when the kid strikes back

It’s weird. I was sitting here at the kitchen table, working on a comic about our decision not to spank Clementine, and I decided to take a break for a moment and catch up on the news about the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I got online, and the first thing to catch my eye was an article about that eight year old boy who shot his father to death in Arizona a few days ago. It looks now as though the kid may have kept a tally of every hit he’d ever taken from his dad. When it reached 1,000, the kid, according to the story, decided to strike back. The cynic in me thinks it’s probably a ploy by the kid’s defense attorney meant to win sympathy for him in the press, but the imagery is just so painfully vivid… And before the pro-spankers out there get all bent out of shape, I should point out that it’s likely this father in Arizona was doing more than spanking his son on the bottom. Regardless, though, I’m taking it as one more data point confirming that we probably made the right decision.

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35 Comments

  1. Jean
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    I was spanked as a child. One parent was very in control and judicious; One was neither. Guess which parent had my respect? If parents could be relied upon to not take their frustrations out on their kids, spanking would not be a problem. Just like any ‘consequence,’ it works as well as it’s administered.

    The best argument against spanking is that it is unnecessary. The best argument against being self-righteous about spanking is that it is also very possible to mess up your kid by verbal abuse, over-coddling, over-protectiveness and over-pressuring. Kids are individuals with their own trajectory. The best way to mess that up is to impose ones own agenda, anxieties, anger and frustrations on them. The best way to direct them is to teach them how to direct themselves. The best way to do that is to model it oneself.

    Mark, you seem like a terrific parent who takes joy in the job. That is a great gift to your kid. Paddle or not, I think you and Clementine will do just fine.

  2. kilo
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    I was one of those kids that kept a tally of the whacks, and while I didn’t shoot anyone, I did remember. I knew then that I would be an excellent parent if I did the opposite of whatever my parents did to me — and that turned out to be true. My son is a level-headed, compassionate man that people naturally gravitate to for advice and counsel.

    On the other hand, his half-brother gets spanked and is already showing signs of bratitude. He’s still pretty young, but it’ll be interesting to see how he turns out.

    Spanking only develops negativity. You want a kid that uses her head and not her fist, then use her smarts to discipline her. I think you made the right choice for Clementine in the short and long runs.

  3. Posted November 30, 2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    You should spank your child if they are about to do something that will cause them to die or get hurt extremely badly. Sometimes you just don’t have time to explain why what they are doing is dangerous. Otherwise, spanking is useless.

  4. egpenet
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Maturity is about making choices.

    Disciplining a child (or an adult for that matter) is an opportunity to teach about making choices.

    Hitting a child who is about to hurt themselves is ludicrous. It’s faster, perhaps, to whack the kid’s hand away from the burner or scream. Neither is the best choice for the parent.

    In fact, any and ll hitting is teaching the child that hitting is OK. Do NOT be surprised when the child takes the first opportunity to practice what they have been taught. (Pitting the poor kitty or dog or schoolmate.)

    I have failed at all of the above, but continue to believe that we should try to avoid all physical punishment … especially of our children.

  5. degutails
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    to me, the best argument against spanking is that people only do it to children who are too young to effectively resist.

    meredith

  6. Brackache
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t get hit. If you don’t spank your kids, they will turn into me. Take warning.

  7. egpenet
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Five REALLY important life lessons to teach your children by relying on corporal punishment for discipline:

    1 – Don’t get caught. Become a world-class sneak.

    2 – Screw honesty. Just lie. In fact, ALWAYS lie. (Just learn how to keep the lies straight. Who you told what and all that.)

    3 – Hit back. Don’t hold back. Get hit. Hit back immediately. Let the world know you can’t be bullied. Be tough!

    4 – In fact, hit first, and hit HARD. Get known as the toughest and meanest and no one will EVER mess with you. You’ll be VERY respected.

    5 – At this point, you can go through the rest of your life doing whatever the hell you want. No one will mess with you. You’ll have everything you want … or you’ll know where to get it. If not, you can just take it. Who’s gonna stop you?

    Neat.

  8. mark
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Now, thanks to Brackache, I have to rethink everything…

    I’m actually thinking I shouldn’t wait till morning – that I should wake her up for a spanking now.

  9. mark
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to give too much away, as it’ll be in the finished comic, but I decided not to spank her when I thought of my own experiences. In all but two cases, I just remember the spankings, and not what I did to deserve them. And, in the two cases where I do remember the cause, I know for a fact that they were unjustly delivered. While I suspect there may be times that warrant it, I don’t want to do it to Clementine only to have her remember the spanking and not the cause behind it… And, really, I couldn’t have spanked Clementine even if I wanted to. Her mom wouldn’t stand for it. I’m quite certain that she’d leave me, regardless of how well intentioned I might have been.

