recent studies have shown that spanking children is not an effective way
to control behavior. Spanking does not stop misbehavior. Spanking
doesn't work for several reasons:
doesn't teach children self control or what to do instead
- it becomes less
effective over time
- it has long-term,
harmful side effects.
One reason why almost everyone
overestimates the effectiveness of spanking is that we have “selective
inattention.” We simply do not remember when spanking fails, as it does
most of the time, because it contradicts what we want to believe. Partly
this is because our culture believes spanking is “normal” and partly
because many of us were spanked as children. It is difficult for us as
adults to relate our adult problems to childhood spanking or to condemn
Spanking is not harmless. Many of the
harmful side effects of spanking do not show up for several years. In
addition, only a small percentage of spanked children experience
visually harmful effects. Even infrequent spanking can harm a
child’s self-esteem. The most harmful effects include an increased risk
of delinquency as a child. The long-term adult effects show up as higher
frequencies of crime, spouse abuse, depression, and lower earnings.
Spanking also teaches a child they are a
“victim.” The more a child is victimized, the more he or she develops a
perception of him/ herself as someone who “deserves” discomfort and
suffering. People who view themselves as victims behave in ways that
keep them suffering. They make “choices” that repeat the relationships
between themselves and their parents. Rejection of pain, suppressed
anger, low self-worth, inability to form lasting relationships, and
uncontrolled fits of violent anger, are just some of the consequences of
childhood victimization. It is not surprising many children who view
themselves as victims engage parents and other adults in power
struggles, push the limits of reasonable control, test the boundaries,
act on the “you can’t make me” philosophy of cooperation, and challenge
adult authority until they are victimized again.
Childhood victimization often leads to
adult authoritarianism — obsession with order, control and obedience.
Both submission to and rebelliousness against authority characterize
authoritarianism. It is rooted in violence and coercion.
Authoritarianism is usually a form of “order” that is actually a
reaction to the hurtful violence that children who are spanked
experience, and the rage and hatred that violence creates.
Authoritarianism is “order” built upon coercion (i.e., threats, bullying
and verbal attacks) rather than consent, upon alienation rather than
empathy and love for oneself and for others.
Such efforts at control usually do not
achieve the desired order in the long run. The impulses that create
authoritarian personalities create violent, aggressive and antisocial
feelings and behaviors that seriously impair the trust and respect that
are the core of healthy relationships.
Children who have been repeatedly
threatened or hit:
Develop low self-worth
Feel unloved and unwanted
Exhibit a high degree of anxiety
Struggle with feelings of helplessness
Seek revenge against others
Destroy property and break things belonging to others
Tend to be more aggressive
Learn hitting is a way to deal with anger and frustration
Once a child is hit, the memory remains
in the brain and body for life. Children who were spanked only once or
twice can often remember the pain and shock for years afterward. For
children struck frequently, the anticipation of intense pain becomes
part of the punishment itself. The anxiety this creates cannot be easily
overcome. Recent brain research indicates that high levels of stress or
anxiety can actually change the “wiring” of the brain and interfere with
learning, thinking and later relationships. This damaging anxiety can
also be caused by watching a parent strike another child or by viewing
violence on television.
Understanding a child’s anger at being
hit is central to understanding the impact of spanking. Anger is a
child’s best, and sometimes only, defense. It comes from a powerful and
healthy sense of self that is being violated and abused by physical
blows or hurtful words. Often, a child will respond with hatred and a
powerful desire for revenge. These painful memories are permanently
stored in the brain and influence us throughout our lives. When these
memories are ignored or forgotten, they are more dangerous than when
they are felt and acknowledged.
Another consequence of physical
punishment is a limited ability to show compassion and empathy for
oneself and others. Apathy and passive modes of aggression are also
frequent consequences, all of which contribute to increased chances of
depression and suicide. Buried anger is at the core of self-aggression,
the most common form of which is depression. Depression is often a
delayed response to the suppression of childhood anger that is usually
the result of being physically or verbally hurt by adults whom the child
loves and on whom the child depends for nurturance and life itself.
Over time, spanking actually makes
parenting more difficult because it reduces the ability of parents to
influence children, especially in adolescence. Children are more likely
to do what parents want when there is a strong bond of affection and
trust with the parent. Spanking chips away at this important bond.
Many parents believe that if
they don’t spank, children will run wild and be uncontrollable. The
alternative to spanking isn’t to ignore misbehavior or to replace
spanking with verbal attacks. Many parents already know and use other,
non-violent ways of teaching and controlling behavior. In most cases,
parents only need the patience to keep on doing what they were doing to
correct misbehavior — without the spanking!
Children of non-spanking parents tend to
be easy to manage and well-behaved because these parents set clear
standards for what is expected, provide lots of love and affection,
explain things to the child, and recognize and reward good behavior.
Non-spanking parents also pay more attention to their children’s
behavior, both good and bad, than parents who spank do.
Contrary to myth, most parents who spank
tend to use it for almost any misbehavior. Many parents spank before
trying other methods. Daily spanking is not uncommon, and parents who
spank often don't realize how often they are hitting their children.
Because violence is so common in our
culture, many parents believe they need to prepare their children for
the violence-filled “real” world by “toughening them up.” So, parents
hit children at home to prepare them for the violent world they live in.
However, violence in the home is transmitted to the neighborhood. The
“real world” would become less violent if violence in the home stopped.
One of the biggest myths about spanking
is that it is unrealistic to expect parents to never spank. It is no
more unrealistic to expect parents to never hit a child than to expect
that men should never hit women. A law prohibiting spanking is
unrealistic only because spanking is such an accepted part of American