In the last piece I discussed one of the major effects of spanking, which is denial. We also looked at repression and the continuum of violence against children. If a swat or light slap on a child’s hand or bottom is intended to cause pain to the child, then it is a form of violence against the child just as it is for adults. Children are not sub-humans, and do not deserve to have pain inflicted upon them because they are unable to behave like adults. As we’ve seen in my last two series, “Spanking is NOT God’s Will,” and “The Christian History of Spanking,” God never intended us to spank our children. This series further proves this as it is showing the very harmful effects of spanking children—even if it’s done “lovingly” and by Christian parents. In this piece, I will be discussing how spanking effects empathy, anger, and aggression in children and adults.
Empathy—“That Child Needs a Good Spanking!”
We hear the above statement, “That child needs a good spanking,” by many advocates of spanking as if they have no empathy for what the child is actually experiencing or the pain a “good spanking” will cause the child both physically and emotionally. As we saw in Part 2 of this series, many pro-spankers were spanked/abused as children themselves but have repressed their pain and are now in denial that hitting children does in fact cause harm. This denial can often, and does indeed, lead to a lack of empathy when it comes to children as well as other adults.
So, what is empathy? Empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes. The ability to share in another’s joy or pain. An example of this is when a close friend gets hurt in some way, and because we can share in his or her pain, we want to do anything we can to help ease his or her pain. We may not completely understand how our friend feels, but we know what it is like to hurt. As Christians, we share in Christ’s sufferings (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5; & Philippians 3:5). Even though we do not know exactly what it was like for Christ to be beaten and then nailed to a cross in order to bear all of humanities’ sins, just thinking about it breaks my heart, humbles me, and fills me with gratitude for Him. The Bible also says that we are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” in Romans 12:15. Empathy is obviously important to God!
Despite empathy being important to God as it allows us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44 & Luke 6:35), which is not easy to do, we are not born with empathy. Empathy is learned. Yes, due to our sinful nature we are born with a tendency towards selfishness. An infant is not capable of empathizing, but this is not because of purposeful sin as some Christian pro-spankers believe. This is because an infant’s brain is not developed enough to allow the infant to think beyond his/her world. This does not mean that the infant is evil! This just means that infants are not at that developmental stage, and won’t be for four or five more years (or longer if these children are not treated with respect and gently told about other’s feelings). The young brain is designed by God to first learn what the child’s body can do. The first three months infants are learning exactly how their bodies work. In fact, infants and toddlers are in Jean Piaget’s first stage of his Cognitive Development Theory, which is Sensorimotor Development. While children this age do learn a great deal through social interactions, all of their learning is happening through their five senses and movements. Piaget and Inhelder (1969) state, “We call it the ‘sensorimotor’ period because the infant lacks symbolic function; that is, he does not have representations by which he can evoke persons or objects in their absence” (p. 3). Infants do not have a strong concept of self. That begins to develop as infants grow into toddlers. Late in the first year of life, infants begin to discover that they are separate beings from their parents. All throughout the first year infants discover that they can make things happen. “The emergent self is the sense of familiar experience of the body and of the familiarity in the way others respond to those experiences” (Fogel, 2011, p. 202). During the second year of life, toddlers’ sense of self develops much more. They now know that they are independent from their parents. Toddlers are really discovering exactly who they are outside of their parents. They have a very strong desire for independence even though they are way too young to handle much independence as the very thing that they so strongly desire is also often very overwhelming for them. This is why toddlers have so many “behavioral issues.” Actually, these “behavioral issues” are developmentally appropriate as they discover who they are, how they fit within their families and their world, and try to strike a balance between dependence and independence. For this reason, toddlers are still focused on themselves, although, they are a bit more aware of others and may comment when they see or hear someone cry. They may even try to comfort the person who is crying. However, toddlers will think the reason the other person is crying is for the same reason they cry. “A happy and well-adjusted little girl, watching a lion roar in the zoo, reflected: ‘He’s roaring because he wants to eat me for breakfast.’ She could not imagine that the lion had his own private reasons to roar” (Lieberman, 1993, p. 179). Let me make myself clear. Infants and toddlers are very aware of their parents’ emotions from birth and are affected by them. But this does not mean that infants and toddlers can empathize with the parents.
Young children from birth until somewhere around the age of four or five years are what Piaget calls egocentric. Again, this may be due to our sinful nature but it does not mean that young children are evil. God designed children exactly how they are. There’s a reason He made young children egocentric probably for survival in this harsh, sinful world. “Piaget referred to this feature of early thinking as ‘egocentrism,’ not because children are selfish but because they understand an event subjectively, through their own reactions to it. Their understanding of the relation between cause and effect is centered on their own capacity to make things happen. As a result, young children react to an event in terms of how it affects them. In other words, children reason by applying to themselves the real or imagined consequences of an event” (Lieberman, 1993, p. 179). This is why young children have a very hard time sharing with other children. They can’t imagine the other child wanting the toy as much as they do. I will be discussing how to appropriately teach young children empathy, and how to encourage turn taking in my next series.
