by Jordan Riak 

1992, Revised 1994, Revised 1996
Copyright is waived on this publication.


*'Spanking' is a euphemism. That is, it is a pleasant-sounding word for a practice that is anything but pleasant. We use it here because it is the most commonly recognized term in our language denoting violent behavior by adults toward children. 'Hitting,' 'beating,' and 'battery' are more accurate and more honest words, but we've decided to stay with 'spanking' here for ease of understanding.

Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) offers Plain Talk about Spanking for the benefit of children everywhere. The ideas that you will read in this booklet are not new or revolutionary. There have always been wise and perceptive people in every civilized culture who have advocated nonviolent methods for socializing children. But, for the most part, their good advice has been ignored or rejected and the consequences to humanity have been incalculable. In these few pages we have attempted to extract the essence of their message and offer it once again. We express our deepest gratitude to our many friends for their enthusiasm, expert counsel and generous support.
...The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death..
William Blake (1757-1827)
Auguries of Innocence, Lines 73, 74

TODAY one finds no support for spanking in the research and writing of acknowledged leaders in the behavioral sciences. This informed consensus has been building for many decades and its beginnings can be found centuries ago. 

That is not to say there are no advocates for spanking, as indeed it would be false to claim there are no advocates for wife beating. Both practices are widespread and people who engage in either of them usually believe they have valid reasons. 

Spanking, like wife beating, is physically and psychologically dangerous. The perceived short-term benefits to the doer are far outweighed by the actual and potential harm to the receiver. 

The Lasting Effect on Children

Some researchers claim that every act of violence by an adult toward a child, no matter how brief or how mild, leaves a permanent emotional scar. The effect of these scars is cumulative. To some extent we can demonstrate this from personal experience. Most of us must admit that the most indelible and most unpleasant childhood memories are those of being hurt by our parents. Some people find the memory of such events so unpleasant they pretend that they were trivial, even funny. You'll notice that they smile when they describe what was done to them. It is shame, not pleasure, that makes them smile. As a protection against present pain, they disguise the memory of past feelings. 

In an attempt to deny or minimize the dangers of spanking, many spankers have been heard to argue, "Spanking is very different from child abuse," or "A little smack on the bottom never did anybody any harm." But they are wrong. 

A good comparison to spanking is food poisoning. In the majority of cases, the victims of food poisoning recover with no apparent, lasting ill effects. But who needs it? The mere fact that a person is likely to survive is hardly proof that the experience is beneficial. 

Informed parents recognize that spanking their children is like lacing their food with a toxic substance. No good can result and the risk is great. 

But some parents will ask, "How can you claim to be a responsible parent if you don't grab the child who is about to run out into traffic and deliver a good smack so that your warnings about the danger of the street will be remembered?" 

In fact, being spanked throws children into a state of powerful emotional turmoil making it difficult for them to learn the lessons adults claim they are trying to teach. Delivering a "good smack" may indeed serve an adult's need to vent rage, but at the expense of causing rage in the child. While the adult's relief is transitory, the effect on the child is long-term. Spanking does not teach children that cars and trucks are dangerous. It teaches them that the grown-ups on whom they depend are dangerous. 

Lost Trust

The experience of being spanked erodes trust which bonds child and parent. The spanked child is less able to regard the parent as a source of love, protection and comfort which are vital to every child's healthy development. In the child's eyes the parent now appears to be the source of danger and pain. Nurturing and protection of the child, which should be unconditional, are displaced by aggression. The child who is thus betrayed, like the child who is denied adequate food, warmth or rest, suffers and fails to mature optimally. 


Some parents rarely spank or don't spank at all, but threaten to do terrible things. "If you don't keep quiet while Mommy is on the phone, I'm going to sew your mouth shut with a big needle." Or, "Somebody is going to cut your fingers off with a big scissors. That's what they do to naughty children who are always touching other people's things." They find it easy to manage children by these means - at least temporarily. 

At first, while children believe adults' threats, they obey out of fear. But they soon learn to sneak and tell lies in order to evade the terrible punishments they believe await them. Later, as they discover the threats are empty, they conclude (correctly) that grown-ups also are liars. 

When trust between children and their closest caretakers is damaged in this way, the children's ability to form trusting relationships with others is also damaged. This may render them incapable of ever achieving cooperation or intimacy with anyone. People who have been hurt in this way see all relationships as negotiations, as deals to be won or lost. They see honesty and trustfulness in others as weaknesses to be exploited, exactly as it was once done to them. 


