To Spank or Not to Spank, That is the Question by Venessa Bowers

I’ve long heard the debate on whether it is reasonable or justified for a parent to spank their child as a form of discipline. I think it is important to define our terms and look at the law. defines spanking as “to strike (a person, usually a child) with the open hand, a slipper, etc., especially on the buttocks, as in punishment;” whipping as “to beat with a strap, lash, rod, or the like, especially by way of punishment or chastisement;” and beating as “to strike violently or forcefully and repeatedly.”

Now, taking each of these words in turn, it would appear that spanking is pretty harmless. A swift smack on the butt to get a child’s attention or to stop them from getting hurt seems reasonable. However, too often, a “spanking” can turn quickly into a “whipping” or a “beating.”

As a child therapist, I see daily is the aftermath of “spankings,” “beatings,” and “whippings.”

The aftermath includes mood disorders, aggressive and violent behavior, and the statistical significance that these children will solve problems with their fists rather than their minds and mouths. I also see an increase in fear that at times seems irrational until I am told that the child in question has been “spanked” and then the subsequent description of the so-called spanking turns out to be something more along the lines of events from a Charles Dickens novel. Then, as if the sound of clinking nickels can be heard, the child’s behavior which has brought them to my office in the first place, makes a lot more sense.

But what does the law say about issues of corporal punishment. It is anyone’s guess since there is not federal standard on this issue.

To begin, in the State of Indiana the “Law does not limit right of parent/guardian/custodian to use reasonable corporal punishment when disciplining a child.” § 31-34-1-15. [Civil Code]

What is reasonable? It is clearly subjective in this civil code. Is hitting a child because they hit someone else reasonable? “Billy, don’t hit Sara!” WHACK. Really? What does that teach a child? If I hit someone mom or dad will hit me. It doesn’t stop the child from hitting, kicking, biting, punching, etc., when the threat of the spanking is gone (e.g., day care when parents aren’t there).

The State of Ohio goes much further in its legal standing. § 2151.031. [Civil Code]” It is a criminal act to administer corporal punishment or other physical discipline, or to physically restrain the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period if it is excessive under the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child. It is a criminal act to administer unwarranted disciplinary measures to child if there is a substantial risk that if conduct is continued it will seriously impair the child’s health or development. “§ 2919.22. [Criminal Code]

Ohio seems to be more on point with protecting the health of the child. However, it too is subjective. For example, if I hit my kid in Indiana with a belt and don’t leave bruises, that’s ok. But, if I hit my kid the same way with the same outcome in Ohio, it’s a crime.

Many times I hear parents say that they don’t have a problem “smacking the crap” out of their children when they embarrass them in public, act “crazy” at school, or refuse to listen. What does that mean? Is it just semantics or linguistic turns of a phrase? Or is it deeper than that?

Is it possible to discipline a child, to teach them right from wrong when we aren’t sure what to do as parents? Does it make sense to tell children not to hit while we hit them? Childhood is confusing enough. From my perspective, and it is just that, mine, I find that children who are smacked around by their parents end up doing EXACTLY what the parent wants to prevent – they disrespect the parent. To me, all hitting a child does is teach them to be mean, to not care about other people’s feelings and emotions, and to make sure they are bigger and tougher than someone else. It teaches them to live in fear. Spanking is bullying by parents, in my opinion and it teaches children to be bigger bullies than other kids. It also sets up a cycle where they are more likely to hit their kids or spouse (male or female) when they are adults.

Violence begets violence. So why do we do it?

I’ll be the first to admit that being a parent has to be the toughest job on the planet. There are so many things one has to learn “on the job.” I understand the frustration of disobedient kids (believe me), but when one uses the frustration as a reason to hit a child, the line has been crossed regardless of what any law says. Further, it is difficult to understand why different states do not have the same civil laws. Imagine working for the Department of Children’s Services in one state, moving to another, and what is considered abuse in the first state is not in the second. How does one protect a child?

I am a firm believer in consistency in child rearing. If a parent is consistent with discipline (e.g., using time outs for the same infractions every time a child does it) there is a decreased level of frustration for both parent and child and the need to spank is removed.  It is tougher to determine how to discipline without spanking – spanking is easy, thinking is not.

So, as you ponder this complicated subject ask yourself this: If you lose your temper and hit your child, who is the one out of control of the situation? You are wiser, stronger, smarter, and bigger than a child. Use those attributes to raise healthy, loving children rather than using them to scare and potentially hurt your child. We never remember when we raise our hand on a child how strong we are and that’s when the damage really happens. Why not out think your three-year-old instead of smacking her? Why not?

Bright Blessings


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