In the previous piece we looked at how spanking/abuse negatively effects the development of empathy in children. We also saw that any type of physical punishment can cause aggressive tendencies in children and adults. Physical punishment also leads to anger in children and adults due to being hurt intentionally by the very people that are supposed to love and protect them. In this piece, we will see that fear is the main effect of hitting children. We will see that by teaching children that God wants them to be spanked, they often develop a fear of God which either strains their relationships with God or causes them to reject Him altogether. Finally, we will see that spanking “in love” is indeed harmful despite what many pro-spankers claim.
Fear-“That child needs the fear of the Lord put in him!”
We have all heard that line from pro-spankers a number of times. As I pointed out Part 5 in my series, “Spanking is NOT God’s Will,” putting the fear of God into a child is one of the primary reasons people spank children. They use fear and respect as interchangeable concepts when they have no similarities in their meanings. (See Part 6 of “The Christian History of Spanking for more info). Fear is indeed the primary effect experienced by all children who are physically punished whether mildly or severely. Pain is why physical punishment is effective, though only temporally, as most humans are afraid of pain and will usually do everything in their power to avoid it. It usually takes only 1 or 2 times of a young child being hit for him/her to become afraid of getting spanked. Most pro-spankers, especially Christians, view this fear as a good thing, and even a must, in order to teach children to obey them and ultimately God. Yet, 2 Timothy 1:7 states, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” And 1 John 4:18 says that there is no fear in love. Fear comes from satan. “Courage comes from God, while fear is what Satan tries to give us” (Meyer, 2011, p. 272). Throughout the Bible God tells His people not to be afraid of Him. (Again, see Part 5 of “Spanking is NOT God’s Will” for more info on fear and God).
As I said, it only takes a couple of times of being hit by their parents or caregivers in order for them to become fearful. Greven (1992) states, “Once a child is struck, the memory remains encoded in the brain and body for life. Even those who were struck only once or twice can often remember the pain and shock years afterward. For those children who are punished more frequently, however, the anticipation of pain itself becomes part of the punishment, and the anxiety and even dread generated by experiential knowledge of the burning sting of a hand, or a belt, or a rod, or any other implement, cannot easily be quelled” (p. 122). Children will begin to cry, have an elevated heart rate, and shallow breathing, all symptoms of fear, before their parents even begin to spank them. MC, who we met in Part 3 of this series, relayed to me on September 29, 2011 via electronic message how he felt before he’d be spanked by his father. MC states, “The stomach sinking dread of impending punishment was used as a motivator.” Olivia, from Part 3 of this series, also felt a similar fear before she was spanked. On August 27, 2011, Olivia conveyed to me in an electronic message the following:
“Sometimes I would be either sent to my room .. or taken there [I can remember one time when it was in their room] more like dragged there. There was NO way this quiet child was going to allow herself to be hit … even knowing it would make it worse. I had to ‘fight back’ and defend myself. Even terrified .. of the outcome I would NOT just ‘give in.’”
Sadly, tears of fear turn into tears of pain as most Christian advocates of spanking advise parents not to let a child’s crying and/or pleading dissuade them from implementing the physical punishment. As Greven (1992) states, “Children cry when they are hurt and when they are frightened, and corporal punishments entail both pain and fear. Tears of anticipation, which are ineffectual efforts to ward off or delay the pains to come, are usually followed by tears of suffering, as Christenson, Dobson, Fugate, Lessin, and others have noted… The big and powerful always find ways of intimidating and dominating the small and powerless, and pain is the most compelling method of all for forcing children to submit their wills and selves to the wills and commands of adults. The pain generates fear, as so many corporal-punishment advocates readily acknowledge, and the fear never disappears entirely” (p. 123). It is clear that being hit by someone the child loves and is reliant on is quite scary for the child. This is especially true because most children begin being hit at the age of 1-year-old, or in some cases, even before he/she is a year old. Infants and toddlers are just learning cause and effect, so they have no understanding as to why they’re being hit or what may cause them to be hit again. Can we imagine exploring a new world, and being purposely hurt every time we touched the “wrong” thing or went the “wrong” direction not knowing why it is wrong or what else is “wrong?” What an absolutely terrifying experience that would be for us. I wouldn’t want to do much exploring after a while for fear of making a mistake. And yet, all too often, this is the new world that a great deal of infants and toddlers come into. Here is one such example. Phil E. Quinn’s 1-year-old daughter kept touching a breakable object on his parent’s coffee table. He told her “No” several times, but every time he’d go back to talking to his parents, she’d reach for it again. Until finally:
“My mother counseled sweetly, ‘You’d better teach her who’s boss right now, or you’ll be in big trouble later!’ It was the same voice so often used to rationalize the beatings she had inflicted upon me. As if on cue, I reached out and smashed the child’s tiny hand flat on the surface of the table. In that instant I saw the confusion in her eyes turn to hurt and then to pain as they filled with tears. I also saw my parents relax. It was obvious that I had won their approval. But at the expense of my infant daughter. My parents smiled. I felt sick. I had become like them. Many times since that day I have asked myself why I did not just move the objects out of her reach” (Quinn, 1988, p. 76).
Thankfully, Quinn knew what he did to his daughter was wrong, and therefore, worked to stop it. But for many pro-spankers, they focus more on the fact that the hitting worked which enables them to squelch any empathy they may have for their child’s pain, thus, enabling them to continue hitting their child whenever he/she doesn’t or, more likely, is unable to comply with the parent’s command. This creates an environment of fear for the child even if he/she doesn’t show it in obvious ways. Research shows that infants and toddlers who are physically punished do not explore their environments as much as their peers who are not physically punished. “Psychologists studied a group of sixteen fourteen-month-olds playing with their mothers. When one group of toddlers tried to grab a forbidden object, they received a slap on the hand; the other group of toddlers did not receive physical punishment. In follow-up studies of these children seven months later, the punished babies were found to be less skilled at exploring their environment. Better to separate the child from the object or supervise his exploration and leave little hands unhurt” (Sears, 2011, http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/discipline-behavior/spanking/10-reasons-not-hit-your-child). Quinn (1988) puts it quite well when he states that “The fear of punishment or retaliation becomes the inhibiting force in these situations” (p. 76). As we can see, fear inhibits learning in children and adults because fear narrows brain receptors. If we don’t feel safe, we have trouble concentrating and/or taking healthy risks for fear we will be punished if we make a mistake that we will be punished. “Abundant research has shown that negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, irritation, shame, and guilt hinder learning, because they temporarily narrow the scope of attention, cognition, and action ( Pekrun & Perry, 2002)” (Boekaerts, 2002, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959475202000105). However, many pro-spankers seem to ignore and/or be in denial about how all forms of hitting children are harmful due to the fear it instills in children.
Research has shown that physical punishment can lower children’s IQ scores because instead of learning critical thinking skills, they learn not to question authority—even when doing so would help them come up with a correct solution to the problem. “Over decades it has come to be agreed upon by psychologists and learning theorists that punishment is generally an ineffectual and problematic learning tool” (Grille, 2005, p. 182). In fact, this can lead children and adults to a form of learned helplessness. Children grow up learning that they are punished every time they don’t succeed in meeting their parents’ high expectations for them, so they quit trying. This can lead to struggling in their occupational pursuits. “It is not too far fetched to believe that when a child is hit by someone he or she loves and depends on, it can be traumatizing. A severely traumatic experience can have wide-ranging effects that might spawn characteristics that could impair occupational success. Besides that, children cannot escape the parents who punish them. So, even if no single instance is traumatizing, they may be similar to the laboratory animals in Seligman’s experiments on ‘learned helplessness’ who became passive and withdrawn as a way of adapting to punishment they could not escape (Seligman and Garbor, 1982)” (Strauss, 2006, p. 138). On the other side of this spectrum are children who are quite successful throughout their schooling and careers because they are perfectionists. They are also afraid to fail due to fear of punishment, so they become overachievers stressing themselves out beyond what is necessary in order to always succeed and always please others. This can cause them to hide their sins and quirks deep within their hearts in order to prevent anyone from knowing what is truly going on inside them. Here is a perfect example of a child who was spanked consistently in the “right, loving” way, and how she quickly learned to hide her sins and became a perfectionist:
“The little girl’s parents were careful not to spank in anger. They followed a procedure of talking to the little girl before and after each spanking. The little girl always seemed so repentant before the spanking. After the spanking, she appeared to be relieved of a heavy burden of guilt that she had been carrying.
The little girl grew up to be an excellent teenager. She was easy to get along with and quick to please. She was upheld in her church as a model of good behavior for younger girls.
Though on the outside this little girl was a model daughter, on the inside things were different. You see, spankings taught this girl a very important lesson: as long as you conceal all sin and human weakness, including negative emotions, you will be acceptable and valued, and you will escape punishment….
As a teen, this girl hated to be called “sweet” or a “role-model.” She knew that in her heart she was imperfect, weak, sinful. She was terrified that those who put her on a pedestal would one day be disappointed in her when they found out she wasn’t her they thought she was. She hated herself. She often wanted to rebel to escape from the pressure….
You see, spankings taught this little girl to hide her true self, to exhibit perfection. They taught her that to be acceptable, she must never be negative, never be disobedient, never question authority. She knew that she must never tell her parents how spankings made her feel. She knew that after a spanking, she should act repentant and remorseful, but she also knew that she shouldn’t cry for too long or sound angry when she cried after a spanking, or that would be reason for another round” (Robinson, 2011, http://richlyforgiven.blogspot.com/2011/07/lock-em-up-throw-away-key.html).