Spanking teaches children that human interaction is based on force, that might makes right. The more a child is spanked, the greater is the likelihood that that child will become an adult who deals with others, not by reason and good example, but by force. What kind of person are we describing? 

The bully is such a person. The rapist is such a person. The authoritarian spouse who dominates, manipulates and terrorizes his or her partner is such a person. The quack, the con artist, the rogue cop, the rogue Wall Street trader, the corrupt politician, the demagogue -- each of these is such a person. And so are cowards and panderers who derive their power secondhand by clinging to such people as those just listed. 

Spousal Battery and Spanking

In the overwhelming majority of cases, husbands and wives whose relationship includes violence are also violent toward their children. Such parents probably were spanked when they were children and witnessed others being spanked. 

Battering and battered spouses who spank their children are raising them to be batterers and victims exactly like themselves. The children learn from their parents' example that the way to vent frustration, express disapproval and assert authority is by hitting someone smaller and weaker than themselves. This principal is demonstrated for the children every time they see their parents fight as well as every time they receive a whipping. 

They learn, once they are big enough and strong enough, they can control others by threatening or hurting them. They learn that it is okay for husbands and wives to batter each other and for adults to batter children. 

When children, whose personalities have been formed in violent households, grow up and produce children of their own, they find it very difficult to break free from the behaviors they have witnessed and experienced. The skills they apply to family life will be the poor ones bequeathed them by their parents and they are likely to perpetuate the cycle of violence through their own innocent children. 

As spanking disappears from family life, other forms of domestic violence will also disappear. Not before. 

Sexual Molestation and Spanking

Spanked children don't regard their bodies as being their own personal property. Spanking trains them to accept the idea that adults have absolute authority over their bodies, including the right to inflict pain. Being hit on the buttocks, moreover, persuades them that even their sexual areas are subject to the will of adults. The child who submits to a spanking on Monday is not likely to say "No" to a molester on Tuesday. People who sexually molest or exploit children know this. They stalk potential victims among children who have been taught to "obey or else" because such children are the easiest targets. 

Spanking the Buttocks
and Sexual Development

Spanking of the buttocks can stimulate immature sexual feelings in some children. They have no control over those feelings nor do they understand what is happening to them. The tragic consequence for some of these children is that they form a connection between pain, humiliation and sexual arousal that endures for the rest of their lives. Even though they may marry, raise families, hold responsible positions in the community and show no signs of emotional disturbance, they are secretly and shamefully tormented by a need which, in some cases, compels them to hire prostitutes whom they spank or from whom they receive spankings. The pornography industry does a thriving business catering to the needs of these unfortunate individuals. 

Medical science has long recognized, and documented in great detail, the link between buttocks-beating in childhood and the subsequent development of deviant sexual behaviors. This should be reason enough never to spank a child. 

Physical Danger of Hitting the Buttocks

Located deep in the buttocks is the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the body. A severe blow to the buttocks, particularly with an instrument such as a piece of wood, could cause bleeding in the muscles that surround that nerve, possibly injuring it and causing impairment to the involved leg. 

The coccyx, or tail bone, a very delicate bone at the base of spine is also susceptible to injury when a child is hit in that region. And when children are required to bend over for beatings, their sex organs may be injured. Dislocation of the coccyx and genital bruising as a result of violent punishments are frequently reported by hospital authorities. 

Some people, in their attempt to justify battering children's buttocks, claim that God or nature intended that part of the anatomy for spanking. The claim is brazenly perverse. No part of the human body was made to be violated. 

Physical Danger of Hitting the Hands

The child's hand is particularly vulnerable because ligaments, nerves, tendons and blood vessels are close to the skin which has no underlying protective tissue. Striking the hands of younger children is especially dangerous to the growth plates in the bones which, if damaged, can cause deformity or impaired function. Striking a child's hand can also cause fractures, dislocations and lead to premature osteoarthritis. 


Being shaken can cause a child blindness, whiplash, brain damage and even death. 

Spanking and Home,
Performance in School

Most teachers will tell you that the children who exhibit the most serious behavior problems at school are the ones who are the most mistreated at home. Children who are spanked at home have been conditioned to expect the same kind of management by authority figures outside the home. For these children, the battle zone which is their home life extends to include school life. This sets them up for academic failure and dropout, and clashes with juvenile authorities and the criminal justice system. 

