottom as a way to reinforce the absolute danger the child has faced. In such instances, it’s very difficult to call a time out and calculate how long the child needs to sit on a step. Patience in this instance gives way to parental immediacy, if not a little bit of insanity. It’s hard. Hard, hard, hard.
That’s why I am impressed that so many parents seem to want to take on the additional challenge of working on this without the necessity of having to spank. I tip my hat to you.