Like this girl, fear due to physical punishment teaches children to try to do whatever it takes to avoid being hit by their parents. Not only are these children desperate to avoid the physical pain of physical punishment, but also the emotional pain and fear that goes along with being hit by loved ones. Sometimes this means only behaving around parents and other adults instead of doing what is right whether or not an adult is around. “For some children, the lessons learned through spanking include the idea that they only need to be good if Mommy or Daddy is watching or will know about it” (Strauss, 2006, p. 151). I did this myself as a child, and have witnessed a great deal of children do this throughout my work with young children. They always look so guilty and a little afraid when they find out that I saw what they did. Because I use positive guidance techniques with them, we have always worked it out in a positive manner. (I will be discussing positive, gentle discipline in a future series). Phil E. Quinn, from whom we have been hearing throughout this series, learned early on in his childhood to try to do whatever it took to avoid being beaten by his parents. Quinn (1988) explains that “I had long ago learned to do or say whatever my parents demanded of me. It was the only chance I had. In my dangerous world there were no such things as right or wrong, good or bad, truth or deceit. Reality was what my parents told me was real. Truth and good and right were what they wanted at the moment. Believing anything else was a threat to my survival” (p. 83). While I understand, and even Quinn admits, that what he suffered as a child was a severe case of abuse, many people who were spanked a bit more mildly than what Quinn experienced admit to still having similar feelings as Quinn. The fear, anger, and pain are the same for every child who is intentionally hurt by their parents and other adults—that is unless the children have repressed and denied their true feelings (see Part 2). Sometimes parents set up children so that they will be physically punished no matter how they try to respond correctly to their parents. Quinn experienced this when his mother asked him what his name was. Quinn (1988) states:
“Confused and frightened, I did not know what to answer. If I agreed with her that my name was Joe, then I would be lying. And how many times had I been told that lying would not be tolerated? Lying was a punishable offense. And yet, if I did not agree with her, I took the risk of appearing defiant and contradicting her. That also was an offense sure to bring punishment. What was I to do? I was desperate as the seconds ticked off… With a deep sigh of despair, I surrendered my will to the inevitable. Unable to change what was happening, I withdrew deeply into that private inner world I had created for myself… My adoptive parents’ choice of teaching methods may be attributed to ignorance of the possible short- and long-term effects. In their well-intentioned attempt to fortify my character, their method actually weakened whatever moral strength I might have had and resulted in serious emotional damage that in the long run had an effect opposite to the one they had intended. It did not build character—it destroyed it” (pps. 84-85, 88-89).
In Part 3 of this series I introduced the concept of Godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow. I would like to take a deeper look at these two concepts here as fear and guilt often lead people of all ages to have worldly sorrow instead Godly sorrow. Let’s first take a look at what the Bible has to say about Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 states,
“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”
What the apostle Paul is saying here is that Godly sorrow makes us think beyond ourselves to how our actions have hurt or affected other people and our relationship with God. We look past whatever consequences our actions caused us and want to do everything in our power to repent and seek forgiveness from God and the person we have hurt. This is why Paul says that Godly sorrow brings life as we seek to be forgiven. On the other hand, worldly sorrow brings death according to what Paul says in this verse. Due to fear of punishment as well as guilt, people of all ages will focus on the consequences that are happening to them because of their actions rather than how they’ve hurt God and the other person. This is worldly sorrow. Being afraid of punishment and rejection causes worldly sorrow. Also, feeling so guilty and bad about oneself that one feels that he/she deserves whatever punishment he/she has coming to him/her leads to worldly sorrow. There is a difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit that usually makes us want to seek forgiveness and repent and guilt which makes us feel worthless and fearful, hence, making us not want to seek forgiveness or repent. The Holy Spirit never threatens us or puts us down when He convicts us. He gently but firmly makes us aware of our sins in a way that we focus outwardly instead of inwardly. Physical punishment does not lead children to Godly sorrow despite what all of the Christian advocates of spanking may say. As the stories and research above show, physical punishment causes children to become fearful and to hide their sins from their parents and ultimately from God. Of course, God sees everything and knows our hearts (Psalm 44:21; Psalm 139:23), but we can still act as though God does not see what is really going on. This causes children not to come to God or their parents for help when they make mistakes.
In a groundbreaking book entitled This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You: In Words and Pictures, Children Share How Spanking Hurts and What to Do Instead by Nadine A. Block and Madeleine Y. Gomez, children wrote and drew about how being hit really makes the feel. To illustrate how children become fearful when they are hit, here are two stories written by a 13-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy regarding the fear and other emotions spanking has caused. The 12-year-old even recognizes that spanking is indeed abuse. Here’s what they have to say about spanking:
“Girl, Age 13, Illinois
‘Say No to Spanking. Parents shouldn’t spank their children because it affects your child’s feeling. When a child gets a spanking, they only experience the anger their parent has towards them. It makes kids afraid to talk to their parents about their problem because they’re afraid of the consequence. Also, spanking can leave marks and bruises on the bodies of innocent children. Spanking is one of the harshest punishments a parent can do to their child. I think parents should think of different ways to deal with family problems other than spanking their kids. Children that are hit will become adults that will hit. We need to try to end this violence so every child can feel safe in his or her home. Let’s break the silence!’” (Block & Gomez, 2011, p. 9).
“Boy, Age 14, New Hampshire
‘I am 12 and I am homeschooled. I am going to tell you a child’s perspective of corporal punishment. When I talk about corporal punishment, I’m talking about child abuse because that’s exactly what it is. If a husband his a wife or a wife hits a husband, it’s illegal, but if a mother or a father hits a child, it’s legal. Why is there a difference when two spouses it each other than when a parent is violent towards a child? What is the difference?
Some adults like to use the word ‘spanking’ so the child gets the impression that what the adult is doing is right. But if the adult uses the word ‘hit,’ the child knows something is wrong. I believe that we need to start calling ‘spanking’ what it really is. Spanking is HITTING!
Now I am going to tell you a child’s perspective…I was in several foster families. When I was in my biological family I got hit all the time. I also saw my brothers get hit all the time and I hated it. Sometimes at night my stepfather would come in to ‘spank’ us and we’d all dart under the bed. The only emotion I felt was fear…sheer and utter fear! And sometimes when one of my brothers would do something ‘wrong’ my birth mother and stepfather would tell me to hit him. I even got hit in one of my foster homes, a place that was supposed to be protecting me from abuse!
When a child is getting hit, he feels like he is hated and no one loves him. He really feels like no one loves him. Over time, children start putting up bricks around their heart. They start shutting everyone out and they learn to dissociate. When they get older they may become a cold and callous person who can’t love. Hitting really does not help their behavior. When people do tell them wrong from right, they ignore it all. Prisoners may have emotional problems from being hit. Not everyone turns out like that because they may have one person that really loves them.
When children get hit, the first feeling is fear. ‘I’m going to get pain.’ It is fear because it means violence. A kid’s definition of it is pain. They get fear that clutches their heart like an iron grip. And that iron grip stays and it hardens over their heart and just shuts them down. They feel angry, rage. They feel like they just want to get revenge and inflict pain on the one that inflicted pain on them. They feel sadness. The one who gave them the pain is the one who is supposed to protect them from pain. They feel distrust, they can’t trust anyone. Their natural feeling when they are with someone who cares is trust, but when that very person that is supposed to protect them from pain, hurt, and sadness hits them, the trust just disappears. They destroy all that trust. Unless someone shows they care who doesn’t hurt them, who uses strong but caring words, unless children have that type of person, they are gong to stay that way.
So if you stop hurting children, then they won’t close their heart. They will be more accepting and trusting and they will give that love to another person. They will be more loving so the next generation and then the next and the next will do the same thing. Then there will be peace. If you start with the children a whole chain link starts of love, care, give and take. They won’t have all that anger stocked up in them and no one will be angry enough to start wars.
So, you see, to save the world, you need to save the children!’” (Block & Gomez, 2011, pps. 13-15).
As we can see, fear is a common thread in these children’s stories. They both mentioned hiding and not talking to their parents due to fear. Is this what we really want for our children? Does God want us to teach them worldly sorrow by hitting them in His Name? As I mentioned previously in this piece, most children who are physically punished will do everything in their power to avoid being hit. This is worldly sorrow in action. But, as previously shown in this piece, there are times when children will try to admit to their sins and wind up getting punished for practicing Godly sorrow. Quinn calls this a double bind because even though the child did do wrong, the child admits to it and tries to tell the truth only to be hit anyway. This is quite confusing for a child who gets spanked for telling the truth. “Few life experiences are as potentially damaging to the mental and emotional health of a developing child as the ‘double bind,’ a dilemma in which a child is forced to make a choice but will be punished regardless of the choice made. It is a situation in which a child is powerless to avoid punishment” (Quinn, 1988, p. 92). Many pro-spankers and non-spankers teach children not to lie. However, many pro-spankers will tell a child that if they do a certain behavior again then they’ll get a spanking. Of course, young children have poor impulse control or may even forget, and wind up making the same mistake again. Then the parent sees signs of this mistake and asks the child about it. The child can either lie, which is wrong and punishable, or tell the truth. But instead of being thanked for telling the truth and being gently corrected, the child gets hit anyway. Here is an example of this. “Having told Katie that if she ever got into the makeup again she would be spanked, the mother then told her that if she did not tell the truth she would be spanked. The child was going to be spanked whether she told the truth or not! Katie was trapped. There was no way to avoid punishment. It was a no-win situation, a double bind” (Quinn, 1988, p. 96). What did Katie learn from this experience? That one gets hit for telling the truth. This double bind causes confusion, feelings of helplessness, fear, and distorted thinking in the young, developing minds of children. I can guarantee that this will not lead children to Godly sorrow! (I will be discussing a much more appropriate and positive way of handling this type of situation in my next series about discipline). As Quinn (1988) states, “Spanking children when they tell the truth is not the way to teach them to be honest” (p. 96).
Some pro-spankers such as the Pearls take this double bind to extremes by advising parents to spank the child for not obeying immediately. Given that young children take longer to process information, it is totally unreasonable to expect them to obey us immediately. Plus, it is healthy and developmentally appropriate for young children to explore and test their limits. Therefore, hitting a child for getting out of bed and hearing the parent coming and getting back in bed before or as the parent reaches the room is downright confusing to the child. It teaches children to always have some fear because they never know what may cause their parents to hit them—especially when the children are actually trying to do the right thing. It’s not fun living with a certain amount of fear and anxiety throughout one’s childhood.
