Do What I Say Not What I Do

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer right away. I think one of the biggest problem with being a parent today is all the judgement we receive. No matter what we do someone will judge us for it and although I try not to judge, I’d be lying if I said I never, ever do. I really don’t want this to be a judgmental blog however. (Most of my posts seem to end in everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya). The purpose of this post is to defend my parenting and not to judge individuals for their own choices. I will be writing negative things about other parenting styles in order to show why I make the choices I do but this is not meant as a personal judgement on other parents.

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If that meme was more honest it would say “Once upon a time parents beat the crap out of their kids and those kids grew up emotionally stunted and took their bottled up anger out on their own children by beating the crap out of them.” Okay, that might have been a little harsh. In all fairness the meme doesn’t actually mention physical punishment but I think it’s implied as “once upon a time” corporal was the punishment of choice. It’s also important to understand I am not against discipline. Discipline is absolutely essential to raising children, they need firm boundaries. What so many people don’t seem to realize is that spanking does not equal discipline.

It seems lately my Facebook newsfeed has been bombarded with pro-spanking memes making ridiculous claims. (Oddly enough, I had trouble actually finding most of those memes while writing this. So I apologize that I don’t have as many examples as I would like). As fun as memes are, they also really annoy me. People take them so seriously even though they often aren’t based on any fact or research or logic at all. Any idiot with an Internet connection can make a meme.

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See, I made that, it only takes a few minutes. My point is just because it’s on a meme doesn’t mean it’s true and I’m sick I being told I’m a bad parent because I choose not to spank. Particularly since the vast majority of experts and research back up my choice. Parents who don’t spank are blamed (in meme at least) for all of societies problems. Which is interesting since there are way more parents who spank their kids than who don’t. The statistics vary (all say spanking is most common) but one I saw repeatedly was that 94% of 3-4 year olds were spanked in the last year. So are those 6% of kids not getting spanked the cause if all our societal woes? If you really believe that the younger generation are mostly entitled spoiled brats yet most of them were spanked as kids, how can not spanking be the cause? There’s also this assumption that there was some magical time when all people were decent, hardworking people and everything was perfect. Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s complete bull. There has always been violence and other negatives in every society and the older generations have always scowled at the younger. Yes the world has changed but in good ways as well as bad.

I acknowledge that a lot of people have gone too far the other way and fail to discipline their kids at all. Being an over-indulgent permissive parent isn’t good for children. I think many parents who don’t give their kids enough discipline have decided not to spank but don’t know how to discipline without spanking. I mostly just feel sorry for these parents. Being an overly strict militant “because I said so” type parent doesn’t benefit children either. The assumption that if you don’t spank your children that means you don’t discipline them is completely false. The most important part of discipline isn’t punishment, it’s teaching. Any punishment (especially physical punishment) given without a talk about why the child is being punished and the reason why that behavior is wrong is completely ineffective. So, little Sally does something wrong and is spanked without discussion. All little Sally has learned is “If Mom or Dad sees me do this I get spanked. So I better not let Mom or Dad catch me doing that.” It doesn’t teach a child what they’re doing is wrong or why, only not to get caught doing it. Some parents do use explanation and other discipline in conjunction with spanking and I can respect that, even though I choose to use other methods.

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This was one of the most ridiculous memes I found but not the only one making claims that kids who aren’t spanked will end up in prison or as a criminal. There’s no evidence whatsoever that this is true. The evidence actually points the other direction. There have been numerous studies connecting spanking to aggression as well as substance abuse, anti-social behavior and these are just the problems linked to spanking that are likely to land a person in jail. If there has been a study revealing the percentage of prison inmates who were spanked as children, I couldn’t find it. However, 80% of prison inmates were physically abused as children (some states consider spanking with anything other than an open hand abuse). Which clearly demonstrates that lack of physical discipline is not the problem. Or maybe the other 20% of prisoners are these horrible people who weren’t spanked that I keep hearing about.

My parents philosophy was to only spank (just a couple of swats over the pants) if we (their three children) put ourselves in immediate physical danger. If I was ever spanked or threatened with a spanking I don’t remember it. So I don’t consider myself someone who was spanked as a child. The main reason I don’t spank or plan to spank my daughter, although most experts back me up, comes from my own observation. The old saying “do what I say not what I do” just doesn’t work well with kids. One of the main ways children learn is by modeling or copying their caregivers actions and behaviors. If you swear in front of Little Billy it doesn’t matter how many times you tell him not to say those words, as long as he hears you say them he will too. Same goes with “please” and “thank you” it’s great to tell kids to be polite but seeing their parents be polite is the quickest way the learn it. I see my daughter copying my words and actions on a daily basis. A couple of months ago she picked up  a bag, put it over her shoulder like a purse and exclaimed “I’m going to Zumba!” As a child I was told at school and church and by my parents that it was good to give to charity. But what really sticks in my head, the real reason why I give to charity is because I saw my mom physically putting money in the Salvation Army drive bucket. The examples we set as parents make ten times the impression on children than what we tell them. So (logic alert) then how can we hit a child (spanking is hitting) and expect them to learn not to hit. It’s a prime example of “do what I say not what I do.” Several studies have linked spanking to increased aggression in children. The most in-depth and comprehensive study I read about found that children who were spanked more than twice a month** at three years old were more aggressive at age five. I’ve gotten in more than one discussion about spanking with people who are adamant that it worked so well to keep them in line as children. Then in later conversations they would tell me stories about all the crazy bad things they got away with growing up. Stuff I would have never dreamed of doing. One coworker who fervently endorsed spanking even told me about the horrible fights he got into with his brothers, one of them beating him badly with a golf club. I always wondered how these people didn’t see the connection and would yell about how well spanking worked and then laugh about how aggressive and misbehaved they were as children. Of course all children are different and some are naturally more difficult than others. And even the best parent in the world can have an unruly child or one that grows up to have severe problems. Parenting can only go so far and adults are responsible for their own decisions.

