Tag Archives: corporal punishment

Why Parents Spank Their Children and Why They Should Stop

John hair and rylee at one

Let’s start with some numbers. About 30% of children have been hit/spanked by their caretakers or parents before turning 1 year old. About 85% of parents use hitting/spanking at some point to “discipline” their children. Spanking and hitting children is common among American parents.

Many parents who spank their children do so for religious, cultural, or other reasons. Many parents who spank or use corporal punishment are, in many ways, wonderful parents. The purpose of this blog—and the accompanying podcast—is not to villainize parents who spank. Instead, the purpose is to explore the positive and the negatives of spanking and guide readers (or listeners) toward the possibility that there are better alternatives to teaching children. If you want to listen now, here’s the podcast link: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/ or https://itunes.apple.com/fr/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?l=en

The next part of this blog is excerpted from the classic and popular book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” Just kidding. The book is neither classic nor popular. It also didn’t win any awards. But since I wrote the book, and I like it, I was briefly tempted to exaggerate its beauty and wonder. Now I’m back to reality. It’s a book. Some people find it helpful. But it didn’t make the New York Times bestseller list (yet).

Physical or Corporal Punishment (from Sommers-Flanagan and Sommers-Flanagan, 2011)

Physical or corporal punishment can involve hitting, pushing, slapping, washing children’s mouths out with soap, holding children down, and other physical encounters designed to obtain behavioral compliance. Corporal punishment always involves using direct power to reduce undesirable behavior.

Spanking is a particularly controversial topic with parents and when entering into a discussion about spanking practitioners are warned to use substantial sensitivity and tact (which we will discuss later). For now, we want to emphasize that our professional position on spanking and physical or corporal punishment is straightforward and based on psychological research and common sense. Kazdin (2008) provides an excellent description of what the research says about using punishment (including spanking):

. . . study after study has proven that punishment all by itself, as it is usually practiced in the home, is relatively ineffective in changing behavior. . . .

Each time, punishing your child stops the behavior for a moment. Maybe your child cries, too, and shows remorse. In our studies, parents often mistakenly interpret such crying and wails of I’m sorry! as signs that punishment has worked. It hasn’t. Your child’s resistance to punishment escalates as fast as the severity of the punishment does, or even faster. So you penalize more and more to get the same result: a brief stop, then the unwanted behavior returns, often worse than before. . . .

Bear in mind that about 35% of parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on. The surprisingly high percentage of line-crossers, and their general failure to improve their children’s behavior, points to a larger truth: punishment changes parents’ behavior for the worse more effectively than it changes children’s behavior for the better. And, as anyone knows who has physically punished a child more harshly than they meant to—and that would include most of us—it feels just terrible. (pp. 15, 16, 17)

For those of you who work with children and are familiar with the behavioral literature on punishment, Kazdin’s position on punishment is probably not new information. Virtually all child development and child behavior experts agree that punishment is ill-advised (Aucoin, Frick, & Bodin, 2006; Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010; Gershoff, 2002). And if you’ve tracked the rationale for avoiding punishment closely, you may have noticed that we—and Kazdin—haven’t even mentioned two of the main reasons why punishment is inadvisable: (1) Punishment generally models aggression and (2) punishment involves paying substantial attention to negative behavior—which is why it often backfires and becomes positively reinforcing.

In the end, however, Kazdin’s position and all the research data in the world probably won’t convince many parents to stop using punishment. This is no big surprise: Using too much punishment can be habitual, irrational, and cultural—which is why we almost always avoid trying to engage parents in a rational argument regarding the merits and disadvantages of spanking.

We have additional resources on how to talk with parents in ways to help them see alternatives to spanking. These include:

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast, Episode 19 (10/23/17) on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/fr/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?l=en

Or via Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Appendix B, Tip Sheet 1: The Rules of Spanking, from “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen” http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118012968.html

You can also check out Dr. Kazdin’s website and book at: http://alankazdin.com/

And here’s the description of the podcast:

Why Parents Spank Their Children and Why They Should Stop

What do you feel when your lovely child misbehaves and then the misbehavior continues or repeats? What happens when you feel terribly angry and just want to make your child’s behavior stop? What happens if you spank your child . . . and then . . . much to your relief, your child’s annoying behavior stops! In this episode, not only do Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the negative outcomes linked to spanking, John also annoys Sara so much that she takes the impressive step of turning off his microphone. Will John ever get to speak again? How long does his microphone time-out last? This episode includes a clip of what Cris Carter, former Minnesota Viking and Hall of Fame wide receiver, thinks about physical discipline. You also get to hear what Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff discovered in her meta-analysis of corporal punishment research.

When talking about B.F. Skinner and the science of negative reinforcement, for the first time in history, John says something that’s technically incorrect. If you’re the first person to correctly identify what John says that’s wrong, you will receive a copy of his book, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen.” You can enter by posting your idea on the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast Facebook page or on John’s blog, at johnsommersflanagan.com.