Since empathy is a learned behavior, how does the use of physical punishment affect the development of empathy in children? If we read books and comments written by pro-spankers, whether they are Christian or non-believers, there’s always a certain sense of coldness and harshness as they try to convince others that spanking is an absolute must for raising respectful and/or godly children. They may try to sugar coat it by explaining how to spank “lovingly,” but it is still harsh as they also use seemingly harsh Bible verses that are taken completely out of context to back themselves up. In fact, the very phrase that I discussed in Part 2 of this series, “I was spanked and I’m okay,” further shows not just denial, but a lack of empathy. They assume that because they are “ok” after being spanked (hit) as children, that the same will be true for all children. This seems very egotistical. Also, when they read about someone who isn’t ok after being hit as a child, they often blow off that person and/or say that the person’s parents didn’t spank “the right and lovingly” way. I continue to hear the exact same argument from pro-spankers that if spankings are done “the right way,” then no emotional harm is done to the child. Only research and the very actions of pro-spankers show otherwise. All spankings are harmful to children! This is true when it comes to empathy.
Given the fact that children are naturally egocentric, when we hit children in order to teach them a lesson, children focus on the pain, fear, and anger they are feeling from being spanked, and therefore are unable to truly internalize the message. Yes, parents may tell the child before and after the spanking why he/she is being spanked, but the child does not truly hear the parent’s words. Pain does stop the behavior temporarily, but pain highly interferes with the learning process as children are more focused on the pain than anything else. Yes, children may act like they truly understand why they were spanked, but this is simply to please their parents in order to avoid further spankings. Many parents spank when children are “malicious” or disrespectful such as when a 3-year-old hits his brother or sister. He gets spanked for hitting, which makes no sense because children can see clearly that hitting and spanking are the same — only adults “spank” — but being spanked for hitting does not teach him how to appropriately interact with his siblings. He may be forced to apologize to his sibling, but he is so focused on how he was hurt that he is unable to even try to learn how his sibling felt when he hit him/her. This hinders the development of empathy in the child. “One of the most enduring consequences of corporal punishments—and yet one of the least appreciated and studied—is the stifling of empathy and compassion for oneself and others” (Greven, 1992, p. 127). Yet, God requires us to be empathic and compassionate with other people. “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” Matthew 12:7. (see also Hosea 6:6; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12). As Greven (1992) states, “The ability to put oneself in the place of others and to understand how they feel and experience life, and the ability to grasp sympathetically both their suffering and their joy is one of the greatest human achievements” (p. 127).
Sadly, as their parents, the very people who are supposed to be loving and teaching them empathy, purposely and intentionally hurt their children the children begin to develop immunity to empathy. They are so focused on their own pain and how to avoid being physically punished that they are unable to fully grasp or appropriately relate to other’s suffering and pain. We see this mostly in adults who were physically punished or harshly punished in other ways grow up to become pro-spankers and advocates of spanking. But, we can also sometimes see a lack of empathy in children. On August 20, 2011 Amy shared with me how being spanked caused her to struggle with a lack of empathy throughout her childhood. Amy stated:
“I personally struggled in my childhood with empathy. I would often spank my younger siblings even when I was very young. I would get angry with them and erupt just as my parents did with aggression, and would act out a spanking ritual on my younger sibs. Then afterwards I would feel little to no guilt or remorse. I felt justified since that was how adults resolved their issues when they became angry at me. I had lost sight of an ability to empathize with my siblings who most unfortunately were getting doubly spanked. I was also unable to make friends because when I became angry I would become aggressive. It really does change the course of one’s attitude and in a strange twist of fate there ability to know or trust oneself.”
It is clear that Amy’s parents taught her a “lesson in indifference to suffering” (Greven, 1992, p. 127). Going back to all of the books written by pro-spankers, as I said, they all lack empathy and compassion for children. In fact, they advise parents, especially mothers, to stifle their empathy and natural desire to protect their children in order to “discipline them with the rod.” Here is one such example of an advocate of spanking telling mothers to stifle their empathy in order for their children to be spanked:
“J. Richard Fugate, an advocate of the rod, recognizes the impulse toward empathy and compassion in some parents, especially mothers: ‘A mother naturally cringes at the thought of switching her own child. The reality of intentionally inflicting pain, especially in using a rod that can make a mark (which will quickly go away), goes against the natural tendency to protect, comfort, and nurture her child. Uninformed mothers may even try to interfere with the father’s proper use of a rod.’ His advice is for mothers to think of the long-term consequences of their use of the rod in obtaining the obedience of their children, however much they may feel the need ‘to protect, comfort, and nurture’ their children” (Greven, 1993, p. 127-128).