The excuse I’ve heard most often for spanking is  “I was spanked and I turned out okay.” Well, guess what? I wasn’t spanked and I turned out okay too. For one thing “okay” is relative and I’ve heard some very not “okay” people say that. But mostly just because something didn’t horribly damage you doesn’t mean it is the only or even best way of doing things. It used to be common place for women to drink and smoke during pregnancy and most babies turned out okay. That doesn’t mean I’m going to knock back some beers the next time I’m “in the family way” (okay, I don’t actually like beer but I won’t drink any cocktails either). I never once wore a helmet while riding my bike when I was a kid and I turned out okay. But I sure as hell make my daughter wear one. Those may be extreme examples but still relevant.

Another reason I often hear for spanking is that kids need to fear their parents to respect them. Fear and respect may overlap sometimes but they are not the same thing. I fear serial killers, I do not respect them. I respect my husband, I do not fear him. I can’t even imagine how sad it would be to grow up afraid of your parents. Yes, if your child is terrified of you, they will probably behave but that’s not way for a kid to live and kids also won’t go to their parents with their problems if they’re afraid. Fear based discipline may be easier and get quicker results but it is not good for the family dynamic.  I’m glad to say my daughter doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit afraid of us. She knows the “I mean business voice” but I wouldn’t say it scares her. You may be wondering what my un-spanked toddler is like. I have to say, I think we have been lucky to get a naturally, relatively easy toddler (if you can call any toddler easy). But I think we deserve a tiny bit of credit as parents. Of course she misbehaves sometimes, she throws tantrums and gets into things she shouldn’t but for an almost two-year old she’s comparatively good. I can’t tell you how often we have servers at restaurants or random people at the store comment on how good she is.

Okay, I’m going to briefly mention some really uncomfortable things that I feel should be touched on but I don’t want to dwell on. First, spanking can lead to actual abuse. As a child gets used to being spanked parents sometimes escalate the corporal punishment until the child gets really injured. Second, on rare occasions a child can associate the pain from spanking with love and even sex (remember spanking occurs on an erogenous zone) and it can lead to sexual deviance as an adult or possibly worse cause them to seek out abusive relationships. With all the reasons not to spank and many alternative forms of discipline. I choose the alternatives. Trust me, most kids today would rather be spanked than have their PSP or iPod taken away for a week. Can I say for certainty that I will never, ever under any circumstances spank a child? I really can’t, but I hope I never do.

I did find a minority of experts who say an occasional spanking (over the pants, open hand) in conjunction with other discipline can be beneficial to children. And I honestly don’t believe if you spank your children you’re a bad parent. I have known many great parents who spank their children. So, if YOU want to spank YOUR children that’s your choice. (Although, I urge you to research the subject and not just do it because that’s what you’re used too). But please for the love of all that is holy please stop blaming me and those like me for all of societies problems. And please, please stop posting stupid memes about what a terrible parent I am for doing things in a way that is different from you and possibly a way that is harder but the way that I am sure is best for my family.

* If you would like to discipline your children without spanking but don’t know how or are having trouble there are a lot of great resources. For toddlers The Happiest Toddler on the Block has really helped us. If you need help finding resources, I would be happy to oblige.

** I originally posted “year” instead of “month” accidentally. My bad.

Sources

(I was really lazy and didn’t follow proper bibliography format this time but it should be enough if you want to find out more or check my info).

“Is it Okay to Spank?” by Kitty O’Callaghan. CNN.com

http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org

“Spanking Teaches Kids All the Wrong Lessons” by Laura Berman. Chicago Sun-Times.

“Pro/Con: Spanking” by Jessica Pauline Ogilvie. Los Angeles Times

“Spanking Can Make Children Aggressive, Study Says” by Pohla Smith. Post-gazette.com.

“Spanking Children: A Guide for the Science Minded” by Gwen Dewer P.h.d. Parenting Science.

“The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime” by Adah Maurer P.h.d. The Natural Child Project.

“Plain Talk About Spanking” by Jordan Riak http://www.nospank.com

I also used general information from my college human development class, most of which was verified by other sources above.

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2 thoughts on “Do What I Say Not What I Do

  1. Well said. I keep hearing and seeing similar things about how corporeal punishment is so great (even to the extent of abuse in my opinion). Thanks for speaking out.

    I was spanked a handful of times growing up. Those few times worked for me; however, spanking never worked for my sister. Her personality just did not do well with that form of punishment. Having been spanked though, even rarely, I found it was my go-to method with my sister and could easily get out of control. I made the decision to not spanking her anymore and although it was hard to stop (she was extremely difficult) I did. I think a lot of what we use as discipline is merely habit and what we know best which is what we grew up with.

    As far as parenting methods, I’ve heard good things about the book you mentioned, as well as seen great results from Parenting with Love and Logic.

    1. I’m glad you’ve decided not to use corporal punishment. I really don’t think an occasional mild spanking is likely to cause harm to a child but I think there are other effective forms of discipline. And I do agree that what some people call spanking I would call abuse. I haven’t read To Parent with Love and Logic but it sounds like a good resource, I think I’ll check if its available on Kindle. You might like The Happiest Baby on the Block too. It has great ways to sooth infants and help them sleep better (so you can sleep more). I like that he advocates for more natural parenting but is a little more reasonable (in my opinion) than the experts who advocate complete attachment parenting. I don’t have anything against attachment parenting, I just don’t think I could do it without going insane 🙂 I’m a big fan if every family doing what’s best for them. Btw, I’m sure you’re going to be a great mom!

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