I have written over 150 articles for Cornerstones for Parents on topics ranging from home organization to biblical encouragement. However, I have yet to address a very hot parenting topic: spanking. I have avoided it because the issue tends to be polarizing. The last thing I want to do is facilitate any dissention and disunity among God’s people. But seeing as this is an on-going issue that many struggle with, it is time to address it.
Spanking, or corporal punishment, has been hotly debated for decades. Within the Christian community, you will find staunch proponents, passionate protestors and those who plead the 5th. Both ends of the spectrum claim strong biblical support based on hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture), word studies and cultural implications. So what are we to think?
First Things First
Before we address this further, I highly encourage parents to be informed about the child welfare laws in their particular state. You can learn more here.
Previous studies have shown that over 90% of American parents have spanked at one point or another. Spanking happens. Instead of focusing on the act itself, let’s first consider some factors regarding the giver and the receiver. It is my professional opinion that there are certain people who should not be spanking their children and certain children who should not be spanked.
Here is a list of traits of people who, in my opinion, should not spank their children:
- People who struggle with anger management issues.
- People with impulse control problems.
- People who have been abused themselves.
- Couples who are at odds about the issue (this sets up a problematic family dynamic).
- People who have no other tools in their parenting “tool box.”
Here is a list of traits of children who, in my opinion, should not be spanked:
- Children who have an attachment disorder.
- Children with a trauma or abuse history.
- Children with developmental or mental delays.
- Highly sensitive or sensory impaired children.
- Children who are simply being “childish.”
- Children who are unresponsive to spanking.
This last one needs further explaining. If you have been spanking and have seen no improvement, it should be clear that this form of discipline is ineffective for this particular child. Any parenting intervention that has proven itself ineffective needs to be evaluated and re-worked. Our children are constantly changing and growing – what was effective in the past may not work anymore. Our parenting needs to be fluid and adaptive.
A Look at Scripture
All of the Scriptural passages involved in this debate come from 5 verses in Proverbs (13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14, 29:15). It is important that we know what the Bible says in its entirety – we cannot pick and choose what “works” for us or supports our position. A close study of these passages and their context is essential. Any parents considering this issue need to study the Word for themselves.
Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature – different than the books of the law and prophets. As a result, interpretation can lead to more questions than answers. Here are a few that come to mind:
- Are Proverbs commands from God or inspired wisdom for godly living?
- Are Proverbs to be taken as figures of speech (similar to conventional wisdom like: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”)?
- Is a shebet (the Hebrew word for “rod’) a large walking stick, a small switch or figurative for all types of discipline?
- Is the “child” referred to in these passages a very young child or an adolescent male coming of age?
- If the NIV says the rod is probably figurative but the ESV says it is literal, what are we to believe?
- What can we learn from seemingly contradictory passages like Proverbs 26: 4 and 5?
- Is Solomon really saying that a literal rod can “save a child’s soul from hell” when all the rest of the Bible clearly states that Jesus is the One who saves?
What’s the Answer?
In the end, whether you choose to spank or not is between you and God. Our job is to prayerfully consider God’s word as a whole and to act on the conviction of our conscience and the Holy Spirit. On issues where the Bible is unclear, I direct people to Romans 14. Whatever God has convicted you to do, you must do it.
I would like to add that I strongly caution readers to be careful with any parenting book or expert who claims to know “God’s way” or the “right way” to parent. The Bible is very clear on this issue: “no one knows the mind of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). We need to ask for God’s wisdom when gleaning from books that prescribe one way to parent and eschew all others as un-biblical. Furthermore, I would also like to add that (if you do choose to spank) it is my professional opinion that removing a child’s pants to provide a spanking is a violation of a child’s personal privacy and boundaries. In today’s society, we need to send the message loud and clear that children’s bodies are their own.
If, after all of your study and prayer you do choose to spank, consider these questions:
- Am I spanking my child because it makes me feel better? A sense of control? A release of tension and anger?
- Can I spank without anger or impulsivity?
- Do I feel devoid of other tools to address the misbehavior?
- Is my child simply being childish or is he being willfully disobedient?
- Is my primary goal to stop behavior or facilitate a transformation of the heart?
- Is spanking necessary or will something else work in this circumstance?
- Do I have any other recourse once I feel my child is “too big” to spank?
- Do I feel convicted by the Spirit to spank or are there other motivations?
- Have I prayed about it?
On the other hand, if you choose not to spank, you can ask yourself these questions:
- Am I uncomfortable being a disciplinarian?
- Do I fear that my children will think that I don’t love them if I discipline them?
- Is my own past influencing my present?
- Am I emotionally “spanking” in other ways (silent treatment, wounding with words or tone)?
- Do I think that parents who spank never use any other methods?
- Do I have preconceived notions about spanking (always done in an angry, belittling way)?
- Have I thought about spanking being effective in some circumstances?
- Do I feel convicted by the Spirit to not spank or are there other motivations?
- Have I prayed about it?
Maybe after all of this you have come to the conclusion that this is not an “all or nothing” issue. Maybe you will reserve the right to spank when extreme behavior requires an extreme response.
Whether you decide to spank or not, you must discipline your children in some fashion. Discipline and disciple come from the same root word which means “to learn.” Our children need to learn about God’s love, mercy and standards of living from us. We need to train them through applied and natural consequences, firm limits and consistency. To avoid doing so would, in fact, be acting as if we hated them (Proverbs 13:24).
Next time, we will summarize many of the discipline choices you have as a parent. Whether you choose to spank or not, you’re going to need them.
[Photo credit: Colin_K from flickr.com]