In their attempt to erect a shield against what they perceive to be a comfortless, hostile world, these children naturally seek the company of other children with similar problems. "My parents and teachers don't understand me; my friends do," they say with cause. This is one reason street gangs evolve and why they are especially attractive to children whose self-esteem has been ruined by spanking, whupping, paddling, switching, humiliation, insults, threats, relentless criticism, unreasonable restrictions and physical and emotional neglect, etc. 

We should not be surprised that many youngsters reject the adult world to the degree they believe it has rejected them. Nor should we be surprised that adolescents, who throughout childhood have been the brunt of violence, will utilize violence as soon as they are able. As it often turns out, the aggressiveness that many young people cultivate because they believe it is essential to their survival propels them toward failure or catastrophe. Our crowded prisons are proof of this. 

Some teachers work tirelessly to redirect the aggressiveness which violence-ridden children have far too much of, and instill trust which violence-ridden children have far too little of. But that is a monumental task requiring specialized skills and a level of dedication which not all teachers possess or can maintain for extended periods. It requires extraordinary resources unavailable to the public school systems of the United States. 

School dropout and juvenile delinquency would cease to be major problems wracking our nation if only it were possible to persuade parents to stop socializing their children in ways guaranteed to make them antisocial and/or self-destructive. In other words, to stop the spanking and start the nurturing 

Spanking, Smoke, Drink and Drugs

To be spanked is a degrading, humiliating experience. The spanked child absorbs not only the blows, but the message they convey: "You're worthless. I reject you!" That message powerfully influences the child's developing personality. It instills self-hatred. 

Sooner or later every child is exposed to substances that promise instant relief from feelings of worthlessness and rejection. Everywhere people can be seen putting things into their bodies to make themselves feel good. But no one teaches the child that such relief is an illusion, that it is impossible to repair damaged self-esteem by means of something swallowed, inhaled or injected, but easy to bury it deeper under the weight of new problems. 

Spanking, Crime and Race

Racial discrimination and poverty are most often cited as reasons that a disproportionately high number of young black men come under the control of the criminal justice system. The assumption is reasonable and it is easy to demonstrate how discrimination results in poverty and poverty results in crime. This argument, however, leaves unexplained the fact that middle class black male youths commit significantly more crimes than poor white male youths. Clearly, poverty cannot be the only factor, or the primary factor influencing the crime rate. The principal cause lies elsewhere. It is revealed in research showing that African American parents generally favor the use of harsh physical punishments on their male children. We already know enough about the effects of corporal punishment on children of any color, either gender, rich or poor, to accurately predict what will result when a particular group relies on it as its chief socializing technique. The message here for all parents, irrespective of race, who hope to keep their young people in school, off the streets and out of jail is a simple one: NURTURE. DON'T SPANK. 

Spanking, Racism and Collective Hatreds

Spanking fills children with anger and the urge to retaliate. But this urge is almost never directly acted upon. Even the most severely spanked children, as a general rule, will not strike back at their batterers. Instead, they are likely to seek relief in fantasy where they can safely vent their anger against make-believe adversaries. Sometimes younger siblings or family pets serve this purpose. Popular entertainment also caters to this need. 

As children grow and come under the influence of the prejudices of their community, their anger is channeled toward approved scapegoats. Hate cults and extremist political factions beckon to them with open arms, offering an opportunity to convert fantasy into reality. In every generation, more than a few seize that offer. Their behaviors constitute the worst fallout of the spanking tradition. 

Spanking at School

Throughout the developed world, spanking by teachers has almost disappeared. It's illegal in every European country. (In Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Italy and Cyprus, no one in any circumstance, including a parent, is legally permitted to corporally punish a child.) Among the major, developed industrial nations, the United States is the most resistant to reform in this regard. But gradually more states are banning school corporal punishment, and in the states that allow it, a growing number of school districts are forbidding the practice. 

Still, there remain many teachers and school administrators who, like many parents, are unenlightened on this issue and persist in believing that it is okay to manage pupils by means of physical violence or the threat of it. What should enlightened parents do? 

If you knew that a school bus had bald tires and faulty brakes, you would not let your child ride that bus and you would demand that your school authorities correct the problem immediately. If you knew that the air ducts in your school were contaminated with asbestos, you'd remove your child immediately and alert other parents to the danger. Corporal punishment is no different. It is very dangerous and all sensible people in the community should unite in opposition to it. 

As a parent you have a right and an obligation to protect your child from known danger. Inform your local, regional and state education authorities that no one has your permission, nor the moral right, to endanger your child at school.

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