No matter what you call them, there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed. It’s like the line between drug use and drug abuse, or social drinker and sloppy drunk.
I believe in the Scripture “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” But I also believe that reliance on the rod can ruin the child. Joe Jackson’s defense that beatings kept his children out of jail is weak. The self-identified social worker on The Root‘s Facebook page said that hordes of individuals in jails or juvenile facilities endured excessive violence: “Many of the kids I have worked with in the juvenile justice system have experienced severe physical punishment, in addition to other problems, and it made them act out more, not less.”
More spankings won’t cure our urban ills, just as fewer spankings don’t cause them. But if only it were that simple.
I’ve cringed while witnessing the verbal and emotional abuse that some parents heap on their children in public, imagining how those assaults might transform into physical violence behind closed doors. And goodness knows we see more than enough stories about crazed, demented parents and the horrific things they do to their offspring. But I would never take a cut-and-dried stance that corporal punishment is always inappropriate. Used properly and sparingly, it’s a measure to teach discipline and correct behavior — not instill fear and exact retribution.
Admittedly, I talk a much better game than I live. My two daughters haven’t received nearly the amount of “beatings, spankings, whippings, pops, etc.” that my wife and I received for similar offenses. They move slower and talk back faster, question more and respect less than we would ever have dared. I asked my 14-year-old, Sierra, how many times I’ve spanked her. “Three times,” she complained. My 11-year-old, Sequoia, would probably offer a similar response, though she might add the quick, single whacks I’ve applied to her bottom from time to time.
Yes, some parents definitely go overboard. If we’re going to err on one side or the other, it’s better to underdo it. And once children reach a certain age — around 12 or so, in my book — I believe that there are better, more effective methods of correcting them and disciplining them. But especially in children’s formative years, corporal punishment should be in the parents’ toolbox.
After all, I got spankings when I was little, and I turned out “alright.”
Deron Snyder is a regular contributor to The Root. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.