By now you’ve heard or read the news. Spanking is bad for children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics study. It’s so bad that it increases the odds of children having mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders. That’s quite a list, and it was formed after researchers adjusted the data for sociodemographic and family history variables.
The study doesn’t call it spanking. The words it uses are “harsh physical punishment” and that is defined as “pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting.” Researchers noted this punishment happens in the absence of more troubling maltreatment, including physical and sexual abuse.
It’s enough to make parents like me think two or three times before taking a swat at a child’s behind. I was spanked as a child, but I was never pushed, grabbed, shoved, or slapped. Any hitting happened only three times that I remember, was swiftly aimed at my backside, and wasn’t done in anger. I concede that I had no business drinking water out of the gutter that fateful day in Texas and that I was several houses out of eyeshot when my mother found me and then whipped my butt up the street. I promise it was the longest street in America, and I haven’t thought about drinking water from the gutter or being too far away from my mother’s watchful eye since that day.
I don’t think I was permanently harmed, but that’s no reason for me to simply hand down what I was taught to Simone and Nadia. That’s what my parents knew, and I don’t fault them. (My father, by the way, never lifted his hand to me. He didn’t need to. He just gave me the look and I would melt into tears.) I and other parents know that spanking can make children more vulnerable to more serious problems. What we can do is take note of the information that is available to us and make different choices than our parents did.
This does not mean that parents across the nation should abandon discipline. Children need it and expect it. Someone needs to tell them no, to go somewhere and sit down, to be quiet, to think before they open their mouths, and to try to control their behavior. We’ve all seen children running wild in the streets, grocery stores, and every other place where you can find large groups of children who often seem parentless. Children may not need spankings, but they definitely need parents to help teach them right from wrong.
As for my mother, the woman who gave me spankings, I suspect if she were alive today and I even hinted at spanking her grandchildren, she would throw herself in front of them and dare me to do it. After all, we know people soften as they grow older and don’t apply the same parenting rules to their precious grandchildren, and my guess is my mom would have quickly gotten in that line.