Landon: What is your stance on spanking ?

"Dear Ron,

I have a follow up question about spanking. The extra reading was against spanking and made the argument based on spiritual beliefs. I was raised Catholic as was my mom, cousins, and uncles. We were all spanked. What is your stance on spanking and can you share some personal experiences with us (of you as a child and as a parent)? One last thing. If it's "wrong" to spank according to the church, why did nuns in school slap kids on the hands with rulers? Thanks for the extra input!" - Landon

Landon,

The nuns practiced what can be referred to as ‘Corporal Discipline’ (CD): (Note my deliberate use of the less inflammatory word ‘discipline’ in place of the more commonly used, ‘corporal punishment’).

Many Christians have attempted to use biblical citations over the centuries to justify or prohibit CD ; it seems we can support both positions biblically, so this is tricky. Many references in Proverbs and Kings seem to support CD, Proverbs 23:14 is most assuredly the inspiration behind William Butler’s 1664 poem which counsels “spare the rod and spoil the child”.  Many of us in 2015 would rather listen to the admonishment of Jesus when he says “Go, and sin no more”. But He, of course, was not talking in that instance about raising children.

The field of psychology is similarly conflicted.  Here’s what we do know: a typical child of 3, or 4, or 13, or 14 has less reasoning power than a typical adult of 30 years; to be sure, a two year old has a sponge for a brain but the ‘thinking’ part of our brain (mostly the pre-frontal cortex) is massively underdeveloped. That is true in most cases until the later teen years; we even know from brain science that the pre-frontal cortex isn’t completely functional until the late twenties. While the specifics in each child are different, we know that we are not as successful at reasoning with a young child as you might be with an adult.

Thus, we are presented with a challenge, how do we impart wisdom in a child who has limited reasoning skills?  This reminds me of an old joke about how we learn wisdom. A man had just received a major promotion, a new employee asked; “how did you do it?  "Two words said the man; ‘Right decisions’." "And how do you make right decisions?" "One word; ‘Experience’." "And how did you get Experience?" "Two words; ‘Wrong decisions’." Our decisions, right or wrong, provide consequences which lead to wisdom. Thus, in order to teach children, we use various appropriate forms of consequences (sometimes know as discipline) alongside our attempts at reasoning.

So, was the nun in your school teaching you wisdom by having you experience the consequences of your wrong decisions? Maybe. I don’t know of the authority nor of the research the nuns were relying on for using this method but I do know they were a bright and well-educated group. You and I both know that is considered ‘old school’ but I suspect there was a kernel of truth in the method and if it was delivered swiftly and dispassionately then it may well have been a valid way to ‘discipline’ a young child. I would be the first to suggest that if it was accompanied by ostracization, contempt or fear inducing anger that it would have been counter-productive but I can’t make the case that it didn’t work if it was delivered as a deliberate educational technique.

In any case, my personal admonishment is that since we adults have imperfect control of our emotions, consistently delivering any sort of CD with dignity and love can be very tricky. It is our absolute duty to create boundaries for our children and boundaries, of course, must include stated consequences or they are just suggestions. If we are careful to create and state sensible consequences we can avoid the risks incumbent with CD. Nobody said child-rearing was easy.

Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician
National Certified Counselor #267299
AASAT Certified Sexual Recovery Therapist
Recovering Hearts Counseling

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