I find this quite interesting as throughout the Bible God says He will love, nurture, and protect His children. Yes, there were times in the Old Testament when God got angry with people for turning their backs on Him, and yet, He would always have compassion on His people. He created mothers with a natural instinct to nurture and protect her child. Just as He made young children egocentric, He also made mothers nurturers and protectors of their children. This is all for survival in a world that is broken by sin. God is love. I can’t imagine the Holy Spirit instructing parents to ignore their God-given instincts in order to intentionally inflict pain on their children. In fact, God command us to take off our sinful nature and put on love and peace. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry…Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” Colossians 3:5, 12-14. What pro-spankers don’t seem to understand is that it is our sinful nature that allows us to intentionally inflict harm on children and other people. Pro-spankers rely on the same 5 or 6 rod verses in Scripture to justify allowing their sinful nature to inflict pain on their children, and then further justify it by saying they comforted the child after the spanking. I would like to ask you, if you’re a pro-spanker, do you actually feel the Holy Spirit jumping for joy inside you while you’re hitting your child? Do you feel that warm glow we feel when God is pleased with us while your child is crying out in pain from you? These are tough questions, but if we are honest with ourselves, the answers to these questions is no. We may think that after we spank our children and are busy loving and comforting them that God’s pleased. However, is that really the Holy Spirit or is it a combination of endorphins being released as well as our minds trying to justify our actions? Some Christians reading this may not have a strong sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. After all, how do we know it is the Holy Spirit speaking to us? First, one must be a born again Christian in order for the Holy Spirit to dwell inside you. “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:3. Second, the Holy Spirit never tells us to do anything evil. Everything that the Holy Spirit tells us is good and glorifies God. Thirdly, everything the Holy Spirit tells us to do will not only benefit us, but will benefit others. I will be discussing Godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow in a future piece on guilt and shame, but for now, I want to point out that the Holy Spirit always promotes Godly sorrow in that we are more concerned about how our mistakes affected others and/or our relationship with God instead of how our mistakes have affected us. Therefore, the Holy Spirit encourages empathy, peace, and love, which are the fruits of the Spirit of which Galatians 5:22 speaks. The Holy Spirit does not promote pain and violence in Jesus’ Name! In fact, the Holy Spirit reminds us of Christ’s teachings, which are peaceful and gentle. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” John 14:26. Finally, Scripture warns us not to do anything that will “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” Ephesians 4:30. Since we must stifle empathy, compassion, and gentleness when we spank (hit) our children, this grieves the Holy Spirit.
Another reason physical punishment hinders the development of empathy in children is that it does not show respect for the body, mind, feelings, and spirit of the child. Therefore, the child does not learn to respect his/herself or others. Thus, the cycle of physical punishment/abuse, which are one in the same (see Part 2), continues unless the person recognizes that it is wrong and against God’s Will and works against it. Also, physical punishment causes children to become passive, which, despite what many Christian pro-spankers say, is not good! This can lead to children not getting the help they need both in and out of school. It also leads to apathy. Greven (1992) states,
“Equally enduring are the apathy and passivity so often experienced by children who are physically punished and abused. Ruth and Henry Kemp point out: ‘Another outstanding characteristic of young abused children is their compliance and acceptance of whatever happens. They are passive and obedient, even when in the hospital they are required to submit to painful procedures, or when in the process of an evaluation they are taken away from their parents by a stranger. They will remain in uncomfortable positions for a long time if asked to do so, or sit quietly while their mothers talk for a long time. That this truly is compliance is proved by their gradual growth of assertiveness and resistance, if they are removed to a more permissive environment’” (p. 128-129).
This may sound great to some parents. Who wouldn’t want an easy, compliant child. But what people such as the Pearls fail to understand is these children are not truly happy. They’ve learned to stop feeling, to stop caring about themselves and others in order to survive lest they get beaten again. This is no way for anyone to live, much less a child. In severe cases such as these, children do not learn empathy at all as they are so focused on just surviving. This is exactly what happened to Phil E. Quinn. Quinn (1988) begins my stating the fact that “Empathy makes us so uncomfortable with someone else’s suffering that we are motivated to do something about it. Parents unable to empathize with the hurts of their children are likely to do little to relieve the suffering” (p. 55).
Quinn goes on to describe how he never learned empathy as a child due to the severe abuse he endured throughout his childhood. He explains:
“Empathy is learned most easily in childhood. The tragedy for me, as for many others, is that I was never provided the opportunity to develop empathy. My childhood was spent trying to survive—not only the abuse, but my own incredible feelings. I was too preoccupied with my own feelings to be concerned about those of others. It took all my concentration and effort to avoid being overwhelmed by a childhood that threatened almost daily to destroy me. Even at the age of twenty-three it was difficult to vicariously experience what someone else might be thinking or feeling” (Quinn, 1988, p. 55).
Due to not being able to learn empathy as a child, it wasn’t until he started having children that Quinn was force to teach himself how to be empathetic towards his children. Quinn (1988) states:
“Like other survivors of child abuse, I tended to measure the suffering of others—particularly my children—by my own experience. If what they seemed to be experiencing fell within the range of my own negative experience, then no empathetic response would result. Like all children learning to walk and run and play, my children would occasionally fall down and skin their elbows and knees. Also like most children, they would turn to me for comfort. At first. But after a while they stopped coming to me for comfort. Why? I was totally oblivious to their suffering! Seeing their little skinned elbows and knees provoked no emotional reaction in me at all…To be an effective parent, I literally had to resensitize myself to the experiences of my children; to realize that skinned elbows and knees do hurt and that it was important to respond with empathy and caring. It took time and conscious effort to develop these empathetic skills, but I made it” (p. 55-56).