 

 

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Wishing for a Super Bowl that Promotes Non-Violence

It’s been a tough year for the National Football League. There was renewed emphasis (for a while) on the devastating brain damage caused by repeated concussions. Then there was the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. And then there was the Adrian Peterson child abuse incident. And now there’s the Aaron Hernandez trial for murder and weapons charges that started a couple days ago. All these scandals added up to big, bad publicity . . . so much so that the Fiscal Times noted in a recent headline that these incidents “Rocked the NFL.”

Then there was deflate-gate, the ridiculousness that led us to wonder if our football heroes might just be a bunch of cheats.

But wait.

Through all these scandals the NFL has continued laughing its way to the Bank with obscene gobs of money that could be used to wipe out Ebola or end child abuse. Last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made about $44 million. Vegas odds are that he’ll do better this year. Super Bowl advertisings are doing just fine, thank-you. And Katy Perry may or may not have a wardrobe malfunction tomorrow evening, but you can bet there will be millions of viewers. The NFL is right on pace to increase its economic worth to something well over being a $9 billion dollar industry. Not bad. Talk about Teflon.

It’s clear the situation is hopeless and that the Juggernaut that is the NFL will stroll into the future without substantially addressing anything that might be remotely linked to a social virtue. Nevertheless, I can’t stop cheering for underdogs, and that leaves me with an array of dreams that are so silly that I’m embarrassed to admit them. That said, I’ll go ahead and embrace my embarrassment and tell you what I’m watching for tomorrow.

I’ll be watching to see how many advertising bucks are used to promote domestic violence or child abuse prevention. Will we see NFL players, coaches, owners, and the commissioner go on record to support sexual assault prevention? Might there be room for the tiniest of sprinklings of valuable educational public service announcements during the four hour Super Bowl feast?

I think not; but I hold out hope.

And here’s my biggest irrational wish. I’m wishing for the NFL to provide educational information about the dangers of corporal punishment. Adrian Peterson said something to the effect that all he did was send his kiddo out to get a stick so he could beat him with it, just like his Momma did to him. Peterson was talking about our great American tradition of believing that it’s a good thing for parents to hit their children.

Even more disturbing than the single Adrian Peterson incident is the fact that during a typical 4 hour time period (about the length of the Super Bowl broadcast) there are approximately 1,500 reports of child abuse . . . and so maybe, just maybe, we could use a little NFL-sponsored education here.

But what really smacks my pigskin is the fact that Adrian Peterson’s parenting philosophy is still alive and well on the internet. In particular, it’s featured on the website of Christian “parenting expert” James Dobson. Seriously. It’s on a Christian-based website. This is stunning not only because there’s a truckload of science telling us that hitting kids is linked to bad outcomes, but also because it’s pretty difficult to imagine the Jesus that I read about in the Bible hitting children with a stick . . . or advocating the hitting of children with a stick.

Now that it’s the 21st century and time for Super Bowl XLIX, shouldn’t we know better? Shouldn’t we know that we shouldn’t send our kids out to get sticks so we can beat them? Come on NFL . . . just share that fun fact. Just come out and say you don’t support beating children . . . and how about you take 0.001% of your net worth and use it to launch an educational campaign that will teach parents what to do instead of hitting kids.

That’s what I’ll be watching for tomorrow . . . if I can manage to stomach turning on the game at all.

The Montana Parenting Podcast Needs You!

In about 10 days Dr. Sara Polanchek and I will produce our first parenting podcast. This is a project supported by grants from the Engelhard Foundation and the Morris and Helen Silver Foundation. We are very grateful for this support.

If you’re reading this, consider offering us some assistance. Nope, I’m not asking for cash (not yet anyway). What we need is a little of your fabulous creative input. In particular, please email Sara or me or post on this blog your answer to the following question:

WHAT COOL, CATCHY, AND PROFOUND TITLE SHOULD WE GIVE TO OUR PODCAST?

Okay, maybe you need more information.

The plan is for Sara and I to produce about 50 parenting podcasts. Each one will be about 15-20 minutes long. We’re trying to be interesting, sometimes provocative, and cutting edge. For example, our first podcast will be on spanking or corporal punishment and, among other things (like our pithy and educational anecdotes),  we’ll be weaving science and Adrian Peterson and Chris Carter’s commentary on corporal punishment into the show. In fact, we have so much to say on this that it may end up being a two-parter.

We have many planned topics, but since our goal is 50 “episodes” you’re also welcome to provide us with your thoughts on topics YOU think we should cover.

We also have lots of expertise (IMHO), but if you happen to be an expert or know an expert whom you think we should have as a guest on our program, feel free to offer that too.

