Live Well, Do Good

Spanking shouldn’t be a hit with parents

Brandon Sun, September19, 2016 - David McConkey

Great news that the federal government is going to make corporal punishment (spanking) illegal. But many people – especially in my baby boom generation – still think spanking is a good idea. “We were spanked as kids and we’re OK,” folks say. “So what’s the problem?”

But the research is clear. Spanking is not effective. And it can too easily become abuse. About the best that can be said for spanking: if done very carefully, it does not cause much harm. The catch? Spanking is almost impossible to do carefully.

From my own experience as a parent, I know that kids can be wonderful. But they also can be frustrating. After exhausting the usual techniques – commanding, pleading, bribing, threatening, yelling – there seems to be only one thing left to do: spanking. But at that point, the parent is way beyond acting carefully! (By the way, there are better parenting methods than those listed!)

For raising our own children, I am relieved that we decided not to spank. This was almost a matter of luck, and of stumbling onto good books like How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. Knowing beforehand there was a line that was not to be crossed kept us from crossing it when the inevitable frustrations arose. (And these books have lots of good suggestions for better parenting.)
Right now, I bet some people are raising that old canard: “What if a child is running into traffic and spanking them is the only way to stop them?”

Come on: I doubt this happens much outside of these discussions. Please put your minds at ease and save that debate for philosophy class!

Another argument for spanking can be summed up by the lament: “But what about kids nowadays?” Aren’t kids today just totally obsessed with their fashions, with their technologies, and with themselves? Just to get their attention, don’t we have to give them a slap now and then?

New technologies and new media are indeed cause for concern. As well as a corporate agenda of short-sighted greed that drives much of the culture.

So parents today need to be smart, sensitive and sophisticated. But that does not mean hitting their kids!

In our commercialized, screen-obsessed world, here are two suggestions for parents.

One: as much as you can, allow for non-digital time. Free youngsters to explore the world as analog kids.

Two: nurture a joy of books. Starting when they are babies, read books to your kids. Set a good example by reading books for your own enjoyment. (Just having books at home has a big positive impact on children.)

Now, what about: “We were spanked as kids and we’re OK”? Most likely true. But now we know better. After all, when we baby boomers were growing up, we were subjected to second-hand smoke at home and other places. Going outside for “fresh air,” we breathed in lead from the vehicle exhaust that was permitted back then. Most of us apparently survived just fine. But today we can still aim higher.
Ending spanking can be a difficult cultural change. Spanking was done by our parents (or by ourselves) out of love and with the best of intentions. Spanking was enshrined as one of our traditional values, sanctioned by our religious beliefs, endorsed by our elders. But this is part of our cultural heritage that should be set aside: respectfully, gently, firmly.

“This is the deal,” as comedian Bill Burr says, “if you have kids, you want to improve on your childhood.” I like Burr’s straightforward advice: keep the stuff that your parents did that worked; get rid of the stuff that did not.

Parents who spank their kids probably assume that the pain vanishes as quickly as the anger subsides. But the effects of spanking can be long lasting. I recently discussed this issue with some friends. One responded to me later in an e-mail. He has not forgotten being spanked as a child – even though that was half a century ago.
“I think the most damning result of inflicting physical pain upon one’s children,” he wrote me, “is that it inflicts fear upon the child and inevitably contempt for the parent that can last a lifetime.”

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See also:

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen . . . on     (on

Deepening Our Thinking in the Internet Age: Ten Tips

Exploring What's Lost in a Connected World

Changing the Calendar, Changing the Culture

Live Well, Do Good

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