  10. mark
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    And I’d appreciate it if non of you tell Clementine that I won’t spank her. I think it would complicate things if she knew that “time out” was the best that I’ve got in my arsenal of punishments.

  11. Brackache
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    eg, 1-2 are taught by ANY punishment AT ALL. 3-5 are also learned from random people being violent to you, not your parents. My Dad and all my uncles had the shit beat of them, and they’re all upright, very self-disciplined, and nonviolent.

  12. Posted November 30, 2008 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    I liked Jean’s arguments about the arguments. My wife and I agreed, without a need for discussion, that we would not spank. And I don’t see where a dispassionate potch on the tush ever would have helped. Staying dispassionate verbally, on the other hand, has been a constant challenge.

  13. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    ACHE:

    Most certainly, the child’s personality is the ultimate factor. Our President-elect is a superb example of rising above a totally disfunctional planetary-wide background and emerging a very special person.

    Most violence is taught in the home. And ALL abusers were abused themselves.

  14. Curt Waugh
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    To those of you who are pro-spank, I have only one question: When does it stop? Both at what age and at what level of physical punishment. Once the choice to use pain and fear as punishment is made, this is a legitimate question.

    There’s a fairly clear delineation between spanking and not spanking (and verbal abuse and not verbal abuse), but I have no clue how to drawn the line at when to stop. What, exactly, is the good amount of pain that will make a child better? Do we stop at crying? What about a full-on wail? Should it leave marks? How do I know when I’ve instilled the right amount of fear of me in my child? If a 16-year-old does something bad, does that person now need a full punch in the mouth? Should we continue to beat the crap out of 20, 30 and 40-year-olds?

    I’m just askin’. Once the pain/physical line has been crossed, we need a new line. Please provide me one.

  15. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    To clarify: I think there’s a difference between abuse and discipline involving physical pain. The first is a product of a cruel character which enjoys making others suffer, the second is a product of love and experience which wants to spare the child from worse pain which might result from the child’s wrong action down the line.

    I believe it is inevitable that our children will experience abuse (not necessarily physical) at some point in their lives, from friends, teachers, boy/girlfriends, bosses, customers, cops, random assoles, what-have-you. I believe physical discipline innoculates the child mentally/emotionally somewhat from those later abuses… similar to getting chickenpox when young as opposed to getting it when older.

    Your child will suffer pain eventually for any number of reasons, some of which might be his/her own fault. If it’s for doing something wrong, better the pain be by you (who loves them) when they’re young than by other people (who are cruel) when they’re adults and have less of a safety net and/or capacity to adapt quickly. Life will discipline your child, especially if you don’t.

    Again, I don’t mean putting hands on stovetops or beating the shit out of your kids.

    I’m just theorizing here based on my own experiences and those of others I know who were physically disciplined when young. I believe the latter had an advantage in their adult lives that I did not because they were physically disciplined more. I could be wrong, but that is the conclusion I’ve come to after having considered the subject for many years, no doubt like most of you who’ve arrived at a completely different conclusion.

  16. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Hmmm. That would have worked better had I posted that before Curt.

  17. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Curt: I think you’re trying to make it into a bunch of rules is your problem. You need to spank with the right side of your brain.

  18. Curt Waugh
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    This is a great paragraph:

    Your child will suffer pain eventually for any number of reasons, some of which might be his/her own fault. If it’s for doing something wrong, better the pain be by you (who loves them) when they’re young than by other people (who are cruel) when they’re adults and have less of a safety net and/or capacity to adapt quickly. Life will discipline your child, especially if you don’t.

    The first sentence rings absolutely true. The world is a brutal place that seeks maximum entropy; it’s always trying to undo us. But isn’t it great that I will use my last dying breath to fight off that world for my child? You mess with my kid, world, you mess with me.

    But your second sentence is just plain weird. Why, for the luvogod, would you want to be the person who pains your child when there’s plenty to go around for everybody?

    You finish strong, though. Properly exposed in a safe environment, life will naturally discipline your child. True true true. So, where is the safe landing? Right here, next to Daddy. As a child develops into an adult, they assume their own responsibility for landings more and more, until they become that safe landing for their children and so on. It’s natural human development.

    But violence begets violence, in any form. ALL psychological studies support this assertion. You have drawn the line at “putting hands on stovetops” and such. OK, there’s one limit. Oh, and we’re not supposed to “[beat] the shit out of [our] kids.” I got that.

    What does that mean again? If you’re gonna start defining “OK physical discipline” you’re going to have to go a LOT farther than that to define it. Please go on…

  19. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I completely understand your point about where do you draw the line. My answer is that discipline is an art, not a science. I don’t know. I couldn’t give you a formula for making art or having a good marriage, either, because each person/situation is so different.

