by Jordan Riak
1992, Revised 1994, Revised 1996
Copyright is waived on this publication.
PLAIN TALK ABOUT SPANKING*
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.
*'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.
...The Babe that weeps
the Rod beneath
Writes Revenge in realms of death..
William Blake (1757-1827)
Auguries of Innocence, Lines
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.