Sadly, not everyone is as successful at retraining themselves to become more empathetic towards others; especially towards their children, as Quinn was. Denial and repression often set in making one oblivious to the need to have more empathy. Then satan further hardens our hearts by having us read books and articles that say children must be spanked in order to become God-fearing adults. Since children learn by example and experience, it can sometimes be difficult to break out of the cycle of using physical punishment/abuse with their own children. After all, “If it was good enough for my parents and me, they reason, then it is good enough for me and my child. It is one way to parent, or at least it is the way it has always been done in my family. This is one reason abused children tend to become abusive parents” (Quinn, 1988, p. 56). It is clear that children are learning more through their parents’ actions towards them than by their words. Parents can tell their children until their blue in the face that violence is unacceptable, but if they are hitting their children in order to drive home the message, the children will get the exact opposite message. Children are too focused on the pain to internalize a message of peace and love from their parents’ words. Thus, the age old saying, “Actions speak louder than words,” is quite true when it comes to children! “From the research of Straus and others, we’ve learned quite a bit about the effects of spanking. We’ve learned that spanking teaches kids that hitting others is morally correct. In other words, hitting is okay if the other person is doing something wrong and won’t stop it” (Sprain, 2000, http://www.parentingthoughts.org/Spanking.htm).
Children will often imitate how their parents treat them and other people. When they see and/or experience adults hitting children, they will often act it out during play either with a doll or a sibling. “The mom of one of my patients once told me that she thought she had to spank her child to be a good disciplinarian – until one day she observed her 3-year-old daughter hitting her younger brother. When the mom intervened, the daughter said, “I’m just playing mommy.” Obviously, there was no more spanking in that house” (Sears, 2010, http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-spanking—-yay-or-nay). I have witnessed similar situations in which a physically punished child hits their sibling during play. They really have no idea why what they did was wrong nor do they understand how they’ve hurt their sibling. “Spanking sabotages empathy. A child is likely to haul off and hit another child without considering whether his actions are going to hurt the other person” (Sears, 2010, http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-spanking—-yay-or-nay).
Finally, there have been Facebook postings in which people joke about how they were spanked and it didn’t affect them. Here’s an example of one such post. “I have to laugh at people who are against spanking… My parents whipped my butt like there was no tomorrow… I didn’t hate them… I didn’t have trust issues with them because of it… I didn’t fear them… But I darn sure respected them! And I learned what my boundaries were and knew what would happen if I broke them… I wasn’t abused… I was disciplined… *Re-post if you got your butt smacked and survived it… God put extra padding back there for a reason*” (Dulce de Leche, 2011, http://dulcefamily.blogspot.com/2011/08/i-spanked-my-dog-and-he-turned-out-fine.html). Like Dulce, I am sickened and saddened by the harsh, mocking tone of such a post as if being hit and/or hitting a child is not serious. It also further proves that pro-spankers lack empathy and compassion. To truly believe that children need a “good whipping or spanking” in order to learn limits and boundaries shows a lack of regard for the fruits of the Spirit, the child’s feelings and dignity, and for people who were spanked and did not turn out “just fine.” Yes, children who are physically punished/abused can learn empathy, but it is much more difficult for them, and they often learn it from someone other than their parents. The research and actions of pro-spankers clearly demonstrates that physical punishment/abuse limits the development of empathy in children.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” Leviticus 19:18.
In the next section of this piece, I will be discussing how spanking/abusing children often leads to anger and aggression at some point in their lives. Also, the physical punishment/abuse in the Name of God often leads some to become angry with God and/or the church.
Anger and Aggression—“I refuse to follow a God that promotes and inflicts violence!”
The above statement, “I refuse to follow a God that promotes and inflicts violence,” saddens me greatly. I have been hearing it a lot lately from non-believers after the airing of the interview with Michael and Debi Pearl from No Greater Joy Ministries on CNN a few weeks ago. The parents of Lydia Schatz were convicted of murder after beating Lydia to death by following the Pearl’s child training “wisdom” found in their book, To Train a Child. We will be discussing how people—including those that grow up in Christian homes—can become so angry that they reject God forever.
As we saw in the previous section on empathy, a lack of empathy makes becoming angry and aggressive with others—especially with children—much easier. After all, as we saw above, some pro-spankers tell parents to suppress their God-given instinct to love, nurture, and protect their children in order to inflict pain on them in the name of “godly discipline.” Empathy works to inhibit anger and aggression in people (Quinn, 1988). People who lack and/or suppress empathy and compassion are much more likely to believe that spanking children is perfectly fine. The reason for this is that being hit by one’s parents not only makes one feel weak and helpless, but it also teaches the child that the stronger adult is allowed to hit the weaker child. Children are never allowed to defend themselves during spankings lest they endure further spankings with possibly even more force being applied by the parents. These memories are stored either consciously or subconsciously in their minds. When these children become adults, many of them crave the power that they lacked as children; therefore, misusing the power they now have over their children. “Only now, when someone weaker than they is involved, do they finally fight back, often quite fiercely. There are countless rationalizations, still used today, to justify their behavior” (Miller, 1994, p. 16).
