Why Parents (Still) Support Spanking
Most feel it's necessary to correct a child's wrong, but experts disagree
A majority of Americans still support spanking their children as a form of discipline. Now, after comments by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a few days ago on the campaign trail in Mason City, Iowa, the issue of spanking is red hot again.
During a rally Friday night, Cruz responded to a woman in the audience who asked him about holding people accountable for the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens during the Benghazi terror attacks in 2012. Cruz told the woman she was “exactly right.” He criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton for participating “in deception” about the issue.
He said, “We do know Hillary told her daughter Chelsea, ‘Well, gosh, I knew it was a terrorist attack, while we were out telling the American people it wasn’t,'” Cruz said. “I’ll tell you, in my house, if my daughter Catherine, the five-year-old, says something she knows to be false, she gets a spanking.”
He added: “Well, in America, the voters have a way of administering a spanking.”
There’s now outrage, mostly on the Left, about the notion that a presidential candidate might spank his child, and that others as well might support it.
Smart people know, of course, that there is a vast difference between a quick spank on the bottom if a child has done something truly wrong, versus severe corporal punishment. No caring and good parent would ever advocate beating a child for any reason whatsoever. But the notion of spanking children provokes plenty of conversation.
Though controversial among child experts and media voices, spanking is much less controversial among parents. Though this form of punishment did dip in popularity in the late 1980s and 90s, parental support has stabilized to about 70 percent. That’s right: Seven in 10 adults believe that a “good, hard spanking is necessary to discipline a child,” according to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, a poll that has measured parental views on child punishment and other issues since 1972.
Though there isn’t a large difference in spanking opinions among genders, income levels, and educational backgrounds, there is a wide split when it comes to religion: Those who identify as “born-again Christians” are 15 percent more likely to agree that spanking is an acceptable form of punishment. Pope Francis even suggested that smacking a child for disciplinary reasons could work “if dignity was maintained,” when a parent asked him about it.
There is also a divergence among racial groups: Whites are less likely to spank than blacks, about 11 percent less likely, whereas Asian women are the least likely to spank out of all parents surveyed. A parent’s location also may greatly affect his or her views on spanking. Southern residents are about 17 percent more likely to support spanking, compared to those who live in the Northeast or West.
But opinions among child experts diverge widely from what a majority of parents think.
“Spanking has gone through ebbs and flows throughout American history, and there are some cultures that spank more than others,” New York child psychologist Dr. Laurie Zelinger told LifeZette. “But spanking is never good, unless it’s in the most extreme sort of danger, say a child running in the road in front of a car. Even then, the event itself — the screeching of brakes — will most likely imprint the message forever.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes it’s never OK to spank, for any reason. If you do strike your child, the Academy says that act could undermine the trust relationship the child needs in order to thrive.
Guidelines for righting this wrong are clearly explained on the academy’s website: “If a spanking is spontaneous, parents should later explain calmly why they did it, the specific behavior that provoked it, and how angry they felt. They also might apologize to their child for their loss of control. This usually helps the youngster to understand and accept the spanking, and it models for the child how to remediate a wrong.”
When trying to reinforce discipline, experts often suggest other tactics such as time outs, removing the child from the situation, and offering a “makeup action” for a bad deed.
“There are so many other good ways to establish the same goals,” Zelinger said. “Spanking not only hurts, but is humiliating and frightening for a child.”
Given the alternative disciplinary measures, why do some parents then choose spanking?
“Parents spank because they don’t know a more effective way to discipline, and it’s always wrong,” Dr. Rosalind S. Dorlan, a clinical psychologist who practices in New Jersey. “Parents who spank can’t manage their own anger. If we model violence, we perpetrate violence. Parents need help managing their own behaviors, so that they can raise healthy kids.”