    The point of physical pain is that it provides a more powerful, memorable, and immediate incentive than whatever instant gratification is motivating the bad behavior. The reason you should be the one who pains your child for bad behavior is that you will do it mercifully with a mind towards teaching, unlike the world which by and large doesn’t give a damn. Unless you’re a cruel, abusive psycho.

    And this whole violence always begets violence thing just isn’t true, or else my Dad would be violent, which he isn’t.

  20. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    The “teachable moment” is to help the child rise above imperfection, error, pain and/or abuse. The world is NOT fair. But how one learns to react to the unfairness and the ugliness makes all the difference. Depending on the child’s temperament, does the child learn to be passionate about doing right or does the child become dispassionate or even passive? Or, at the worst, does thee child become an abuser?

    I again cite the life of the President-elect.

  21. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    True, ed. I don’t mean to invalidate most points people are making by my arguing against the total without-exception exclusion of physical discipline. Jean’s first post is particularly good.

    Reason, respect, kindness, encouragement, approval, and patience = good parenting. Creative discipline = good parenting. And if physical pain is the only option left to combat self-destructive behavior, I don’t see why it should be 100% ruled out.

  22. Kate L
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    reality check here folks. All the professional associations that deal with children, ie:
    medicine, psychology, teachers, etc. have settled this question long ago. Maybe even back in the 1960’s -clear verdict was in. Physical punishment is ineffective and creates behavior problems. Now, I’m not one to always believe everything the “experts” say. But debating spanking is kind of like debating the cause of polio. This is not controversial except for the religious right, and people who have not looked up any factual information. Many studies on this have been done. It is not just some interesting debating topic, with good arguments on each side.

  23. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    No disrespect, but if my own experiences and studies of unknown credibility differ, I trust my own experiences.

  24. Kate L
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    http://www.aap.org/publiced/BR_Discipline.htm

    Here’s a nice piece on disciple from the pediatricians. Just because scientific studies have findings that differ from your experiences, does not mean their credibility is unknown.

  25. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Okay, I read it and it’s got some good tips in there, but I didn’t see where their conclusions about spanking were supported by scientific study. None of my male relatives who were hit/spanked exhibit those behaviors, yet when I was a teenager, I did, and I wasn’t hit. Their statements are at odds with my experience, so I see no reason why I should believe them.

  26. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    A child’s/person’s personality has much to do at every maturation stage with how they behave … react to stimulus … as Skinner would have it.

    Spanked or not … I found acting out irresistible at certain points in my life. Still DO, as a matter of fact. Keeps me young.

    The worst abuse of all, IMHO, is giving using drugs on “normal range” kids to modify their behavior. When I was in school, we never had THAT choice of a tray rattling down the halls with our meds.

    We had to buy, steal or grow our own!

  27. Curt Waugh
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Brack, there was a time in this blog when I defended your right to state your opinion. You have done that with clarity. But this statement is just plain foolish:

    “No disrespect, but if my own experiences and studies of unknown credibility differ, I trust my own experiences.”

    You sound like George Bush here. Slap your kids with that fact instead of your hand next time.

    As Kate has pointed out, these are not a handful of “studies of unknown credibility”. This is an absolute, overwhelming, massive body of scientific evidence from multiple disciplines that back up the fact that violence doesn’t work.

    And it bears pointing out that animal trainers (the good kind) use no violence whatsoever in their training. Just ask them about their techniques. Hitting is a no-no. It teaches nothing other than how to avoid getting hit. Surely, your kids deserve at least as much respect as a dog.

  28. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t take any offence Curt, and respect you for voicing your opinion; yet I remain unconvinced.

    My experiences are 1st and 2nd person evidence to me. That’s pretty weighty to my decision making. If they weren’t contrary to study results, I’d be more inclined to accept the studies. But once upon a time, widely accepted studies proved that black people were genetically inferior to white people, and that smoking was good for you. So you’ll forgive me if I apply critical thinking skills to study results I have an inkling are possibly incorrect, even if they are widely accepted.

    Surely an absolute, overwhelming, massive body of scientific evidence from multiple disciplines that back up the fact that violence doesn’t work can be easily found and linked to.

    I mean scientific evidence. Not just statements backed by nothing. I want to see control groups, variables like divorce, socioeconomic background, and alcoholism eliminated or at least satisfactorily addressed, and antitheses persuasively disputed. The burden of proof is on you guys, since you seem to want to force an absolute dictum on me with which I disagree. I’m not trying to make anybody spank their kid who doesn’t believe in it, despite my opening joke. I’m not trying to prove that spanking works 100%. I’m incredulous of the theory that spanking is 100% bad, based on my own experiences. I don’t think that’s as unreasonable as some are making me out to be.