Anger and aggression are two very common effects of physical punishment/abuse with children because children have a very black and white view of justice and fairness. Even when children are spanked the “right, loving” way, anger and aggression pop up as they try to cope with the confusion and unfairness of being intentionally hurt by their parents who are supposed to love them. Greven (1992) states, “Being assaulted violently in the name of discipline invariably produces anger and often rage in children, just as it does in most adults” (p. 123). Because young children cannot express their anger verbally due to a limited vocabulary, they will often act out aggressively. Also, some children may become more defiant as a way to seek revenge for being hit by their parents. “In fact, research shows that children who are spanked tend to grow defiant and aggressive” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 78). Despite what many Christian advocates of spanking claim, the anger, aggression, and the other harmful effects of physical punishment are actually worse when it is done in the Name of Jesus!
There was a study done in 2003 to see if it was indeed more harmful to use physical punishment within a religious or non-religious context. Psychology professor, Bette L. Bottoms, at the University of Illinois in Chicago, conducted psychological tests on two groups of subjects. One group experienced physical punishment/abuse in the name of religion. The other group experienced their physical punishment/abuse in a non-religious context. The results were clear. The subjects who had experienced physical punishment/abuse in the Name of God “more severely suffered from such psychological problems as depression, anxiety, hostility, and psychotic personality disorders” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 31). Heimlich (2011) goes on to state:
“In that study, Bottoms opines as to why abuse involving religion might be more traumatic than abuse in which religion is not a factor: ‘Religious contexts and justifications may add an additional layer of complexity and harm to the experience of child physical abuse… We speculate that there is an additional sense of betrayal involved and much internal cognitive dissonance and perhaps guilt as victims deal, not only with the physically abusive actions, but also with the confusing relation of the actions to religion, which they are taught to believe and follow’” (p. 31).
This is further illustrated by MC’s experiences as a child. MC was brought up in a Fundamentalist Christian family where spanking is used quite commonly as parents are taught that God “commands” that children be spanked. MC was spanked by his father on his bare bottom throughout his childhood with his father using his hand, belt, or paddle. As a child, MC repressed his anger because he was taught that he deserved to be hurt by his father for disobeying; that his father spanked him because he loved him; that the spanking was for his own good; and that God commanded his father to spank him as this was a sign of love. While there were occasions where MC did get angry as a child due to his own spanking or friends and siblings being spanked, much of his anger cropped up when MC became a young adult. He found out that everything he had been taught as a child were all lies. He felt betrayed. In an electronic message sent on August 28, 2011, MC conveyed the following to me:
“The main out-let of my anger is unfortunately the church. The church may not have personally whacked my bare skin with a paddle or belt, but they certainly passed along the false teachings that caused my father to do it. I resent the teachings and practices of the church I grew up in, and I resent any Christian organization that passes along, or accepts, such teachings today. My blood boils when I think of how what the church taught impacted my sexual development, leading to an orientation that eroticizes spanking. If my orientation is a sin, then the church helped lead me into that sin by passing along their pro-spanking message. I also find it difficult to trust the church; and as much as I have tried to separate my anger at the church from God, I sometimes find myself unable to trust God, and often feel angry at God. I feel like the church failed me, and now my relationship with God is strained and filled with tension.”
How very sad that MC struggles with anger for the church and with God because of the pain he experienced as a child. This is quite common of people who have been hurt in the Name of God. How can a child grow up to truly trust in the Lord when He “wanted” the child to be hurt for his/her sin? I find it interesting that so may Christians truly believe in spanking to discourage their children from sinning and lead them to God, but we’ve been seeing throughout my series that the opposite seems to happen in most cases of physical punishment. “Some parents even believe that it is their Christian duty to administer physical punishment—to build character, discourage sin, and instill a sense of submission and obedience to the will of God, as represented through parental authority. They take what God has created in his own image and refashion it so their children will grow up to be just like them” (Quinn, 1988, p. 156-157). Many Christian and non-Christian pro-spankers constantly claim that spankings done “lovingly” are never harmful in any way to the child, this obviously is not the case. Look what Quinn (1988) goes on to say, “My adoptive parents told me hundreds of times, during the endless beatings, that they loved me. If that was their way to love, they very nearly loved me to death” (p. 157).