As I pointed out in Part 2 of this series and in Part 4 of my series, “Spanking is NOT God’s Will,” pro-spankers will either spank children for crying and/or crying too long after a spanking. Many of us have heard, or even been told as children—I was—“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” What pro-spankers either forget or are in denial about is that when we, as children, and even as adults sometimes, are so hurt and upset, we really can’t stop crying. It is truly awful to be crying and have that awful fear that if we don’t stop crying, we will be hurt even more. I speak from personal experience. I am not the only one who has dealt with this threat and fear. Darlene has also experienced this threat as well as the typical fear that goes along with being hit as a child. Here is what she writes in her blog, “Emerging From Broken”:
“I became afraid to cry. I remember trying to stop… trying to control my breathing and slow it down and trying to stifle that hiccup sound that comes from heavy sobbing. I was so afraid of the consequences of NOT being able to stop the tears. I don’t even remember if I ever got a second beating for not stopping; all I remember is being told to stop and trying to comply and that the fear of the consequences made it very hard to get any kind of a grip on the situation.
I became so afraid to cry that even today it is very rare that I do cry. But it isn’t just being told to stop crying that caused all the problems around that statement. There is more to the communication “stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” That statement means that the speaker, the adult looming over me, told me that I had “nothing” to cry about.
What happens to a child who is not allowed to express emotional hurt or pain? What happens when the communication (covert OR overt) is that you should NOT express your emotions?
There is fear that comes with this dynamic too. I am crying. I’m told that I have no reason to cry and then told that if I don’t STOP crying, I will GET something to cry about. Since I am already in pain, usually in both emotional and physical pain, and I am really afraid of what they might do that would give me a ‘real and valid’ reason to cry” (Darlene, 2011, http://emergingfrombroken.com/stop-that-crying-or-i-will-give-you-something-to-cry-about/).
Punishing a child for their negative feeling or their personalities is quite harmful. Basically, parents who do this are teaching their children not to be or feel who they really are and how they truly feel. Instead, parents send the message to their children that they are only loveable and accepted by their parents when they are who their parents want them to be. For example, parents, for being “wimps” or for being shy, will sometimes punish children. “This is a dramatic example of another kind of double bind—threatening to punish a child for losing. Or for not being good enough. Or for not being what we want. Instead of physical punishment, others of us threaten to withhold love or approval or acceptance” (Quinn, 1988, p. 94). I know of a parent who made her preschooler exercise every time the child acted shy around other adults. It is extremely sad that this parent just could not accept her child for who the child was, and used a mild yet damaging form of punishment to force the child to change who he really was. As we are about to see, this fear and anxiety gets even worse as Christians bring God into the equation. Some Christian parents who punish their children for being shy or anything other than who their parents want them to be will make their children afraid that God will also disapprove of them. Here is an example of a child growing up with this exact fear. “Rose spent much of elementary school hiding in the bathroom and suffering from stomachaches. A shy child, she was terrified at the prospect of carrying out her Pentecostal Christian parents’ stern wishes that she ‘save the souls’ of her classmates and teachers. Her failure to convince others to ‘give their lives over to Jesus’ led Rose to develop fears that God would be angry at her and that demons would possess her” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 26). Teaching children that God will reject them for not living up to His standards is not supported by God’s Word. Psalm 66:20 says, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” And Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And throughout the Bible, we see many verses talking about God’s unfailing love for us!
We will return to discussing how teaching children that God wants them spanked can, and often does, lead children to grow up and either reject God or struggle with their relationships with Him due to being afraid of Him. For now, I want us to see that having overly high expectations for children and hitting them can cause children to have anxiety issues. Due to a great deal of Christian advocates of spanking teaching parents that many of the typical, developmentally appropriate behaviors that young children display—especially behaviors that come across as defiant—are sinful and require punishment, many Christian parents either are not aware of their child’s needs or choose to ignore these needs in order to purge their child from their sins. Robin Grille (2005), author of Parenting for a Peaceful World, states, “The researchers found that members of literalist denominations were significantly more inclined to hit their children. What’s more, literalist parents had more inappropriate expectations from their children, and showed less empathy toward their needs” (p. 199). And yet, as we’ve seen previously in this piece, children will testify to the physical pain, fear, and emotional pain that spanking causes them when allowed to do so. “In 1998 in the United Kingdom, the National Children’s Bureau asked a large group of five to seven year old children how they felt when they got smacked. All of them spoke of wounded feelings, hurt, embarrassment, and shock. The children’s responses, reproduced in their own words, are a moving testimony to the violation they experience at the receiving end of parental ‘discipline.’ It would take a very thick skin for anyone to read these children’s messages, and continue to deny that smacking or spanking constitute violence” (Grille, 2005, p. 183). I am quite certain that fear also ran through all of the children’s responses. As I said, this fear from being physically punished/abused by their parents often leads children to develop anxiety disorders as they grow up. Joan shared with me on October 11, 2011 via an electronic message how being spanked, physically abused, and verbally abused caused her to have extreme anxiety and panic attacks that she continues to deal with even though she is well into adulthood. Joan writes:
“I am a recipient to spanking and verbal and physical abuse. My father was an alcoholic, he was a very miserable and unhappy person and ran a very tight ship so to speak. He verbally and physically abused my mother and for some reason out of all the children, he chose me to abuse. Yes, I left home and my school to escape being at the hands of my father. Oh yes, I went to another school and graduated. I tried not to comment on certain posts especially of yours, because of your topic, because even years later, I still have those memories, and I still break down and cry for what he had done to me. I am crying as I write this, because I am begging people to think about the consequences of their actions. I started to experience different things about 12 years after I left home, but at the time I didn’t know what I was dealing with. Whenever he wanted to release any anger, or things didn’t go his way, I seemed to be his punching bag and more. To this day, I remember my father spanking me for no reason, or kicking me down the stairs. He would sit in the basement every night drinking a case of warm beer or whatever he had available. My bedroom was directly above the basement where he would sit and drink, I could hear everything through a baseboard heating vent. I knew when he was getting drunk, and would lie in bed in fear, because I knew he was coming up soon and I would be his target. Oh yes, I would lock the door, but it was easily opened with a metal fingernail file. I was finally diagnosed with anxiety and panic attacks due to the trauma I went through as a child. I use to see the commercials on television for anxiety and panic attacks, and wonder why people couldn’t control them. You can’t even imagine how frightening anxiety or panic is. Is there anybody here that knows the many symptoms of anxiety or panic are ? Here are just a few… Allergy problems, increase in allergies (number, sensitivity, reactions, lengthier reactions), shortness of breath, pounding heart, terror, a loss of control, Back pain, stiffness, tension, pressure, soreness, spasms, immobility in the back or back muscles, Chest pain, chest tightness; which at times you think you may be having a heart attack, Choking, Difficulty speaking, talking, Dizziness, feeling lightheaded, Excess of energy, you feel you can’t relax, Falling sensation, feel like your are falling or dropping even though you aren’t, Feel like you are going to pass out or faint, Chronic Fatigue, exhaustion, super tired, worn out, Heart palpitations, racing heart, Hyperactivity, excess energy, nervous energy, Nausea, Neck, back, shoulder pain, tightness/stiffness, Night sweats, waking up in a sweat, No energy, feeling lethargic, tired, Numbness tingling, OMG it is horrible, you just can’t imagine what my world is like at times.”
Research backs up what Joan and many others—including myself—experience due being spanked and abused as children. And it also happens to those who are “lovingly” spanked as we shall soon see. Anxiety is quite common in people who have experienced physical punishment and abuse as children. “Corporal punishment has been linked to a host of psychological problems. A history of harsh punishment has been found to underlie ‘conduct disorder’, and anxiety disorders in children. Adults who were physically punished as adolescents are more likely to suffer from depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse” (Grille, 2005, p. 184). Boys and men are more likely to conceal the fact that they’re struggling with anxiety issues because they are afraid of looking weak, but both males and females are more likely to experience anxiety issues from being physically punished as children. That fear that begins at a very young age when the child is first hit often manifests itself into Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That fear children experience the moments leading up to a spanking is a panic attack for children. Their brains release stress hormones, which cause children’s heart rates to rise, breathing to become shallow, their muscles tense, and they are in a fight or flight mode. This is why children often cry before the parent spanks them; they’re already are in pain and distress! The spanking just elevates all these symptoms to greater intensity. But, because the body cannot sustain this anxious state for very long, once the pain of the spanking subsides, relief takes over the child. That is why many parents can say that their child is perfectly happy after the spanking. But what parents can’t see are the lingering symptoms after the body has gone through all of this. Now imagine what life must be like for children who face multiple spankings throughout a day. It does take a huge toll on a child’s body, mind, and spirit. This can turn into always having some anxiety as the child is always afraid of doing something wrong. For young children, it can either cause them to become somewhat withdrawn or cause them to act out more as they try to cope with their feelings with a limited vocabulary. This is serious stuff as young minds and bodies are trying to develop. Fear leads to anxiety. There are no two ways about it. Like Joan, MC also experienced anxiety as he became an adult, and now has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. MC, in an electronic message dated September 29, 2011, stated,
“I also discovered that my past belief, that I was spanked and turned out fine, was not true. I had been suppressing the harm that spanking had done to me because I did not want to face the truth that my father and the church, two strong influences in my youth (for better or worse), were responsible for hurting me. Spanking likely had a strong influence on my young adult, and adult struggles, with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and perfectionism. I could never fail. I could never accept myself for failing. I felt my worth was dependent on being the good son who got A’s and B’s, who never got into any trouble. Failure was connected with punishment in my childhood experiences.”