    Normally I’d be less demanding, but, again, my experience is contrary to the many absolute statements many people in this discussion have made, based on these aforementioned scientific studies.

  29. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Ache:

    Start reading. The studies are in, starting with Alice Miller and the rest. Google Alice Miller and read the histories of Nazi Germany that tried to shove round kids into square holes.

    The studies you refer to sabout blacks and whites weree exactly the OPPOSITE of the types of studies you’d prefer.

    Wait … smoking isn’t GOOD? (Holy crap!)

    I’ll ignore that study.

    Anyway … I DO like it that you first trust 1st and 2nd person experience. That’s a great start. I suggest you go from right there … and now begin to explore within your own family. Do NOT be shocked at what you find.

    The Western world has a very very awful track record with our children, which will undoubtedly take many many more genrations to work its way out.

    And for FUN … read The Brothers Grimm. Or, better yet, research the Dutch version of Santa Claus.

  30. Jean
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I am not pro-spanking. I am, however, very wary of the one-size-fits-all parenting espoused by the “experts” that is the inevitable result of studies. Beyond that, for every parenting expert with one philosophy, there are others who contradict. And isn’t it the Pediatric Society that says if you take your infant into your bed for convenience and to comfort, you risk smothering him/her? (oops.) I live in Ann Arbor, and maybe people are less self-righteous in Ypsi (God, I hope so…), but I see a lot of parents who adopt (intellectualize) a parenting philosophy or approach long before they have kids and then apply it to their child whether it works or not. All the while, they lecture others on why their approach is superior. Eventually a good parent will violate all his/her own ‘rules’ by following the kid’s lead.

    So I am not prepared to judge any parent based on spanking or not spanking alone. It’s a lousy criteria. And I think snap judgment about parenting (and everything) is just about as pervasive as violence in our messed up culture. I will say that spanking should not hurt… no way. Pain is not what teaches the child… if anything, it would distract from learning. A consequence just needs to be understood as a consequence… which is why sitting on a bench for a minute or two works great. Violence is a sickness and an impulse that is hard to unlearn. I would never hit my kids, but I’m still learning how not to hit a wall or slam a door when frustrated (and never in front of them). That’s actually why I don’t hit my kids. Sometimes I give myself a time out, too… and I let my kids know when I do.

    My Dad used to remove us from the room, give us a long talk and a token pat on the bottom like his parents did. It worked. My mom would yell indiscriminately and then whack whichever kid was closest with a brush (bristle side forward) or a wooden spoon (the ones with holes are worst) just like her parents did… except sometimes she got a belt. That didn’t work at all.

    We, as Egpenet described, learned to lie and subvert her whenever possible while simultaneously respecting my Dad. And they are still together, somehow. Families are funny that way. Just in case you have a different picture, my mom is an extraordinarily generous woman who worked tirelessly for others while raising 4 kids. She’s done more good than harm for sure. There are people out there named after her. She was just trying, as we all do, to be less bad than her parents were. And, for what it’s worth, she was the parent with a fancy degree and a fancy family.

    Not all spanking is violent or ineffective, but we live in a violent society. So if there needs to be a standard, I guess it should be no corporal punishment. I just wish it were treat your kids with respect and humanity instead.

  31. Kate L
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have time to track down the studies. The ones I found quickly I would have had to pay for. The scientific process is that studies are done, some new studies contradict the findings, and things go back and forth – as is the current status of the co-sleeping studies, I believe- but gradually consensus builds as enough good studies establish a base of evidence. Can this process be corrupted by big pharma or the internal politics of reasearch funding, or other political/economic interests – yes. However, like smoking, this issue is not contested anymore among people who research it, for the most part. Is smoking unhealthy – yes. Are there people who smoke their whole long lives and don’t get cancer and heart disease -yes. Are there people who get cancer and heart disease who don’t smoke – yes. Spanking is very comparable.

  32. egpenet
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Kate:

    Would you agree that smoking is like spanking yourself?

    If so, Aristotle would say that you also agreee that spanking is harmful? And, in fact, that BOTH stink?

    Let’s be consistent here, studies or no studies.

  33. Brackache
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    You are all good people.

    I did some reading. Alice Miller is about as scientific as Madame Blavatsky. I’m embarassed for you.

    No studies.

    So… you guys got nothin.

    Jean, good post. Ed, I approve of your use of humor to disarm situations and am glad you’re posting more regularly again. Kate, you sound like a very reasonable person.

    I’m starting to think this is a battle not worth fighting at this time. I am stopping now.

  34. Posted December 1, 2008 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I think the world would be a better place if we would just beat the fuck out of each other.

  35. UBU
    Posted December 2, 2008 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Fascinating…but my question is:
    How much do I spank the babysitter?

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