Olivia grew up in England in the 1950s when physical punishment was rarely questioned. She was physically punished regularly as a child. On August 27, 2011, Olivia shared with me via electronic mail how angry she felt whenever her parents would hit her. It was even worse if her dad tried to be loving afterward. Here’s what Olivia stated:
“I would be in my room say, and Dad would go and fetch his large slipper with the leather sole….. yelling of course… he would wrestle me over his lap while he sat on my bed, pulling my panties down while pinning both my hands with one of his above my head … while I told him and begged him to stop to no avail. He would then use that pinning technique with one leg to make sure I couldn’t get away .. and then start spanking. Down would come that leather slipper over and over on my bottom .. while I screamed the place down .. I was terrified, ANGRY, I hated him.. them… How DARE he/she hit me ?? How DARE they hit anyone??? On and on it would go .. not just say 10 strikes .. but on and on. Honestly I don’t know how long. All I know was that I was left a seething angry/distraught mess, almost ‘thrown’ onto my bed, to stay there until I was ‘ready to come down and behave’. Most of the time I stayed there. A lot of the time I was told to stay there as further punishment. [He tried once.. with the 'oh we love you' and tried to cuddle me ... I was having none of it... I couldn't bear him near me. I hated him! How DARE he want to hold me and tell me he loved me !! HE was LYING ... how could you hit and hurt someone like that and then tell them you LOVED THEM ??? ... that is how I felt then!] How did I usually feel?? I … distraught ..is not strong enough… I really do NOT have the words. As I have said before, I learned fear, pain, anger, hate and resentment. I really DID hate them at that time. I prayed to God to send me away. [A common threat to children in those days was to be 'sent to Boarding School' which was supposed to be a terrible place] I prayed that they WOULD send me to Boarding School because I was never in trouble at school, my teachers all liked/loved me! I can remember blubbering bubbles and snot and almost being sick with the .. anger the .. fear…. the … unfairness… the …. audacity of it for hours… My bottom bright red and again with white streaks where the slipper had fallen. Or my mums fingers… hard, hot ridges… I was always asking to go and stay with my paternal grandparents for ‘the weekend’ or a week … my grandmother was only too pleased to have me … and I think she knew why from the way she spoke to me. My mum never knew .. but there were a few times.. when although I was only perhaps… 8 – 11 … I went out into the night when she was asleep and sat on the front garden wall .. sobbing at the stars and moon and sky. Begging God to help me. This would have been HOURS after being spanked .. and after her bedtime… “
Again, while Olivia sought comfort from God in most cases throughout her childhood, the very thing that was supposed to help discourage sinfulness in her actually was what created her anger, hate, and resentfulness towards her parents who thought they were doing the right thing. I wonder if some pro-spankers are not only in denial and lack a certain amount of empathy, but are also so filled with anger that they get revenge by twisting Scripture around in order to justify hurting their own children. After all, “Beatings, which are only one form of mistreatment, are always degrading, because the child not only is unable to defend him- or herself but is also supposed to show gratitude and respect to the parents in return. And along with corporal punishment there is a whole gamut of ingenious measures applied ‘for the child’s own good’ which are difficult for a child to comprehend and which for that very reason often have devastating effects later in life” (Miller, 1994, p. 17). Sadly, the devastating effects that Miller is describing are the very ones that keep the cycle of physical punishment/abuse continuing.
While some research shows that an occasional spanking done “lovingly” is a bit less harmful (we will discuss spanking “in love” more in-depth in a future piece), it is still damaging as it teaches children to equate hitting with love. This creates a higher risk for domestic violence as children who were hit grow into teenagers and adults. Simons, Lin, and Gordon conducted a research study in 1998 to see if physical punishment did indeed increase the risk of dating violence later on. They studied 113 boys in rural Iowa that were in 7th grade and/or were 13-years-old. They asked these boys’ parents how often the boys were spanked, and how often a belt or a paddle was used to administer the spankings. The questions were repeated in three intervals during this five-year study. Over half of the boys in this study experienced physical punishment during these five years. “Consequently, the findings about corporal punishment apply to the majority of boys in that community, not just to the children of a small group of violent parents” (Straus, 2006, p. 201). During this study, the boys were also asked if they had hit, pushed, or shoved their girlfriends in the last year during a disagreement. The boys were asked about any other delinquent acts they may have been involved with as well. The study took into account whether the boys’ parents were loving, consistent, and supervised their children. Here are the findings from this study:
“Simons and his colleagues found that the more corporal punishment experienced by these boys, the greater the probability of their physically assaulting a girlfriend. Moreover, like the other prospective studies, the analysis took into account the misbehavior that led parents to use corporal punishment, and also for the quality of parenting. This means that the relation of corporal punishment to violence against a girlfriend is very unlikely to be due to poor parenting. Rather, it is another study showing that the long run effect of corporal punishment is to engender more rather than less misbehavior. In short, spanking boomerangs” (Straus, 2006, p. 201).
Yet another study done with young children shows that corporal punishment “was associated with an increased probability of a child assaulting the parent a year and a half later. Thus, while it is true that corporal punishment teaches the child a lesson, it is certainly not the lesson intended by the parents” (Straus, 2006, p. 200). Some pro-spankers claim that consistently spanking does not make children any more aggressive than other children, and that the key is to be consistent. I must challenge this because there are just too many other studies showing the opposite to be true. Also, if physical punishment does not create an aggressive tendency in children, then why do a great deal of these children grow up to follow in their parents’ footsteps? It just does not line up with the research or the societal norms. While I will be discussing “lovingly” hitting children in a future piece, I want to share what Wendy conveyed to me about how it was when she was in grade school. Corporal punishment was allowed during the time she was in grade school. However, there still was a great deal of aggressiveness at the school. Here is what Wendy observed as written via an electronic message dated August 27, 2011:
“Since physical punishment was used both at home and at the school I went to from K-4, violence just seemed like a normal way to solve problems. There was some concern about aggressive behavior, but not enough knowledge at the time to realize that spanking might not be the best response to it.”