As I said in my own personal story in Part 1 of this series, I have my own anxiety issues from the physical abuse that I suffered under my dad. Is it any wonder when one is forced to live with a certain amount of fear throughout one’s entire childhood? As I have shown in Parts 2 and 3 of this series, for some, the fear and pain of being hit by their parents causes them to repress and deny their true feelings, which often leads to a hardened heart regarding the harm spanking does to children. But for others, it can cause them to become timid and hyper-sensitive towards other’s pain. “A ‘tough skin’ grows over the wound, which obscures or masks the depth of the pain that throbs beneath. The feelings of pain and betrayal are sealed off, minimised, trivialised, or denied. Deafness to one’s own pain entails indifference to the pain of others. Those whose anger boils over become bullies, those who are paralysed with fear, the victims. While some children of violent parents become de-sensitised, others become hypersensitive. They grow up to be timid, unsure of themselves, they are easily intimidated, downtrodden and manipulated” (Grille, 2005, p. 186). This means that for some children and adults, the fear and anxiety from being intentionally hurt by their parents is too much for them to take. It was for me as a young adult, especially after my dad died. The panic attacks were intense and paralyzing. The same is obviously true for Joan and MC as they finally were free from the control of their parents. I know of a woman, who I’ll call Ginger, that was spanked the “loving, correct, godly” way and still dealt with much fear and anxiety as she became a young adult. And yet, despite all the research showing that spanking—no matter how mildly, “lovingly,” or intensely it is done—causes anxiety and other harmful effects in children and adults, many pro-spankers still eagerly claim that fear in children is a good thing. But it isn’t whatsoever! This is especially true for young children as they’re hit the most due to their need to explore, lack of vocabulary, and lack of impulse control as their brains are just developing. It also hurts the parent-child bond as I’ve pointed out throughout all of my series. “Spanking creates fear in the child: The message a toddler gets from a slap or spanking is that a parent or other loved and trusted adult is prepared to induce pain and even do physical harm to force unquestioning obedience. That’s terrifying to a little kid…However well-intentioned, a slap registers as the shattering of the whole deal between parent and child. Young children are left awash in feelings of fear, shame, rage, hostility, self-destructiveness and betrayal that they can’t yet resolve or manage” (Robinson, 2002, http://www.religioustolerance.org/spankin4.htm).
As we can clearly see, the only good, if one can even call it good, that this fear due to being physically punished does for children is forces them to comply quickly. Psychologist Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University did a meta-analysis of 88 studies of the effects of corporal punishment. Gershoff (2002) states, “For one, corporal punishment on its own does not teach children right from wrong. Secondly, although it makes children afraid to disobey when parents are present, when parents are not present to administer the punishment those same children will misbehave” (http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2002/06/spanking.aspx). Many parents want their children to love and respect them, but it is clear that forcing children to do this through pain and fear does not equal true love and respect. I believe Olivia sums this up quite nicely in her comment to me on September 25, 2011 via an electronic message. She says, “If a giant stands over me an adult, beating me and asks me whether I ‘love them’ and will ‘obey them’ I will probably say ‘oh yes’!…. and … what has that giant earned? REAL love? REAL obedience? REAL RESPECT ?? No … in every single case.” This goes for God as well.
As I mentioned previously in this piece, the fear becomes even worse for children of Christian parents who teach their children from very young ages that God or Jesus wants them to be spanked for their disobedience. After spanking the child, many Christian parents will have their children pray with them in order to have children seek God’s forgiveness, and then parents may read or cite Scripture to their children. These parents follow the rules for “loving, godly” spanking as I discussed in Part 6 of “The Christian History of Spanking.” After all, this is how all of the major Christian advocates tell parents to spank as “mandated” by the Bible. Heimlich (2011) states the following regarding this:
“All the while, though, these advocates are sure that God wants parents to physically punish their kids. Spanking ‘is God’s idea,’ writes Roy Lessin in Spanking: A Living Discipline. ‘He is the one who has commanded parents use this type of discipline as an expression of love…Do we love God enough to obey him? Do we love our children enough to bring correction into their lives when it is needed?’ Even more frightening, Larry Christenson states in The Christian Family that parents’ failure to physically punish children will incur God’s wrath” (p. 113).
What is so sad about this is that these advocates are using fear to convince Christian parents to physically punish their children when in fact there is no biblical support for the idea that parents must spank their children or they will incur God’s wrath. What the Bible does say, as I’ve pointed out many times throughout all of my series, is that we are to discipline our children. If we don’t discipline children then they will cause us shame, but if we do discipline them, they will bring us peace (Proverbs 29:17). Discipline brings peace whereas punishment brings fear and anxiety to the entire family. Since 2 Timothy 1:7 says that fear is not from God, then it would seem logical that God does not want us to use fear to control and manipulate parents and children.
Sadly, due to the instructions of all the Christian spanking advocates, parents teach their children that this is God’s Will. Imagine how frightening it is for children to not only be afraid of their parents but also this large entity (in their minds) looming over them, telling their parents to inflict pain upon them every time they make a mistake. Would this cause children to love God or to be afraid of Him? MC was taught throughout his childhood that it was God’s Will for him to be spanked. In an electronic message dated September 29, 2011, MC conveyed to me how being brought up believing that God wanted him to be spanked negatively affected his relationship with God. He writes:
“During one of our AWANA messages, a leader summed up this philosophy of love, fear, and punishment by telling us, ‘my father showed me his love with his belt, and if your parents love you then they will show it the same way.’ Sunday school teachers would talk about spanking their own children, and how it was good for them to be spanked. Once, a smart boy raised his hand and asked the teacher why we get spanked when we sin, but our parents never get spanked when they make mistakes, or do something wrong. Our teacher told us that even though our parents did not get physical spankings, God gave them spiritual spankings when they needed it. Pain, fear, and love became an unholy trinity held together with God’s infallible hands.
Another aspect that makes my relationship with God difficult, is the fact that the Bible refers to God as a father. My Dad was the spanker in our household. The combination of fear and pain, at my father’s hands, caused me to have a very distanced relationship with my Dad. This is not unusual, as I am told that most who were negatively affected by corporal punishment have a strained relationship with the parent who administered the spankings. The comparison of God to a father, has some unintentional baggage for me. If my earthly father is a representation of God as a father, then I see a relationship that is built on pain and fear of punishment. Sometimes, when I would pray as a child, I would actually envision God as being a mother instead of a father. To me it was more believable to see God in this role, because my mother was very affectionate, protective, and she did not use the pain of a spanking to discipline me. Thinking of God as a father, and thinking about the fear and pain that my father imposed on me with his belt, hand, or paddle, did not inspire a close relationship with God. If I got to close to God, I was afraid he might hurt me, or punish me. However, the fear of being ultimately punished by God, through torture in Hell, motivated me to try to maintain some sort of fear based relationship with God. Fear is tiring. It wears you out. I feel burned out from fear.
Between the manipulation of pain and punishment, my disillusionment, and my inability to trust the church; I obviously do not have a stellar relationship with God. What relationship I may still have is marred by the pain of the Church’s role in my subjection to corporal punishment, the lies that I was told in God’s name, a sense of betrayal, and disappointment with the church’s resistance to accept the truth about a practice that harmed me. I have tried to separate my negative feelings towards the church from my perceptions of God, but that is extremely difficult.”
MC is not the only one who struggles with their relationship with God due to being taught that spanking is God’s will, Ginger also did for quite a while. In a face to face conversation with me on September 20, 2011, Ginger told me that her Christian mother, who spanked her regularly until Ginger was 14, taught her that not only did God want her mother to spank her, but that God also spanks using natural consequences. Basically, Ginger was taught that whenever something bad happened to her that it was God spanking her for a sin she committed. For a while, Ginger believed that God was punishing her whenever things went wrong in her life. Thankfully, a biblically sound pastor helped Ginger understand that this was not how God worked at all, and helped Ginger to see God as a loving and merciful God. How sad it is that children are getting a scary image of God instead of a true representation of Him. Lisa, who we met in Part 2 of this series, also was taught an incorrect image of God by her fundamentalist Christian parents, and now she isn’t sure whether or not she still believes in God. In her blog, Broken Daughters, she discusses her images of God she now has due to her upbringing. Lisa writes:
“Why does God make us so we need teaching? I thought creation was good, creation was perfect. After all God is perfect. Why did he make us defect beings who need teaching like a pack of naughty kids? There’s only one answer I can give: God is a mean boy.
He likes watching us suffer, he likes us as defect beings, because that’s the only way we can humour him with our sad attempts to get through life. God used to show that a lot more back in the day, when he ran around punishing people for wearing the wrong pair of shoes, screaming and yelling at them because they weren’t worth a second of his precious time. He would come down and ‘spank’ the humans, because remember? Spanking = love.
That’s really all I’m getting from the God I have been taught to believe in.
It reminds me a bit of ants. Remember playing in the garden, watching an ant colony, deciding to kill one and let the other escape? You would catch some and put them some place else to see where they would do, if they’d make their way back. You kill some random ones to see the reaction of the others. I sometimes feel like God is just a mean boy, enjoying the power he has over a bunch of ants. Would the boy be sad if all ants died? Certainly not.
But then there’s Jesus. He’s so different, no wonder that bunch of spanked kids loved him, viewed him as the Messiah. He is loving, caring, not judging, not punishing. Sometimes I feel like God and Jesus are from two separate religions.
Jesus is really the only reason why I haven’t abandoned religion all together yet” (Lisa, 2011, http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/when-good-things-happen-to-bad-people-wait-what/).
