Monday, November 7, 2011

Spanking, revisited

My last post on spanking generated quite a bit of discussion at my Facebook page. My position—then and now—is that I have spanked, but within a very strict framework that limits spank-worthy situations. And, I added, not everybody has control enough of their emotions that they should use spanking; it's too easy to let anger take over and turn a swat on the behind into something abusive.

Let me revise and amend my remarks, in light of this New York Times story about spanking advocates Michael and Debi Pearl, and their followers who apparently killed their child.
Debate over the Pearls’ teachings, first seen on Christian Web sites, gained new intensity after the death of a third child, all allegedly at the hands of parents who kept the Pearls’ book, “To Train Up a Child,” in their homes. On Sept. 29, the parents were charged with homicide by abuse. 
More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoolers, who praise it in their magazines and on their Web sites. The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”
Spanking advocates? I think "beating advocates" is more like it.

Listen: The subject of child discipline is highly fraught, and it's really easy to sit in judgement of people who do it differently than you. But let's be plain: If you read books about how to make weapons to hit your child, you are probably an asshole who doesn't have sense or compassion enough to be a parent.


Monkey RobbL said...

Ugh. As you point out, this is a risky subject to engage in, but I have to say this: The Pearls, while (quite a bit) more extreme than I feel comfortable with, are not beating advocates, and their books are not "how to make weapons to hit your child."

One problem with discussing spanking is that it's very difficult to have a practical dialogue on what implements to use without sounding like you're choosing "weapons." When I was a kid, my parents used a ping-pong paddle. My wife's parents used a wooden spoon. I'd rather have been swatted by a length of thin, flexible plastic tubing than either one.

I have no intention of advocating the Pearl's positions, but I also don't think they're necessarily getting a fair shake here. Three people, who were clearly going WAY beyond the teaching advocated in the books, tragically killed their children. It's not the book's fault, it's the unstable parents' fault. But these are clearly "edge cases" - if, as the New York Times article says, they take in $1.7M per year in revenue from their writings, then these are far from typical outcomes. Blaming the Pearls for these deaths is like blaming Ozzy Osbourne for those kids that committed suicide after listening to his tapes.

Monkey RobbL said...

(Clarification: I don't mean to imply that you, personally, are "blaming" the Pearls, Joel. But a lot of those engaging in the linked discussions are.)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I think there's a difference between a light swat on the rear and a beating with a switch or a belt. I'm not sure why. But I do know that drawing the line between discipline and abuse is impossible, because it's so subjective.

You hit the nail on the head, though, when you mention the importance of anger (or lack thereof) driving the punishment. I think. Hell, I don't know. Really, the difference for me comes from whether a parent is bringing their child up in a climate of fear. That, in my opinion, is what really causes long-term damage.