Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why I Probably Won't Spank My Kids

Last Sunday, the pastor at my church delivered a great Mother's Day sermon. He opened with a familiar theme: mothers whooping their kids. Both of my parents spanked/whooped me growing up, so like the majority of the congregation, I laughed in agreement with mixed feelings of nostalgia and relief (no more whoopings!)

But then I started thinking about it, "Am I going to spank my kids?" Probably not. Before I go any further, I'd like to issue the following disclaimer: as a childless woman, I'm no expert in rearing children. I'm armed only with my experiences, a bachelor's degree in psychology (like 93.2% of the women on the planet), and my musings on discipline.

I'll probably do some slaps on the bottom, particularly when my kids are really young and a diplomatic conversation isn't an option, but generally speaking, I don't see spankings and whoopings into the teenage years as a good idea, and here's why:

1. It's not creative. It's the easy way out, not the best way. How much thought does it take to wallop a kid around who's half your size for a few minutes? None, really. Disciplining children and inflicting violence... two things that you really should think about before you engage. Usually when a kid acts out in the grocery store and the parent reaches from deep within her spirit to smack him into common sense, it doesn't seem that a lot of thought went into it. Which leads me to the next one...

2. Discipline isn't a one size fits all practice. That kid in the grocery store will probably (but not definitely) act right for the remainder of the trip up and down the aisles of Harris Teeter, but once the sting of the pain fades, are you sure that smack is going to prevent him from throwing a Skittles inspired temper tantrum again? I doubt it. For every kid, (and every person) there are different incentives/tactics that work best. Some kids respond to:
a. taking away privileges (no more Internet/Gameboy/dessert)
b. adding new unwanted responsibilities (guess who's taking out the trash for the rest of May?! you Johnny!)
c. straightforward diplomacy (seriously, Johnny, running in the street will get you squashed like a ladybug. Don't do that.)
d. the guilt trip (my Mom was a beast at this! "Crystal, tell me what I'm doing wrong... do I not love you enough? Am I not giving you enough attention? How can I be a better mom so you can stop doing xyz")

3. It eliminates an opportunity to teach important critical thinking skills and/or life lessons.
When my dad used to spank me, he'd give me these long speeches beforehand explaining, "I really wish I didn't have to do this. You know what you did was wrong right? You know why? I just want what's best for you and blah blah blah." You know why I remember it as blah blah blah? Because I was too busy shaking in my Light Up LA gears to really hear or consider anything he said. I nodded and shook my head at the appropriate moments, not because what I got what was he saying, but I thought maybe it could be a last ditch effort to escape my ultimate fate. I learned NOTHING in those speeches... except how to empathize with folks being walked to the gallows.

Sometimes, you'd be surprised by how smart children are. Teach them how to be adults and how to think keenly and logically by giving them opportunities to really see the cost and benefits of their behavior. If you're punishing them for legitimate reasons and hope to encourage good behavior, it should be easy to explain said costs and benefits.

One of my friends told me that his father once taught him why chewing tobacco was a bad idea by giving him some to chew. I can assure you that lesson stuck with him better than a spanking would have. To this day, that friend has one of the brightest, tobacco-free smiles I've ever seen.

So You're Still Not Convinced?
People that support spanking their kids usually say the following when defending why they do it:
1. My parents spanked me and look how awesome I am! Research shows that it works just as often as it doesn't. There are lawyers, felons, teachers, murderers, entertainers, and scam artists that have all been spanked. You can't say it works 100% of the time. (See here and here) for more data.
2. The Bible says "spare the rod and spoil the child." This oft quoted Proverb is used to explain why people discipline their kids. Proverbs are there to provide good practice or advice about what we should do, and were written according to the current cultural trend. For example, in Proverbs 31, the Bible says this about a good wife:
"She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard; She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."
Anybody know any women buying fields and selling linen garments? What the proverb means is a good wife makes smart fiscal decisions and provides for her household. (This could mean she cooks the meals, pays the bills, etc) Similarly, the spare the rod, spoil the child adage means if you fail to discipline your child (and in their setting, the rod was the appropriate way to do so), then you will spoil your child. I wholeheartedly agree! I'm not sure the rod itself is necessary though.

Louis CK, a favorite comedian of mine says, "Kids are the only people in the world that you're allowed to hit...They're the most vulnerable, and the most destroyed by being hit; but it's totally ok to hit them. If you hit a dog, [you'll} go to jail; you can't hit an [adult] unless you can prove they were trying to kill you! But a little tiny person... who trusts you implicitly, %$# em. Let's all hit them."

Like I said, a few well placed swats to a toddler are probably appropriate when you don't have a cattle prod. But alternative forms of punishment versus spanking/whooping your kids should be given some serious thought.

Do you plan to (or do you currently) spank your kids? Why or why not?