I was in the lobby of my building getting the mail when I saw this parent spanking their son. It spawned a talk with my mom that made me reconsider some ideals I’ve had about how I’ll discipline my own kids someday.
For whatever reason, public humiliation has been added to the list of acceptable forms for discipline. It’s like a cryptic badge of honor among parents to be able to spank their kids in public. However, have we moved the line the differentiates between what’s child abuse and what’s not? Are we teaching our kids the principles of hypocrisy in terms of violence and bullying? I certainly think that we, as a culture, need to admit that physical discipline just doesn’t work the way we claim it does.
In terms of physical discipline and my stance on its application, there were a few thoughts that came to mind:
There’s a difference between spanking and beating.
I had a West Indian father, so I know what a beating feels like. My mother spanked me sometimes. But my father? Papi beat me! With no hesitation! The main difference between the 2 is the level of intensity. When you’re angry (borderline irate) at your child, you momentarily lose control. And depending on the size difference or age, you can do damage. We’ve read too many news stories about parents breaking bones or even killing their child because they chose to discipline them in a fit of rage. Children shouldn’t be disciplined with that type of vigor.
Spanking should be a last resort.
I have cousins that were spanked constantly. Anything they did -whether it was disobeying my aunts/uncles or leaving dirty clothes in the bathroom- they were disciplined by spanking. There was no hierarchy of punishments to their respective offenses. In my house, we had steps. Sports participation was denied, weekend activities were cancelled, and extra chores were assigned before my parents had to use physical discipline with us. I personally feel like when you communicate effectively with your child and establish boundaries, it’s very clear to them when they’ve gone too far. When boundaries are consistent, spanking should be rare. Getting a child used to being spanked, regardless of what they do, will eventually cancel out its perceived intent.
You can’t beat a child into submission.
I don’t agree with beating fear into your kids. I think that you can teach your children to respect you without physical discipline. Daughters, especially, tend to want to please their parents. They want to do everything the right way to receive positive adoration. When you have that type of relationship with a child, spanking them is the last thing they want. Being a parent isn’t synonymous with being a tyrant. So I just don’t feel like you can beat “act right” into a child. Eventually those children will turn into teenagers. Those teenagers will be filled with hormones, resentment, and probably will get fed up with being physically disciplined by someone who is now their physical equal. The tables may not be in your favor then.
Kids sometimes learn the violence they display with others from you.
Nothing is full proof. Let me bring up the classic excuse we use when a white person shoots up a mall or something – “if his parent would’ve whooped his a**, we wouldn’t be here.” That could be true, but we don’t know what type of violence that person grew up witnessing. Maybe his father didn’t hit him, but he saw no problems beating his wife in front of his children. Like I said, kids build up resentment over time based on what they see and are exposed to. I am not saying that physically disciplined children are more likely to be violent adults. What I am saying is we can’t deny or ignore the impact that constant physical discipline (either directly or indirectly) will build up the type of anger in a children that will eventually manifest in violent ways.
Kids should learn from their mistakes, not being punished for them.
In most cases, it was as simple as the threatening thought that your father would break his foot off in your behind that got you to straighten up. America’s Favorite Father, Bill Cosby, never once had to lay a hand on the Huxtable kids. He didn’t even really raise his voice. There was an atmosphere of mutual respect. It was basically like “you follow my rules and bring home good grades, I’ll stay off your case”. Every mistake they made was a teaching lesson. But for the sake of idealism, the Huxtables parented with creativity and tough love.
People often say however you were as a child, your children will be just as bad. That may very well be true. Spanking is one of those things that is inherently generational. We all purport the notion of “well, I was spanked. I turned out okay.” Yeah, I did turn out just fine. But when I think about fatherhood, I’m fairly certain that it’ll be my wife who’s doing the disciplining.