Katie also went to a Christian grade school where corporal punishment was used. However, the teachers and principal were not allowed to spank the children if they were angry. Here are Katie’s thoughts about seeing calm teachers spanking children at school as conveyed to me via an electronic message on September 3, 2011:
“I can tell you that at our DND schools the teacher who was angry wasn’t supposed to spank – it was meant to be an “impartial” teacher to administer a “reasonable” beating. I was a good girl and never got hit at school though. I thought it was creepier to have someone who wasn’t angry do the hitting – it seemed worse to me than someone who had lost their marbles. Calculated.”
It seems that spanking children “in love” is worse than being hit in anger. Either way, hitting children teaches them how to behave aggressively and violently towards loved ones. It also can teach children to submit to domestic violence. In a study written in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2010 examined 2,000 families to see if the use of physical punishment with 3-year-old children was related with physical violence used between the parents. Over half of the 3-year-olds in this study had been spanked at least once during the previous month. The results of this study showed that “The odds of using physical punishment doubled in households where parents used aggression against each other. This is not surprising since physical punishment is a form of interpersonal aggression” (Lopez-Duran, 2010, http://www.drmomma.org/2010/09/why-spanking-is-never-okay.html). Sadly, most hitting of children begins at the extremely young age of 1-year-old, with some infants being hit before they are even a year old. Infants never understand being hit! This is far beyond their comprehension. It is the same for toddlers! Research shows that “children who were spanked at age 1 had more aggressive behaviors at age 2 and performed worse on measures of thinking abilities at age 3” (Thomas, 2009, http://www.drmomma.org/2009/09/early-spanking-increases-toddler.html). And finally, in yet another study that was done to see if spanking infants and toddlers made them more aggressive as they got older, “Slade and Wissow found that, compared with children who were never spanked, children who were frequently spanked (five times a week) before age two were four times more likely to have behavioral problems by the time they started school. (Slade E., Wissow L. Spanking in Early Childhood and Later Behavior Problems: A Prospective Study of Infants and Young Toddlers, Pediatrics, vol. 113, no. 5, May 2004)” (Klebanov, 2011, http://www.examiner.com/parenting-in-san-francisco/the-ministry-of-michael-and-debbie-pearl). It is clear that physical punishment does increase aggression in children.
A great deal of pro-spankers claim that the world is much more violent than it was back in the “good old days” because children are being spanked less. They believe that children who are not physically punished are not as respectful. These two claims are actually incorrect. “Straus (1994) and Gershoff (2002) report that over 90% of parents still report using corporal punishment on their children” (Couture, 2007, http://stophitting.blogspot.com/2006/01/back-in-good-ol-days-and-other.html). Sadly, the majority of children today will be hit at some point during their childhoods. And in Part 6 of “The Christian History of Spanking,” I show how respect differs from fear as many people equate fear as respect when actually fear is much different than respect. In reality, the world is no more violent than it was 100 years ago. A hundred years ago, there was the Civil War and other wars, slavery in which a great deal of slaves were often beaten, Colonists were taking over Native American land—killing entire tribes. There has always been a great deal of violence in our world with Christians doing a great deal of it. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, there has been violence as violence is due to sin entering the world. The only true difference between now and then is that we are almost constantly exposed to violence thanks to media. Besides sex, violence is a common theme in our movies, television shows, music, and videogames. Plus, the news is constantly reporting acts of violence. We are so much more aware of violence whereas back then people were not as exposed or aware of the violence that was occurring. And they could shelter themselves and their children from violence as there was no television or Internet. Children didn’t watch cartoons or play videogames filled with violent images like they do today. Children were taught to respect life as many families had to hunt for their food. Because so many parents have to work full-time in order to survive today, children are being left alone with all this access to violent media with little guidance from busy, stressed out parents. Research shows that all of this exposure to violence is desensitizing children and adults to violence. Greven (1992) states:
“’Research has demonstrated that television must be considered one of the major socializers of children’s aggressive behavior. Two major behavioral effects of heavy viewing of televised violence are: (1) an increase in children’s level of aggression; and (2) an increase in children’s passive acceptance of the use of aggression by others.’ Both aggression and apathy thus are intensified by an immersion in television violence although the roots of both undoubtedly are to be found in the life histories of punishment and abuse of those who view such violence with either indifference or enthusiasm” (p. 129).
It is clear that between being spanked (hit) from young ages and being exposed to so much violence via the media that children are learning that violence is how we solve problems. And they learn that a certain amount of aggressive behavior is acceptable and even expected in today’s society. However, Jesus is very much against any type of violence. Look what He says in Matthew 11:13, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.” Not only does this show that Jesus is against violence, but that violence has always been in the world.
