On Spanking

Washington state law on corporal punishment of children (check your own nation or country as applicable):
Use of force on children—Policy—Actions presumed unreasonable.
It is the policy of this state to protect children from assault and abuse and to encourage parents, teachers, and their authorized agents to use methods of correction and restraint of children that are not dangerous to the children. However, the physical discipline of a child is not unlawful when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent, teacher, or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child. Any use of force on a child by any other person is unlawful unless it is reasonable and moderate and is authorized in advance by the child’s parent or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child.
The following actions are presumed unreasonable when used to correct or restrain a child: (1) Throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child; (2) striking a child with a closed fist; (3) shaking a child under age three; (4) interfering with a child’s breathing; (5) threatening a child with a deadly weapon; or (6) doing any other act that is likely to cause and which does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks. The age, size, and condition of the child and the location of the injury shall be considered when determining whether the bodily harm is reasonable or moderate. This list is illustrative of unreasonable actions and is not intended to be exclusive.
4/5 studies that limited themselves to only open handed spanks on the butt found that spanking was the most effective means to change behavior and all 5 studies found no adverse effects. Most other studies included any form of corporal punishment, including slapping the head or even biting the child. Lumping children who are truly abused with those who are spanked in the right way has led many studies and meta-analyses to come to incorrect conclusions. Often, these are conclusions that many academics set out to achieve before they began their study and thus are worse than useless as they are intentionally misleading.
Most of the studies that oppose spanking I have read say that it is bad because it makes the child more likely to use force against others in the future. I disagree that this is a negative outcome; certainly a child should be trained not to abuse others, but a child should be taught how to handle and recognize force being used against them, and how to defend themselves when necessary. A part of that process is that while they are learning, they will probably misuse force against each other and then be trained that that is wrong. For example, my twins are only 18 months old but already hit or kick or bite each other when they get mad that the other one took their toy or something. The best solution to immediately stop this behavior is a quick spank. They learn two valuable lessons at once; first, that there are inappropriate uses of force (hitting their sibling to get a toy), and second, that there are appropriate uses of force (punishment to correct abusive behavior).
In the animal world, all animals that raise their young use forms of limited, non-damaging force to correct inappropriate behaviors. Human history shows almost universal use of limited force to correct bad behaviors in children. There is extraordinarily strong evidence from natural selection that corporal punishment increases the survival rates greatly of the young.
Force is used universally in life. Almost no animal, fish, or microbe dies of natural old age… everything eventually becomes food for some predator as soon as it is no longer as quick or as lucky as the next critter. Humans use force against each other constantly to try to get their way… this ranges from bullies to spousal abuse to robbery and murder to riots to wars between states.
Our children are nearly certain to encounter a wide variety of situations in which force is used against them:
  • Aggressive dogs or wild animals
  • Bullies in school or the neighborhood
  • Random people picking fights (I have had many of these as a male, females encounter this much less frequently)
  • Criminal attempting to mug them or steal something from their house
  • Their own state enforcing a myriad of rules and regulations on them
  • Other states using force against their state to achieve some goal
If our children have not been trained in the use of force, including receiving safely limited amounts of force for training purposes, they will be overwhelmed and perhaps killed the first time outside force is used on them. A child that has never been spanked, has never been shown how to stand up for himself, and has never been shown how to use force does not stand a chance.
Please consider the following scenarios:
  • Someone lets their half trained dog out of the house and it sees Kate. It runs at her. If Kate turns around and runs in terror, she will almost certainly be bit and mauled. If she stands her ground and tries to look big and yells at it, the dog is much more likely to become confused and stop short of her.
  • A bully at recess pushes Griffin and punches him. If Griffin cries and either runs to a teacher to tell or just sniffles on the ground, he will be a target for future harassment from that bully. If Griffin applies force back to the bully, the bully will realize “hey this is painful, I am going to seek easier targets”.
  • If Kate is slapped abusively by a significant other, and has never experienced any force before she will break down emotionally and will be victimized. She may end up in this bad situation for a long period. If she has been trained to defend herself with force, and then to never let someone use force against her, she will immediately get out of that bad relationship.
  • If a home invader comes into our house with the intent to steal or rape or murder, we should use force against them before they have a chance to use it against us.
  • In the case of police or military force being used against one of children, if they have an understanding of what it is, why it is used, and how to escape or de-escalate, they will have a much better chance of survival.
Most human civilizations have constantly used force or had force used on them. It was universally expected, whether you were a citizen of Athens or Rome, or a barbarian in Gaul, or were a Persian slave. Humans themselves throughout our evolutionary history have constantly risked having force used on them by predatory animals or by other humans. Every human down to all of us today use force against animals to kill and eat them. It was only an innovation of the last 100 years (0.0001%) of human history that we didn’t do the bloody killings with our own hands. The only reason we are alive today to discuss this is that our ancestors were able to avoid having force used on them and successfully used force on others, at least until they could reproduce.
Ancient texts, histories, religious texts, and other writings older than maybe fifty years universally advocate for corporal punishment for children. This should not be taken as a guarantee that corporal punishment is correct, as the ancients were wrong about many things… but these ancient humans had much closer and better observation of their children in many different types of circumstances than we do today.
The most valuable thing we can teach our children is how to recognize, manage, and use force to protect themselves and their own children.
This begins with corporal punishment… the most sanitized use of force we can use. Corporal punishment should be something that provides a brief but strong flash of pain with no lasting damage. Corporal punishment needs to be used very carefully to avoid any kind of abuse or negative outcomes for the child. Corporal punishment should not be used in anger, it should be clearly understood by the child why they are being punished and how to avoid it in the future, and should be measured. Corporal punishment that leaves no lasting damage and provides that brief strong negative signal includes spanking with the open hand, spanking with a wooden spoon, or spanking with a belt – all on the thigh or buttocks. Punishment should not be given when the child does not understand why they are being punished, and should not include abusive punishments like biting, pinching, hitting on the head, or anything else like that.
When I was a child, it was a point of pride for me that I was spanked with a belt. I could tell that other children I talked to who had no spanking or corporal punishment were spoiled and weak.
As our children grow up, they should be trained and role play specific situations in which force could be used against them or they may need to use force against others. The military trains soldiers by putting them in mock combat situations as similar to real combat as possible so that when the real situation does come, those soldiers will know exactly what the right thing to do is. Police officers go through similar training in how to use force and react to force being used against you. Boxers and wrestlers learn how to handle force being used against them and how to use force effectively. Role playing and training is absolutely critical for our children to survive and thrive in the real world where force often will be used against them and they will need to know the right way to react.
Spanking is an extremely useful way to train children. It teaches them to recognize when force is being used against them, including, “Hey ouch, Dad stung my butt because I was hitting my sister, I will stop hitting her!”. This reduces their fear of force as it makes it recognizable and understandable. Down the road, hopefully it will help them to recognize negative force before it is used against them, and to make them comfortable with the use of force to defend themselves.

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Joel Gross

Joel Gross is the CEO of Coalition Technologies.

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