How Spanking Worked for Me
While the practice of spanking is hotly debated, I think most people agree with the following. The ideal punishment for children is brief, convenient, and effective. For some parents, spanking meets all these criteria.
Let’s talk about convenience, because that’s one of our most cherished American values. Spanking requires no special tools, chairs, or bargaining chips. I understand why it has been a go-to historically. It’s as easy as it is ancient.
There are anti-spankers who think that all forms of hitting are identically brutish. My parents spanked me, and even though I’ve chosen a different way, I admire their calm and consistent approach. My mother is cheery and mild-mannered. My dad has a stormy streak that often led to violence when he was young, but neither ever touched me in anger. They always gave a fair warning, and what they asked of me was reasonable and in my best interest (e.g., don’t touch the wild mouse). They’d give a single smack that landed on the cushiest part of me, and the sting wasn’t physical. I doubt I got more than six of these in my life. Mostly, my parents could give me a look or change their tone, and I obeyed. Spanking worked for them, but let’s consider why and how.
Punishment is supposed to be a learning experience, and they were good teachers. The lesson included these ideas: 1) my words and actions have consequences in the world; 2) my parents care about what I say and do; 3) if they say they’re going to do something, they’ll do it, which led me to take them seriously, and 4) when I listen the first time, I avoid upsetting anybody and the day goes more smoothly, and 5) hitting is acceptable in some contexts, though I wasn’t clear on which, precisely.
Now, I believe that it wasn’t the swats that made me obedient. The punishment could have been different, and hitting may have added a promotion for hitting. Even though I was told not to hit, I was shown that if someone isn’t doing what I want, a whack may be warranted. Throughout my early childhood and adolescence, I’d harm people without a second thought about its rightness. Lacking the sophistication to know what circumstances had made it timely for my parents, I didn’t always give a warning, and my reasons were never solid, nor did I take into account how much force my parents did or didn’t use, and sometimes, I hit hard. As you can imagine, this didn’t behoove me socially, and it took a long time to learn better ways of resolving differences.
Spanking might not be abusive depending on how it’s done, but that’s not the only question worth asking.
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