This makes me so sad, but yet I can’t blame Lisa for having these images of God considering what her parents and church ingrained in her throughout her childhood. As I pointed out in my personal story in Part 1 of this series, had my dad hit me in the Name of Jesus, I wouldn’t be a Christian today due to being afraid of God, and having a totally warped image of Him based on my dad’s behavior towards me. There is firm research showing that hurting children in God’s Name causes them to struggle or reject God due to fear and anger. “Victims of religious child maltreatment often suffer a spiritual loss. For example, experts say children may feel angry at, or terrified of, a deity if their abuser is active in the victim’s place of worship. Many victims are unable to pray and can reject their faith altogether. In a 1995 study by Bottoms, she notes that a significant number of alleged victims of childhood religion-related abuse changed their faith or became atheists” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 31). To make matters worse, on top of parents and children being taught that God requires spankings, many of these Christian fundamental organizations and churches are so authoritarian that members face being kicked out if they choose to challenge the beliefs of the organization or church. “Fear abounds in religious authoritarian cultures, as members understand that they will pay a price if they do not behave or believe correctly. For example, they might believe that harboring religious doubts jeopardizes their chances to be ‘saved’ in the next life. If members do not abide by certain social norms, they can be formally or informally ostracized” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 50). But many children grow up and do leave their faith. Sammy grew up in a fundamental Christian home where harsh physical punishment was the norm. Sammy writes:
“While my parents were Southern Baptist, not Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, they still believed the Bible command them to spank their children in the name of God. Their “discipline” could be quite harsh. My step-dad would hit me on the back and legs with a belt or a flyswatter, leaving stripes of marks and, sometimes, bruises. Afterwards, it would be painful to sit for days at a time. I have permanent scars from those years…
For me personally, the worst result of growing up in such a home was the twisted view of God it created, one I’ve talked about on this blog before. Believing that God hates you and is going to abandon you to hell forever creates a hell here on Earth, one that I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemies. While time and a new perception of God has healed some scars, some blemishes will never fully disappear” (Sammy, 2011, http://scientificuniversalist.blogspot.com/2011/09/ungodly-discipline.html).
Sammy is not the only one to reject the “god” that their parents represented to them. Wendy and Nadia found themselves questioning if God was real or outright leaving their churches. Wendy conveyed to me via an electronic message dated September 23, 2011 the following:
“I remember growing up Catholic with a mother who was more religious than my father and also used physical punishment more. My aunt and uncle weren’t into religion at all, and spanking seemed to be reserved for extreme stuff. Their family seemed a lot happier than ours, and I was kind of envious. Once when I was 10, my mom apparently didn’t like my facial expression and she reached out and smacked me in the face. My cousin, who’d seen what happened, seemed to be appalled and asked me later if my mom was nuts. Not too surprisingly, I stopped going to church as soon as I left home and have never cared to return.”
It is very sad that while Wendy may consider herself a Christian, she has completely stopped going to any church due to her upbringing. It is also sad that she often envied her aunt and uncle’s family because they didn’t believe in God and rarely spanked their children. God wants everyone to be saved and have a loving, personal relationship with Him. But how can that happen when children raised in a Christian home see a non-Christian home as happier and more peaceful? Didn’t God intend for this to be the exact opposite? Nadia had a similar experience as a child as she went to a Christian school and was spanked there because her PE teacher thought that she was being defiant by wearing her new watch to gym class. While she understood that students couldn’t wear jewelry to gym class, she was truly unaware that watches were also considered jewelry. Even though she tried to tell her PE teacher this, she still got spanked.
“My personal experiences with spanking were absolutely terrifying. Every teacher had the power to spank, and the offenses that called for spanking were at the discretion of the teacher. Since none of my peers knew what could provoke a spanking, we went to school in constant fear…
Having had a first-hand experience with spanking, I can say with a measure of authority that spanking does not produce results, neither short nor long-term. After leaving that school, I personally left the church, and refused to attend throughout my school years. Why? I felt that if a school like that could condone and embrace abuse, then I did not want to have any part of the religion or God associated with it. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that God is not about punishment, abuse, and humiliation. God is, in short, love.
But there are many children from Christian households who get spanked, and I don’t doubt for a second that a majority of these children will grow up to either forsake religion, or they will become adults who are angry, scared, or both. After all, as the joke goes, the quickest way for a Catholic to leave the religion is to send him to a Catholic school. I can’t tell you how many of my friends, having equated Christianity with hate and intolerance, stopped believing merely because their instructors in religious practice were angry people concerned only with physically and psychologically subduing those younger and weaker than them” (Nadia, 2011, http://whynottrainachild.com/2011/08/02/no-fear-in-love/).
I am very grateful that Nadia eventually was able to find out exactly Who God truly is over time just as Ginger did. But as we have seen throughout this piece, fear of God often drives children away from Him. This is not what God intended for us. Look what Ephesians 3:12 says, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” And Hebrews 4:16 states, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” And finally, 1 John 5:14 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” It is obvious that God wants us to have confidence and boldness when we approach Him. Yes, we are to be humble and reverent towards God, but never afraid of Him. We are not to be paranoid that God will strike us down every time we make a mistake. Out of love and Godly sorrow, God wants us to come to Him seeking forgiveness knowing that our sins will be forgiven.
Sadly, many children do develop paranoia, and as we have already seen, other anxiety disorders due to being physically punished/abused. “Like other forms of post-traumatic stress, paranoia is a delayed and transformed re-experience of earlier threats and dangers to the self, to the will, and to the body” (Greven, 1992, p. 172). Daniel Paul Schreber suffered extreme abuse from his devout Christian parents. “Dr. Schreber’s methods of discipline and control mirror those rationales for corporal punishment explored earlier” (Greven, 1992, p. 170). Dr. Schreber was a pastor and justified his abusive behaviors toward his son with Scripture. He advocated for extreme measures of control for children beginning in infancy. “He recommended, for instance, that, when a small child cried for no apparent reason, the remedy was to ‘step forward in a positive manner: by quick distraction of the attention, stern words, threatening gestures, rapping against the bed…or when all this is no avail—by moderate, intermittent, bodily admonishments consistently repeated until the child calms down or falls asleep.’ The goal was clear: ‘Such a procedure is necessary only once or at most twice and—one is master of the child forever.’” (Greven, 1992, p. 171). Sadly, Daniel Schreber turned the fear that his father instilled in him into paranoia as an adult. He believed that God and his doctor were out to harm him, but that his father had nothing to do with his severe paranoia. “Schreber believed even as an adult that he adored his father. But he also believed that God and his doctor were intent upon harming or destroying his very soul. He was absolutely right in his assumption that his self and soul were in grave danger, but he could not acknowledge from whom. Like other victims of violence, assault, and abuse, he identified with his abuser and forgot himself in the process” (Greven, 1992, p. 172). Granted, Schreber’s abuse from his minister father took place in the late 1800s to early 1900s, but like so many Christian parents, past and present, his father truly believed that what he did to his son was biblical and not abusive.
Anxiety and paranoia are not uncommon in children who have been physically punished/abused as children, especially when it is done in the Name of Jesus! MC, Ginger, the others I’ve mentioned in this piece, including myself, have experienced a less severe form of paranoia or panic attacks. For Ginger and MC, it had to do with believing God was ready to punish them every time they made a mistake since they were physically punished in the Name of God. For myself, I suffer from a more generalized anxiety. I usually do not have panic attacks, but I often worry about my health beyond what is necessary or normal. I also get very anxious with storms thinking that a tornado will come blow our house apart. Granted, we have experienced some pretty severe weather this past year, but even as a child, I was terrified of storms. I truly believe that a great deal of my anxiety issues comes from being physically abused by my dad. The fear instilled in children from being hit by adults in their lives whether it is done “lovingly” or not does indeed negatively affect children as they grow up—even if they try to deny or repress it. Greven (1992) states,
“The roots of paranoia…are to be found in struggles over the will, of being forced to give in to superior force and power and, we must add, pain and fear. The pervasive sense of being threatened with harm, of being forced to surrender, of being manipulated or coerced into compliance with the will of another person or persons, persistent in paranoia, is rooted in the experience of aggression by adults against the wills, bodies, and selves of children. The pervasive suspiciousness and fear of subversion and of conspiracies, so characteristic of paranoia, reflect earlier battles over the child’s willfulness and autonomy, long submerged in the unconscious but still present in the minds of many people for the rest of their lives” (Greven, 1992, p. 173).
For some children who are physically punished, they may not come to be afraid of God, but they question why God isn’t answering their cries for help. “In a booklet that aims to educate the public about child maltreatment in Amish communities, one woman writes about the beatings she received as a girl: ‘Where was God when those awful beatings occurred? Did He care? How would I know? God is Our Father, the Bible says, but is He also like my earthly father—ready to strike me down and call me ‘worthless’ when I fail. How could I trust God? … Many times I’ve tried to persuade God to just let me die’” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 32). Olivia also would sometimes wonder why God wasn’t answering her cries for help. Perhaps God knew that through our physical and emotional pain we would rise up and take a firm stance against the hitting of children. Or, maybe God did try to speak to our parents’ hearts but they were too hardened to truly hear Him. If God really wanted us to obey Him out of fear, He would have created little robots that He could easily subdue. But our God is a relational God. He wants us to obey and worship Him because we love Him!
I want to take a look at the third commandment which states, “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name” Exodus 20:7. Most people, as I did, think this means not using God’s Name in a flippant manner or to curse. But, as I recently learned, this commandment also means not using God’s Name to justify doing evil.
“Rabbi Joseph Telushkin wrote the following in his book Jewish Literacy.
‘Many people think that this means that you have to write God as G-d, or that it is blasphemous to say words such as goddamn. Even if these assumptions are correct, it’s still hard to figure out what makes this offense so heinous that it’s included in the document that forbids murdering, stealing, idolatry, and adultery. However, the Hebrew, Lo Tisa, literally means ‘you shall not carry God’s name in vain.’’
In other words, don’t use God as your justification in selfish causes.
According to Telushkin, the prohibition is not in merely using God’s name. The prohibition is the actions you take in the name of God.
Let me see if I can drive this point home more clearly.
We are not permitted to justify illegal or evil acts by saying that they mandated by God. We can never use God as an excuse or justification to do evil, to otherwise violate the laws of civilization and the laws of the Torah” (Simon, 2010, http://simonsense.blogspot.com/2010/02/some-thoughts-on-third-commandment.html).