Since aggression and anger are closely related as they feed off of each other, I would like to conclude this piece by taking one last look at anger. While anger can be used in a productive manner, it is often allowed to fester, leading to rage, bitterness, and resentment. Scripture warns us not to sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26). Jesus also gives a very stern warning in Matthew 5:21-26 about allowing anger to get out of control. He also tells us to be quick to reconcile with each other in this same passage. As we’ve seen throughout this section that physical punishment often creates a strong feeling of anger in children even if it is done in the “correct, godly, loving way.” As we saw with MC, anger may not appear until the child becomes an adult. Anger is a common response to being hurt in any way. As Greven (1992) states:
“Anger is a child’s best (and often only) defense, for it arises out of a powerful sense of self, a self being violated and abused by painful blows and hurtful words. The child has been hurt on purpose (bolding for emphasis done by Steph) by an adult in order to teach a lesson in discipline, but the child experiences this pain and reproach as an assault upon the self as well as upon the body. Often the result is not only anger but also hatred and a powerful desire for revenge, which often takes the form of imagined mutilation or murder of the person who inflicted the pain. These powerful emotions are permanently stored in unconscious memories, but sometimes people also remember them quite consciously, years after the events that provoked the feelings” (p. 124).
As I’ve said many times in all of my series, if God truly wanted us to hit our children in order to “discipline” them, why didn’t He provide us with more instructions? And since the rod verses quoted by pro-spankers are so general, then why does hitting create more sin in our children instead of less sin? In fact, as we shall see in a future piece, hitting children in Jesus’ Name can and does lead some children to become so angry with God for “making” their parents inflict pain on them as children. Anger is one of the most powerful emotions that we have. If spanking is so right and godly, then why do adults still deal with the anger created in them from being spanked by their Christian parents? Here is yet another story of a child being hit by his father who was a pastor, and after many years, still vividly remember the anger he felt towards his father:
“When in his early fifties, Edmund Gosse recalled in his famous autobiography, Father and Son (1907), his one encounter with corporal punishment as vividly as if it just happened. Gosse was the only child of two intensely apocalyptic parents, English members of the sect of Plymouth Brethren. He recollected: ‘It was about the date of my sixth birthday that I did something very naughty, some act of direct disobedience, for which my Father, after a solemn sermon, chastised me, sacrificially, by giving me several cuts with a cane. This action was justified, as everything he did was justified, by reference to Scripture.’ Gosse also had vivid memories of his own reactions and feelings to this encounter with corporal punishment. He recollected ‘being made, not contrite or humble, but furiously angry by this caning. I cannot account for the flame of rage which it awakened in my bosom,’ he wrote, but added that ‘I have to confess with shame that I went about the house for some days with a murderous hatred of my Father locked inside my bosom’” (Greven, 1992, p. 124).
Some may say that it is a child’s will that causes the child to become angry and aggressive after a “godly” spanking. I must disagree with this because a “godly” spanking is supposed to help rid the child of sin, but instead, it sows a seed of sin into a child’s heart. It is obvious that this is not what God intended! This is why Jesus warns against causing children, and anyone weaker, to sin in Matthew 18:6-9 and Mark 9:42. This is also why Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 commands parents not to embitter their children. Yes, a lack of discipline causes children to sin and become embittered. But so does physical punishment and other types of harsh punishment.
As I mentioned, we’ll be seeing that using physical punishment in Jesus’ Name causes some children to abandon their faith altogether, in a future piece due to their anger. Going back to CNN’s recent interview with the Pearls, authors of To Train a Child, that I began this section with, many non-believers have been leaving many angry comments on Christian websites that advocate against the Pearl’s teachings and the use of any type of physical punishment saying, “I refuse to follow a God that advocates and promotes violence!” After hearing about the abusive and deadly teachings of the Pearls, who truly believe that their teachings are ordained by God, atheists and other non-Christians have been absolutely tearing apart God’s Word by taking certain verses and passages completely out of context in order to show how violent and bad God is. They are angry because instead of seeing our true God, they are seeing an evil, hateful god. They are not seeing God’s amazing grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness because we Christians are not doing well with showing our broken world God’s love for them. Matthew 5:13-16 states, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” We are supposed to be the salt and light over the world in order to bring people into the Kingdom of God, but yet, we hit children in God’s Name; murder people in God’s Name; say, “God hates fags;” while appearing to act better than others. It really is no wonder so many people are rejecting God, and are so against Christians. They are getting a completely inaccurate view of who God is from the very people who are representing Him.
This anger is causing people to perish because they refuse to come to Him for salvation. This is not what God wants at all! He loves everyone so much and is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). It is clear from all of the research and personal stories that children remember being physically punished and abused more than parents realize. Do we really want our children to grow up to be angry, un-empathetic people who become aggressive toward weaker people? Or do we want our children to grow up displaying the fruits of the Spirit in order to help turn more people to God that they may know His wonderful peace, love, and joy that we can only get through a personal relationship with Him? It’s up to us! Please open your hearts to the Truth! God does not promote, condone, or command the use of physical punishment with children. Please open your eyes and look around the world in order to see what is happening because precious children are being hurt.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” Romans 12:17-19.
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