Is Spanking Harmful for Children?

Is Spanking Harmful for Children?

Some of our readers may hardly know what “spanking” means, while others know only too well the meaning of this term. At one time, surely most families used spanking as a means of correction or corporal discipline. Literally, the verb spank means “to slap on the buttocks with a flat object or with the open hand, as for punishment” (The American Heritage College Dictionary).

Have you ever been spanked as a child? In my own youth, this wasn’t a common form of punishment or correction—for our family or in school. I only remember the time when I must have disobeyed my mother and she picked up a paddle and chased me around the kitchen table, while I vainly tried to persuade her not to do this!  In those days, schools used spanking as a form of punishment as well. One time, in second grade, I worked ahead of the present lesson and when the teacher discovered that I had been over-ambitious, she took me to the end of the aisle, had me lean over the desk, and paddled me. I survived! At least, that is how I remember the somewhat unjust incident!

These days it has often become unpopular for parents to spank their children. Further, it has become unlawful for some schools to permit or encourage spanking of the students, regardless of the amount of rebellion manifested. Granted, there are some states and some communities in those states that endorse this form of corporal punishment, but it would seem that their number has become fewer over the years.

Just today, in the newspaper, we find an article entitled, “Spanking Ineffective and Harmful for Kids, Doctors Say.”  The piece plainly says, “Parents should not spank their children, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Monday in the most strongly worded policy statement warning against the harmful effects of corporal punishment in the home.” The 67,000 doctors represented by this organization say that pediatricians should advise “parents against the use of spanking, which is defined as ‘noninjurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.” Supposedly, spanking is “humiliating, scary or threatening,” according to the article.

The article says that “a 2016 analysis of multiple studies, for example, found that children do not benefit from spanking.” “Certainly you can get a child’s attention, but it’s not an effective strategy to teach right from wrong,” said Dr. Robert D. Sege, a pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center. The article continues, “Corporal punishment is associated with increased aggression and makes it more likely that children will be defiant in the future.” Continuing with the article, these professionals say that those children punished in this way had lower IQ scores and reduced gray matter in the brain!

What shall we say about this article and the study that it was based on? First, we must emphasize that God never intended spanking to have a physically harmful effect on the body of a child. Nor did God intend for the child to react with a resentful spirit. We must emphasize that what God says is not to be confused with what these doctors are saying.

If God is Creator and has made our human bodies, and if He knows what are the best training methods to be used with children, we must not be intimidated by reports like this. The written Word of God (the Bible) does speak about spanking, particularly in the book of Proverbs and it leaves no doubt about what God thinks of this practice. Admittedly, there are no clear-cut instructions in the New Testament about spanking children but neither should we think that it retracts what has already been revealed in the Old Covenant writings.

What do we read in the Proverbs? Let’s notice a few of the clear teachings. Keep in mind that there are many, many scriptures here that deal with raising children, but we’ll only examine the ones that deal with child discipline or corporal punishment.

Proverbs 13:24. “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Doesn’t this say that if we were to take the advice of these unbelieving pediatricians, we would be manifesting a “hatred” of our children? Doesn’t it also say that if we truly love our children, we will “discipline” them “diligently”? This would say that we must choose between what these unbelieving child raisers say and what God says. It is interesting, isn’t it, that for hundreds of years, parents would discipline their children—with much better results than we see presently in our permissive and humanistic age!

Proverbs 19:18. “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death.” Although the verse says nothing about the “rod,” we do know that “discipline” would probably include this. If we fail to exercise proper discipline, perhaps through a false sense of “compassion,” the result will not be good. It would be dire!

Proverbs 20:30. “Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts.” Some may be tempted to just forget about the physical part of discipline but this passage does show that there is an important part that it serves.

Proverbs 22:15. “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” It is natural for the young child to manifest a foolishness in the way he or she conducts himself or herself. What will correct this natural bent? The use of “the rod of discipline.” Surely we must not harm a child, but this instruction would encourage us to use this discipline for the good of the child.

Proverbs 23:13-14. “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from Sheol.” This is quite plain, isn’t it. It says that even if we use corporal discipline with the “rod,” it will do no lasting harm to the child at all. The result will be good for we will deliver the child from a terrible fate. We might notice that scriptures like this refer to a “rod”—something that will hurt but not harm the child.

Proverbs 29:15. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” This verse shows that two responses go together if we are to help the disobedient and rebellious child. We must not only use the “rod” in discipline, but also use “reproof.” Let’s explain to the child why you—the parent—are disciplining him or her. The child should know the reason for it. We also notice that if we are permissive—the way that many parents are in our day—the result will not be good. Let us use verbal explanation as well as physical discipline, something that will hurt.

A Few Comments

We can surely see now that physical discipline has an important part to play in dealing with a disobedient and rebellious child. We must not overlook this. Although our society looks down on this and may condemn it, still it is found in our Bibles.

We must not conclude that this will be a daily or weekly means of dealing with your son or daughter. If you have developed a good, intimate, and open relationship with your child, you probably won’t need to physically discipline him or her often. I remember speaking with one of the children of a well-ordered family and the daughter said that her father or mother seldom had to discipline her or her siblings. In fact, she said that she wouldn’t want to disobey her parents for they would be grieved. Such disobedience would hurt the father and mother’s heart.

Do you have such a relationship with your children? If so, we think that the scriptures that we examined today will not need to be used very often. I heard a woman one time say that her father placed a paddle above the door frame of the main family room. All he would need to do would be to look at the paddle (without removing it). She and her siblings would not need a further reminder.

Let’s be willing to live counter-cultural lives that submit to God’s Word rather than feeling pressured to acquiesce to an unbelieving society around us.  I’m convinced that even though North America and Europe are falling prey to humanistic trends in society, including child-raising, there must be millions of people around the world who continue to submit to the good word of God in Scripture. Won’t you be one of them?

–Richard Hollerman

(“Spanking Ineffective and Harmful for Kids, Doctors say,” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, November 6, 2018.)

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