The goal of the podcast is to provide interesting and helpful information for parents and parenting educators. The podcast will be posted on the National Parenting Education Network (NPEN) website, as well as other websites interested in promoting positive, research-based, developmentally sensitive parenting for the 21st century. You can check out NPEN at npen.org. We advocate FIRM, but NONVIOLENT parenting.

In summary, please share any or all of the following:

YOUR IDEAS FOR A SMASHING PODCAST TITLE

YOUR IDEAS FOR FUN AND INTERESTING TOPICS

and (here’s the money thing)

YOUR IDEAS FOR COMPANIES OR INDIVIDUALS WHOM YOU THINK WOULD LIKE TO SPONSOR INDIVIDUAL SHOWS FOR THE BARGAIN PRICE OF $200 (OR MORE).

Thanks for reading and have a fabulous weekend!

John SF

 

 

The Classroom Swat (or Why I Don’t Believe in Spanking)

Mr. Carter was 6’2” and so I had to look up 14 inches to make glancing eye contact one last time before he said, “Grab your ankles.” Then I bent over. Then there was a loud pop. And then . . . the searing burn. 

It was my first and last classroom swat. I stood up quickly. I stuck out my chest and held my head high. I knew from watching the swat routine previously that it was all about the walk back to your seat. Don’t strut too much.  Don’t smile or Mr. Carter might call you back for an encore.  But keep your poise, don’t look defeated, and never, ever cry. 

My best friend Mark was next. When Mr. Carter told him to grab his ankles, Mark’s hands kept reflexively swinging back up to protect his backside.  And when it was over, he cried.  The whole class saw the tears rolling down his cheeks.  Mark flunked the humiliation test. His chin drooped as he walked back to his seat.

Mr. Carter was the biggest and coolest 6th grade teacher in my school.  My older sister thought he was the coolest dude on the planet; nearly everyone loved him.  He was the only African-American teacher in our school and one of the few men.  I remember him dropping an egg into a jar of coke in class; it was a quick science experiment.  And I remember his big smile.  

Part of me understands why Mr. Carter gave us all ‘the paddle’ that day. Eight of us boys were late coming in from recess.  We were in a big snowball fight and didn’t hear the bell.  We didn’t know recess was over until the playground was empty.  We sprinted to class while imagining our fate.

Mr. Carter’s swat made an impression on me. I’d never been late from recess before and I never was again.  I learned that the consequences for lateness were painful.  But I also learned that physical pain damages trust and that punishment can’t eliminate defiance.  I learned I could tolerate pain and feel scorn for the person causing me the pain.  I learned about the urge for revenge.  And I lost a little respect for Mr. Carter.

In my 25 years counseling adults and children, I’ve heard many reasons why parents hit their kids.  Some parents say: “It gets their attention” or “I only spank when I have to.”  Others tell me, “I believe in discipline” or they say “I spank because it works.”  And there’s my favorite of all: “I got spanked when I was a kid and I turned out just fine.”  It’s tempting, but I make a point of never arguing with adults when they tell me they turned out just fine.

The advantages of spanking or inflicting pain to control behavior are clear.  It’s quick.  Whether it’s Tabasco sauce on the tongue or an electric shock, pain captures your attention.  And most of the time, it suppresses the behavior it’s intended to suppress.  But research has repeatedly shown that corporal punishment is neither an effective or efficient behavior modifier. Maybe that’s why the famous psychologist B. F. Skinner was adamantly against punishment. Punishment, pain, or spanking is linked to more problems than solutions.

Estimates vary, but about 50% or more of parents still regularly use spanking as discipline.  Spanking is an American child-rearing tradition.  It’s quick and simple.  But the consequences are complex and longstanding.  Most of us recall when we were hit by our parents.  It’s hard to forget when you get hit by somebody way bigger than you are. Hitting kids almost always makes an impression.  Unfortunately, it’s an impression that’s neither healthy nor positive.  Parents can do better than to spank their kids. 

Years ago, Mr. Carter died.  I mourned his death.  Despite his paddle, he was a good man.  He taught me and others many important lessons about life.  But I still remember that swat and it spoils some of my memory of him.  I know it wasn’t necessary.  Mr. Carter could have sat down with the eight of us.  He could have looked us each in the eye.  He could have tried to understand our situation.  He could have let my friend Mark avoid humiliation.  He could have expressed his disappointment in us.  He could have had us stay in during the next recess.  He could have used many options that wouldn’t have increased my defiance and decreased my respect for him.  But he went for the quick solution. 

Discipline is about teaching and learning.  It requires patience and creativity.  Using pain as a discipline method was below Mr. Carter’s standards.  He was a creative and enthusiastic teacher; in the long run, he could have had an even more positive influence without hitting kids. And if he were alive to read this, I’m sure he’d never swat again.