This is very important as we are never to use God’s Name when we do evil. Since hitting child is evil and causes so many negative affects in children and adults, we should never spank(hit) children in God’s Name; telling them that this is God’s Will for them, because when we do this, we are breaking the third commandment. Not only do we break the third commandment by telling children that Jesus wants them to be hurt when they sin, but we are also emotionally abusing our children. It is obvious from all the research, personal stories, and Scripture that using God to justify intentionally inflicting pain on children causes them to be afraid of Him. This is more damaging than just hitting them as they are being taught they are worthless and must suffer physical pain before God and their parents will be able to forgive them. Parents who do this to their children, and Christians leaders who advocate for this, are playing head games with vulnerable and impressionable young minds with damages being quite high to deadly if the child grows up to reject God forever! “As harmful as other forms of abuse and neglect can be, emotional maltreatment is often the most damaging. As one psychologist put it, when various forms of abuse are present, children are most affected by the perpetrator’s ‘psychological stance.’ Write the authors of the APSAC handbook, ‘Empirical research suggests that the most common and lasting effects of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect tend to be related to associated and embedded psychological experiences’” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 126). Do we really want children to grow up equating fear and pain with love and God? Do we want children to grow up and feel as MC conveyed to me via an electronic message dated September 29, 2011 where he states, “I learned once, from a speaker at an Intervarsity Christian Fellowship conference, that in a relationship with Jesus one can either be a son/ daughter or an orphan. The individual who is a son or daughter of Jesus is motivated to follow out of love; the orphan is ruled and motivated by fear. For most of my life, I feel like I have been the orphan?” It is obvious that Jesus wants us to obey Him out of love and not fear when He states, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” John 14:23-24. Fear and love never go together, and as we shall see in the next section, spanking “in love” is quite harmful.
“Lovingly” spanking- “If children are spanked ‘lovingly,’ it isn’t harmful!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this argument throughout the writing of this book. Pro-spankers truly believe that if they follow the “rules” for “godly, loving” spanking, as I discussed in Part 6 of my series, “The Christian History of Spanking,” that no harm will ever be done to a child. But many people have been spanked “lovingly” and were harmed by it. MC is quick to point out in an electronic message written on September 29, 2011 that:
“I will sum up these experiences with the observation that none of these spankings struck me as being abusive,or out-of-the-ordinary, by the standards adopted by authority figures in the time- period of my childhood ( the 80′s), or the church culture I was raised in. By all standards, I was punished by the “Spank in love” misnomer that permeated evangelical and fundamentalist thought, and was accepted by a majority of 80′s society. My father did not wail on me in a fit of rage, he did not leave me black and blue, break my bones, break my skin, or leave me covered in red welts. My torment was delivered in a cool manner, with calculated precision, and was sanctioned with appeals of Biblical obedience to god, and an empty mantra explaining that I was being treated this way for my own good, that I was being treated this way because I was loved, and that what was being done to me actually hurt my father more than it hurt me. By all standards of the culture, and the time period, I was not abused. However, such treatment impacted deeply in a host of negative ways, which leads me to conclude that all forms of hitting, from the more mild to the more severe, are all stepping stones that lead down the slippery slope into various degrees of mistreatment and abuse. There is no such thing as a right way to hit somebody.”
Ginger, as we saw in the previous section of this piece, was also spanked the “godly, loving” way. Some of my critics often claim that my research is based on abuse, and not spanking. I would like to remind everyone that many of the children and parents call this “abuse” spanking. All the Christian advocates call this “abuse” spanking as they say leaving red marks that are temporary is ok, and that the spanking must cause the child a considerable amount of pain in order to be effective. Pain is pain no matter what one chooses to call it. Since many pro-spankers argue over where to draw the line between spanking and abuse, as I pointed out in Part 2 of this series, I must take a firm stand and as a preventive measure, call all hitting of children abuse! After all, intentionally inflicting pain on adults is considered abuse. Hitting the elderly is elder abuse. Hitting a child is child abuse. Children are human beings just as adults are!
As I pointed out in Part 6 of “The Christian History of Spanking,” the contemporary “love spanking” is not biblical. Yes, the rod verses do say, if we take them literally, that parents who punish their children with the rod love their children, but there’s no support for spanking without anger. “Unfortunately, it simply is not a biblical concept (if Christians view their discipline practices as biblical because they are based on the concrete-specific teaching of the Bible’s rod texts). Of course, the notion of physical beatings as an expression of parental love is very biblical. But the contemporary banning of parental anger is highly problematic. In fact, the restriction of ‘no anger’ in spanking goes directly against a biblical and theological development of corporal punishment” (Webb, 2011, p. 49). Anger in the Old Testament went along with most punishments. In fact, when God chose to punish His people in the Old Testament, He was quite angry with them and would usually unleash His Wrath upon them until they cried out to Him and He would have compassion on them. As William Webb (2011), author of Corporal Punishment in the Bible: A Redemptive-Movement Hermeneutic for Troubling Texts, states:
“Now the difficulty with a no-anger policy for spanking, if it is indeed based on the Bible, is that when God practices corporal punishment, his use of the rod and whip clearly does involve anger. Numerous texts speak of (1) God disciplining his people in anger, and more specifically of (2) God disciplining his children with the rod or whip as an expression of his anger and wrath. In fact, the emotive connection between anger and the rod of discipline is so direct that the Bible sometimes describes divine corporal punishment with the short-form idiom (3) God’s ‘rod of anger’ or ‘rod of wrath.’” (p. 50).
Webb nor I am saying that God wants us to spank, and that we are to spank in anger. Webb and I are just further pointing out that the contemporary method advocated by Christian pro-spankers is not supported in the Bible. Now, while having some love in the home is preferable than a home that uses harsh punishments without ever showing love and affection to the children, it is a very misleading statement made by pro-spankers to say that if children are spanked “lovingly” then it is not harmful. As we have already seen, many of the people in this series were spanked the “loving, godly” way and still had damage done to them because of it. Love and pain are contradictory to each other. And there is no such thing as a “gentle spanking.” A mild swat is intended to cause mild pain to the child as well as create fear in the child, otherwise, why would one bother to swat the child? I truly believe that “love spanking” can actually be more harmful to children than spanking in anger (which, as I said, I would never recommend) because we are teaching them to equate being hit and intentionally hurt with love. Dulce De Leche explains it very well in her article, “Spanking in Anger—What Does it Matter?”
“From a child’s perspective, spanking done calmly is no better than a spanking done in anger. Either way, they are hurt. In fact, many people who have experienced both found spanking in anger less damaging. They can recognize a distinction between their responsibility and their parent’s reaction. Spanking calmly may be more emotionally damaging, because it is much more effective at teaching the children that they deserve to be hit by those who love them. Think about this: if someone you love were to say something that hurt you in a moment of anger, or to say the same thing with the intent to hurt you when they were completely calm, which would be more damaging? For most of us, the latter would be far worse” (Dulce De Leche, 2011, http://dulcefamily.blogspot.com/2011/06/spanking-in-anger-what-does-it-matter.html).
Children are able to sense and recognize other’s emotions from infancy. They know the difference between an angry look and/or voice and a happy look and/or voice. But it is extremely confusing to children is when our faces or tone of voice don’t match our feelings. Say, for example, a two-year-old is throwing a tantrum in public and the parent, trying to be perceived as a “good parent,” forces a smile as she angrily tells her child to stop it. Outside of the toddler being too out of control to hear her (we’ll discuss this in my next series on discipline), if the parent looks happy, it is very difficult for the child to tell whether the parent is happy or angry. This is quite true of children who are spanked by a calm, unemotional parent. This method of physically punishing children is sending them a very confusing, mixed message to them. Due to the spanking being delivered by a calm, loving parent, young children process it as pre-meditated and calculated, and then as an extension of love. While it may be redemptive for Christian advocates of spanking to teach parents not to spank in anger but to do so “in love,” teaching young children to equate love with pain is very dangerous and damaging. As I said, while affection is certainly preferred in a home where children are physically punished or abused, claiming that physically punishing a child in a “loving manner” does no damage is a false notion.
“In addition, while all can agree that parents should be affectionate with their children, as many conservative Protestants seem to be, one wonders if children in these families would do even better if they received that affection and were not spanked. Some worry about the potentially damaging psychological effects of children being made to endure pain inflicted by parents with whom they share a loving relationship. ‘If you are both very affectionate with your children and you’re physically punitive with them, that’s a very mixed message, and I think it has long-term consequences,’ Phillip Greven told me in our interview” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 112).
Indeed it is considering that many of the stories that I have featured throughout my work are of children who were hit “in love,” and/or were told that the beatings they endured were because their parents “loved” them and were trying to obey God. My dad was very affectionate with me throughout my childhood. But he was always angry with me when he’d hit me. I think that was a Godsend because had he’d been calm when he hit me, I may have had even more fear of him growing up, and it would have been much harder for me to acknowledge that what he did to me was wrong, and to forgive him. If someone close to us hurts us when he/she is angry, it is easier to forgive him/her because we know it was more than likely due to the anger. But if the person is calm and unemotional when he/she hurts us, we don’t know what his/her motive is. This is scarier and more damaging to the relationship. This is quite true when it comes to young children who are often shocked and confused when their loving parents physically punish them. They often do not understand what is going on. To associate love with hitting and pain is not a healthy thing. “The first of these unintended consequences is the association of love with violence. Corporal punishment typically begins in infancy with slaps to correct and teach. Mommy and Daddy are the first and usually the only ones to hit an infant. And for the most part this continues throughout childhood. The child therefore learns that those who love him or her the most are those who hit” (Strauss, 2006, p. 123). This is extremely sad and unfortunate.
Beth Fenimore’s family was close friends with Roy Lessin, author of the 1979 book entitled Spanking: Why, When, How, when she was growing up. Her parents followed his advice to “lovingly” spank children. Despite being spanked the “godly, loving” way, Beth was traumatized by the spankings and suffered psychological damage. Here is a letter she wrote to Roy Lessin regarding the negative effects his advice to parents had on her: *warning potentially triggering*
“Beth Fenimore September 7, 2005
Open Letter to Roy Lessin Author of Spanking: Why, When, How
After 19 years I have found the courage to write you this letter declaring how your choice to teach and write about spanking has affected me. My purpose in writing you this open letter is to share with you and others that the spanking approach you recommend is harmful. My parents both know my view on this issue. I have talked to them, as well, about how their decision to implement your spanking recommendations affected me. I have a mission. My mission is to warn new parents who are innocently trying to raise happy, healthy children. Should just one parent spare their child the kind of pain that I endured at the hands of my parents implementing your spanking recommendations, my pain will have more meaning than it does now. I want to begin by talking about your spanking approach so that we’ll both be using the same language. In your book, you describe a process by which a parent performs a spanking on their child.
