Are spankings abuse or discipline? The debate continues


I grew up in a household where spankings were acceptable and given often. So, I should be aggressive, abusive or mentally ill?

I am neither of those things, and neither are any of my siblings.

Working in the child care field, I see lots of these hostile behaviors and the question remains is it because they get spankings?

There is a lively debate on spankings. Is it an acceptable form of discipline or is it a punishment? So many parents and studies I’ve read believe the more children are spanked the more likely they are to deft their parents and experience antisocial behavior, aggression and cognitive difficulties.

Social Learning Theory by Albert Bandura Bobo did a doll experiment on this subject. Elizabeth Gershoff did a report on physical punishment in 2008 and believes there is a risk of harm from spankings.

Parents see the cons of spanking because experts are against it or they believe there are very limited circumstances where it would be effective. Experts also believe that spankings teach children to hit.

There are so many pros to spanking when administered by loving well intentioned parents. Spanking is meant to (and might) shock the child into behaving better. It is used to send a strong message to not do something again.

Spankings should be done in a non-abusive disciplinary environment. A spanking is never meant to be used as a form of punishment. It should also be a parental decision made on an individual basis. It should never be motivated by anger or meant to illicit feelings of shame or guilt. A child should always receive a clear warning before any offense that might merit a spanking and understand why they are receiving this disciplinary action.

The spanking should be administered in a loving, clear and consistent manner. Afterwards, the lesson should be gently reiterated so that the child understands and learns from this teachable experience.

Parents need to know the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment is motivated by anger, focuses on the past and results in either compliance or rebellion. There are feelings of shame or guilt. Fear may be felt. Discipline is motivated by love for the child, focuses on the future and results in obedience and feelings of security. Spankings should fall under discipline not as a punishment.

Spankings are most effective as a deterrent to undesirable behavior for children between the ages of 2-6. Reasoning and taking away privileges often simply don’t work with children in this age range. Around the age of 8, parents should be phasing out spankings. Parents should be using timeouts and privilege removal, although these still are forms of discipline.

I read B.F. Skinners Behaviorist Theory that found when used correctly, spankings lead to lower defiance and lower aggression than 10 to 13 other disciplinary alternatives with which it was compared. Studies opposing spankings say that it has long-term negative consequences such an increased anti-social behavior.

But in my field of work, I have found that those same consequences can be associated with nearly every other kind of non-physical punishment.

Spanking is no better or worse than grounding or sending children to their rooms. It’s naïve to conclude that parents are causing kids to be more aggressive by using spankings as a form of discipline. Continue to love your children and provide a warm and caring home for them. All kids need that. Parents should want their child to understand that the gentle sting of a spanking is connected to the greater and often long-term, pain of harmful choices.

Prevention is easier than a cure.

Brittany Carr is the Director at The Children’s Corner Learning Center, 1720 Smith St., Orange Park.


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