The first step is to use the right instrument; if a parent uses their hand, the child might become fearful of the parent’s hand.
The second step is to spank promptly. The third step is to find a private place in which the parent can conduct the spanking.
The fourth step is for the parent to explain to the child why they are going to be spanked.
The fifth step is to get the child into a good spanking position (when my parents and other adults—such as your wife, Char—spanked me, the ritual involved removing the child’s clothing); you recommend bending the child over a bed, or bending a smaller child over the parent’s lap.
The sixth step is to hit the child on the buttocks with a stick or other spanking implement.
The seventh step is to continue spanking until the child yields a broken cry, which indicates a broken will.
The eighth step is reconciliation. You recommend that parents comfort the child until sufficient time has passed, and then ask the child to stop crying. You recommend that parents spank a child who displays a “wrong attitude” by continuing to cry too long after a spanking.
The language in your book is much more “sugary” than what I’ve just written. But my description does not come close to what it feels like to receive a Roy Lessin spanking. So I’ll describe what a Roy Lessin spanking is like.
My first spanking was when I was six months old. My mother spanked me for crying after she put me to bed. She had to spank me repeatedly to teach me to not cry when she put me down. I know about this incident because my mother used to tell all new mothers about how young I was when she started spanking me. My last spanking occurred when I was thirteen years old. The Roy Lessin spankings that I remember most vividly took place between the ages of three and seven, because I hardly went a few days without a spanking at that time. I’d like to share with you, and others, what it was like receiving a Roy Lessin spanking.
The moment I found out I was going to get a Roy Lessin spanking, I felt physically ill. Because the Roy Lessin spanking is a ritual, the ordeal could take a long time. (When I refer to a spanking ritual, I’m referring to the steps you outline in your book.) This was hard for me because I had a child’s sense of time. The dread bubbled up and consumed me, and stayed with me until the spanking ritual was over. My parents usually sent me to a private room, such as my own room, and there I would wait until one of my parents came. (My dad spanked me the most, so in my illustration let’s assume my father is conducting the Roy Lessin spanking.) My father would explain the reason for the spanking. This was an excruciating process because I had to listen while knowing what was coming. Since I might face back-to-back Roy Lessin spankings, I had to be careful not to be disrespectful in my listening to my father. I had already developed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and would feel my guts cramp up with anxiety during his speech. Then he would ask me to take off my pants and underwear. I would feel deeply embarrassed because my father was not supposed to see me naked. (My family had a high standard for modesty.) My humiliation and fear would grow immeasurably as I leaned over the bed, my father’s knee, or whatever was around. My private parts were helplessly exposed as my dad laid his hand on my back. Trying to pull away and defend myself would only mean that the spanking would be longer, or I’d get a back-to-back spanking. The stick, paddle inscribed with scripture verses, or belt would swish violently through the air before slapping painfully on my buttocks or thighs. I would scream in pain and anguish. I cannot remember a moment of thinking of resisting, rebelling, or trying to “win” anything, as you recommend parents should watch for as they hit their children. I just tried to survive the best way I knew how. The screaming, the hitting, and the pain would continue for unknown amounts of time. When the gruesome pain ended, I would begin to battle with my emotions and my body. I knew that crying too much could mean that my father would start a Roy Lessin spanking ritual all over again to correct my “wrong attitude.”
My parents were never concerned about the marks they left on my body. We never talked about the painful marks on my body, or how clothing, baths, chairs, etc. hurt. The message was clear: there was no pain. Pulling up my pants was incredibly painful, and so was sitting on my father’s lap. Because “there was no pain,” I had to pretend my buttocks and thighs didn’t hurt even though they did, while my father would wrap his arms around me and “comfort” me. I was not like the idealized children you describe in your book, not knowing the difference between the spanking implement and the parent. My father caused me that pain—not a stick! My father’s arms scared me, and I feared my father like I’ve feared no other man. His touch repulsed me. I was the same with my mother. (To this day, I cannot physically tolerate either parent touching me. I feel physically ill at their touch.) My father would pray, and I could hardly go along but for fear of yet another Roy Lessin spanking. After we prayed, it was time for me to be happy. But my insides would be a mess. Tears would threaten to come back and cause me more pain and anguish. I had to pretend that I wasn’t sad, and that I wasn’t in pain. This would be my greatest lesson: to be happy no matter how I felt inside. It would take me a few back-to-back spankings, but I would learn. It would be a lesson I’d learn for life—being falsely happy regardless of how my body felt.
One aspect of receiving a Roy Lessin spanking is the sexual aspect. It’s taken me years to even begin to allow myself to speak of this aspect. You see, as a child I had no idea what sex was. I just had this funny sensation that came and went during the Roy Lessin spanking ritual. To my great dismay, I learned that sexual stimulation can be cross-wired with the painful ritual of spankings. This cross-wiring was a real problem for me. Because I couldn’t cope with the double message of love and pain, I avoided developing an intimate relationship with a man for a very long time. It took years for me to find a healthy sexuality outside the memories I have of the Roy Lessin spankings. I struggled with this double message as a child. I feel a deep sense of shame as I remember hitting and torturing my dolls and Barbies when no one was around. I needed some way to express the fear, pain, and sexual confusion I felt inside; yet my childish mind couldn’t comprehend the significance of what I was doing.
My parents were your “A” students. They followed your eight steps occasionally reducing the entire Roy Lessin spanking ritual to a few swats—not very often, though. My butt and thighs would sting for a long time after a Roy Lessin spanking ritual, so I’d go into the bathroom and use my mother’s mirror to look at my behind. I remember seeing red stripes crisscrossing my buttocks and my thighs. At times, I had old marks underneath the new marks. My parents conducted several Roy Lessin spanking rituals a day when I was a young child. I remember a teacher at school asking me one day why I didn’t just sit still. I couldn’t tell her that it was because the marks on my butt hurt so bad sitting in the little wooden chair.
Now that we’ve established what a Roy Lessin spanking is and what it felt like to receive one, let’s move on to wrong attitudes. I’d like to begin by telling you a story of what it was like having an adult, in this case your wife, address my “wrong attitude.”
One day my parents were moving. I was four, and woke up to a house that I no longer recognized. I asked my mother what was happening. Whatever answer she gave, I didn’t understand. She sent my brothers and me to your house, where your wife Char was to baby-sit us. On the way out the door, I saw our small parakeet Chirpy sitting in his cage outside our house near some bushes. Now, Chirpy wasn’t supposed to be outside. A dark feeling of dread came over me. I was frightened as I walked to the car, looking at Chirpy frantically chirping in his cage next to a stack of boxes. At some point, at your house, Char put all of us down for a nap. The confusion and fear filled me, and I wondered if I’d ever see my home again. When the room was quiet, my emotions burst out of me. I cried. Char came in and told me to stop, and I couldn’t. So she performed one of your spanking rituals. I went back to my napping spot. I lay there for the remainder of my nap—unable to sleep, afraid to move, filled with emotions of dread and fear so large I thought I’d explode. But I had to make Char believe that I was cheerfully obeying her. I put on whatever face I could to convince her, and pretended to be asleep. I had to pretend I felt different than I did inside.
There are two points I’d like to make about bad attitudes. The first is that, as you can see above, adults do not have “powers” that allow them to read the minds of children. My parents made this mistake over and over again. They weren’t much better at reading my mind or how I felt than your wife was that day I stayed at your house. You see, parents make mistakes. There’s no getting around this. But when a parent uses a force as violent as a Roy Lessin spanking, mistakes are truly damaging, especially when the spanking ritual involves breaking the child’s will—or breaking any part of a child’s psyche!
The second point about “wrong attitudes” is that you tell parents that their children will be happy with your mode of discipline, or even prefer being spanked. I want to say that I didn’t experience that joy. I built myself a cheerful, obedient shell. I lived in that shell, only peeking my head out when I felt safe, for 30 years. It took me another seven years to actually try taking the cheerful, obedient shell off—only to run back into it when something felt like the “old fears of my childhood.” I have not been happy living in this shell, constantly pretending to be happy when I felt miserable inside. When I think of a happy child, I think of a child who feels free to express their ideas, thoughts, and emotions. I think that a parent’s job is to teach a child how to express their emotions, not hit them with a stick until the child displays the emotion of the parent’s choosing.
You write about parents disciplining children for disobedience. It seems pretty simple. The parents set up some rules and the children follow them. When disobedience is based on a child doing or behaving just as the parent asks, following those rules becomes much harder. As your teachings played out in my growing-up years, I found that I violated more rules than I could keep track of. Not only that, one of the rules was to follow through without my mom or dad asking a second time. So perfection became the rule, and perfection was something I failed at miserably. Even in the cheerful, obedient shell, I was not completely safe. The life lesson I took away was that there is no such thing as second chances. I took this lesson to school, and found that I was afraid to try. Not that my parents didn’t encourage me—it was just that if the encouragement didn’t work, which it often didn’t, they’d spank me for getting letters backwards, words wrong on spelling tests, and so forth. Basically, they spanked me for not trying hard enough. I haven’t even mentioned the hundreds of other issues they spanked me for. I learned how to live helplessly. Not only did I face my own internal disappointment at not getting something correct, I faced a Roy Lessin spanking at home when I wore out my encouragement. I grew up thinking that I was mentally handicapped. Later, as a grown adult, I found out that I’m dyslexic—something a Roy Lessin spanking would never cure.
For most of my life, I worried that I’d remembered all this wrong. About eleven years ago I called Char and asked her to listen to while I recalled a Roy Lessin spanking for her. I described to her in as much detail as I could remember the beatings I endured again and again. Char told me that my memories were exactly what you and she had taught my parents. I had not remembered wrong!
I read your book a few weeks ago. I was again surprised to realize I knew and remembered your teachings very well. After the years of growing up around your family and hearing you preach at Outreach, your book brought back your painful teachings and the painful memories I’ve been trying so hard to live with. I kept wanting to grab my cheerful, obedient shell because to this day I feel scared when I think of all the Roy Lessin spankings and teachings.
Both Char, during my call with her, and you, in your first book, talk about spankings having a higher purpose in saving the soul. You reference Proverbs 20:30: “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts.” Those “blows” left horrible marks on my body that made sitting difficult and bathing with soap sting horribly, and they terrified my spirit.
Feeling terrified isn’t the only outcome I live with. Ten years ago a gastroenterologist diagnosed me with IBS, a condition I’ve had since I was around three years old. Because of the fierce anxiety I felt because of the Roy Lessin spankings, I had terrible chronic stomachaches and diarrhea while I was growing up and as an adult. Five years ago my psychiatrist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and I began to work through my deeply rooted fears of my parents and the Roy Lessin spankings. Later a physician associate (PA) diagnosed me with asthma and severe allergies from a poor immune system, a result of my chronic anxiety. The same PA told me that I’m at high risk for colon cancer because of the years of IBS as a result of my anxiety. Roy, these problems are all due to my parents implementing your teachings using Roy Lessin spankings to correct a multitude of childhood blunders and attitudes. I can’t imagine why a parent would want these outcomes for their child. I may have looked happy and acted lovingly towards my parents, but I was emotionally and physically sick inside! Your teachings gave me no option but to live a horrible lie of looking happy when I was miserable.
For almost every day of my life, I fear people. If people like my parents, and friends of my family such as you and Char, would hurt me this badly, what horrible things would others do to me? I was supposed to be safe with my family and friends growing up! I especially fear men in authority roles. I occasionally look even at people I know, and who I know to be safe, with terror just because they’ve spoken in a tone that reminds me of those early times. I fear making mistakes. I choose not to have children of my own because a child’s screams scramble my insides.
Remember all those sermons at Outreach that you, Don Leetch, Dean Kerns, and a few others delivered? I still hear children screaming as their parents spanked them outside the church sanctuary during Sunday morning service during those sermons. I remember the screams of my siblings. I remember on a Friday night, someone was preaching and a dad took a baby outside for a spanking, and a neighbor called the police. We stopped the church service, and you went out with your bible to explain to the officer why it was fine for the parent to spank their baby. All of us inside prayed that the officer would understand and not take the baby away.
As a grown woman I still fear Roy Lessin spankings. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night begging my husband to “not let them get me.”
My father and I have talked several times about Roy Lessin spankings. He has asked for forgiveness, and is horrified by what he has done. These conversations have been incredibly painful for both of us, and I’m now 37 years old! I believe that he thought he was doing the right thing. You were a leader in the church he believed in, and you were his friend. Our families socialized together. This was not some teaching he picked up somewhere, and then went off to make the best of it.
I hope that by this point you begin to see how your simple, sweet words about raising children are actually harmful. Perhaps you’re wondering if I want to have a dialogue with you, and talk about what you really meant by your early book. Perhaps you’ve adopted a policy of grace, and now recommend that parents spank less and not on bare skin? The truth is, I don’t want to know. If I needed justification or reasoning for your teachings, I could use your book as a reference. What I’d like you to do is reconsider your position after carefully looking at how your teachings affected me. Would a loving parent really want to raise a child to fear people, to wear a cheerful and obedient shell, or to live with PTSD and other ailments? I hope the answer you come to is No. I hope that you realize that hitting a child for any reason is not loving. Then, I hope, you join the cause to end corporal punishment in the homes of children. I came into this world a happy, healthy baby. For no other reason than the Roy Lessin spankings, I now fight for my physical and mental health. Please help others and me so this doesn’t happen to any more children. Help end corporal punishment. Help end child abuse. If Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42), I can’t image that God would condone such behavior in people who claim to be loving parents.
Sincerely, Bethany A. Fenimore” (Fenimore, 2005, http://nospank.net/fenimore.htm).
It is obvious from this heartbreaking letter written by Beth that even if parents spank their children in the “loving, godly” manner that it still does much harm to the children. In fact, teaching children to equate love with hitting not only teaches children that hitting a loved one is acceptable as I showed in Part 3 of this series, but as Gershoff, who I mentioned previously in this piece, also found that “spanking can lead children to think that aggression is common in relationships with loved ones. Gershoff in fact did find that CP (corporal punishment) is associated with increased risk of victimization from abusive relationships in adulthood” (Niolon, 2010, http://www.psychpage.com/family/disc.html). In fact, many of the women that I know who were spanked “lovingly” became victims of spousal abuse because they equated love with being hit. This is a very dangerous cycle for any person to become entangled. God never intended for this to happen.
As I have continued to discuss throughout my work, teaching children that God wants them to be hit not only makes children become afraid of Him and is blasphemous, but it does not accurately teach children God’s true love for them. “What value is there, for example, in teaching our children that God loves them if they learn that love is something that hurts or makes them feel guilty” (Quinn, 1988, p. 92). As I pointed out in my series, “Spanking is NOT God’s Will,” many pro-spankers misinterpret Proverbs 13:24 which states, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them,” to mean that they must spank in order to show their love for their children. (See “Spanking is NOT God’s Will” for the correct interpretation of the rod verses). This is not a mandate from God to spank children in order to show love to them. Love and this type of pain never go together. What this is saying is that parents who love their children will discipline (teach and guide) children in a manner that will enable the children to thrive and will ultimately lead them to Christ. Spanking and permissive parenting do the exact opposite of what this verse is saying. Being hit or not being disciplined at all does not make children feel loved by their parents. Hurting children intentionally never accurately shows love for them. God does not intentionally hurt us to show His love for us as God is love. God showed His love for us by coming to Earth as Jesus Christ to take all the pain for us. Now that is true love! The Bible is also quite clear on what love is and is not. As Quinn (1988) beautifully states,
“Nowhere in I Corinthians 13—the great chapter on love—is hitting listed as an act of love. It tells us clearly that love is patient and kind, is never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude. Love is a state of mind, a quality of the spirit that manifests itself in human relationships. Love holds the other person in highest esteem; it does everything possible to uplift the other. Love never hurts; it helps. It never tears down; it builds. Love never punishes; it disciplines! To equate love with violence is a serious mistake that can have devastating consequences. Love and violence are two entirely different things. If we hit children because we love them, we must be careful we do not love them to death” (p. 98).
Research shows that physically punishing children hurts the parent-child bond as most people can vividly remember the first time their parents slapped them. They remember the shock of being intentionally hurt by the parent in whom the child trusted and loved. A study was done with students regarding how corporal punishment chips away at the parent-child bond. Strauss (2006) states:
“Part of the process by which corporal punishment eats away at the parent-child bond is shown in the study of 270 students… We asked the students for their reactions to ‘the first time you can remember being hit by one of your parents’ and the most recent instance. We used a check list of 33 items, one of which was ‘hated him or her.’ That item was checked by 42 percent for both the first and most recent instance of corporal punishment they could remember. The large percentage who hated their parents for hitting them is important because it is evidence that corporal punishment does chip away at the bond between child and parent” (p. 154-155).
Yes, children may look and seem happy after being physically punished, but this is usually a facade in order to please their parents. Their parents obviously won’t allow their children to show their true emotions. This is not healthy nor is it true love. I want to end this piece with one last story of a woman who was spanked the “loving, right” way but still was negatively affected by it.
“When I was a little girl and my mother thought I required discipline, she would pull me face down across her lap and give me a series of stinging slaps of her hand on my bare buttocks while I cried. In fifteen seconds it was over. I would be in tears and clutching my bottom for a minute or so, but it didn’t really hurt much after that, just a hot itch. My rear end would be a solid pink right afterwards. But in a few hours it would be back to normal. And that was that.
I was not ‘abused’ as a child, just ‘spanked with love.’ She never left a bruise when she ‘lovingly spanked’ me. The permanent marks were inside, not outside.
Mother firmly believed in spankings as discipline for her children because they ‘worked’ so well. All she needed to do if my behavior displeased her was say, ‘Carol, do you want a spanking?’ and that would frighten me into obeying her. And if she told me to do the dishes and I didn’t do them very well and got spanked for it you can bet those dishes were unusually spotless for the next couple of days. But spankings also left me with lifelong emotional and sexual problems that I still don’t know how to fix despite years of therapy. My mother got an obedient daughter and cleaner dishes and I got a lifelong mess inside” (Neddermeyer, 2006, http://ezinearticles.com/?Loving-Spankings–Part-I&id=373269).
It is clear that fear is the main effect of spanking no matter how it is done. Believing that God wants children to be hit often leads many children to struggle with their relationships with God or to be so afraid of Him that they totally reject Him. Even when children are spanked the “loving, godly” way, there is much harm done to them. Sadly, spanking is so ingrained in our society, especially among Christians, that the majority of people have a very difficult time admitting that all physical punishment is harmful to children. As Strauss (2006) states:
“Conversely, almost everyone thinks that spanking children is not harmful, despite the studies showing that it is. Eighty four percent of American adults, including most practicing psychologists, believe that corporal punishment is sometimes necessary. The remarkable thing is that the members of the Family Research Laboratory seminar are social scientists who, presumably, are against hitting children. Yet the idea that ‘moderate corporal punishment’ is harmless is so deeply ingrained in American culture that even this group was more skeptical of the idea that it could adversely affect a person’s occupation and income” (p. 146).
This is very sad as research and personal testimonies that I am presenting further prove that physical punishment is indeed very harmful to children. And any amount of Bible study further shows that spanking is not from God otherwise there would be no harmful effects! Fear is not from God. I love this quote from Gandhi because it is more biblical than he probably realized! “”Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi. Yes, physical punishment “in love” has other harmful effects that many people don’t know about that we will discuss in my next piece—one of which is sexuality. Again, I ask, is this really what God wants for our children?
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
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