In the last part of this series we saw how teaching children to equate love with pain can cause them to become sadomasochistic. We also saw how spanking children, even when done “lovingly” and the “right way,” causes many children to struggle with depression, guilt, and shame as having pain intentionally inflicted on them by their parents never makes them feel positive about themselves. In this concluding piece of this series, we will see how spanking keeps the vicious cycle of abuse and authoritarian parenting going for generations unless one fights against it. New research shows that children that are physically punished/abused can develop a form of Stockholm Syndrome as they deny and repress their pain. Also, I will be showing that intentionally inflicting pain on children causes brain damage as the brain gets rewired due to experiencing pain and trauma throughout childhood. Many parents do not realize how vulnerable the young, developing brain is. Finally, I will be explaining the Scientific Method of conducting research in order to disprove the claim of a great deal of pro-spankers that all the research proving spanking is harmful is somehow biased. I hope this series further proves that spanking did not come from God otherwise none of these harmful effects would ever occur.
The Cycle of Abuse and Authoritarian Parenting—“My parents spanked me and I survived and so will my children!”
Many pro-spankers often make this statement. They’ve learned that physically punishing children is an acceptable manner of child rearing as it is what their parents did to them. Also, Christian advocates of spanking have incorrectly taught them that God mandates the use of physical punishment in order to have godly children. As these people have grown up learning never to question authority figures, it makes it easy for them to blindly obey the Christian advocates of spanking who claim that they are “experts” on child rearing such as Dobson, the Pearls, Lessin, Tripp, the Ezzos, and Christenson. Plus, many well-meaning, everyday church pastors teach that the rod verses in Proverbs mean that we are to hit children in order to “discipline” them. (See “Spanking is NOT God’s Will” for why the rod verses actually do not mean to physically punish children). The way parents were treated as children is most often the way parents will go on to treat their children. “If you are harsh and demanding, it is very likely your children will rebel and turn away from your value system sometime down the road. In addition, you are setting up your children to reap a lifetime of emotional pain and rejection, and the cycle of abuse continues” (Kuzma, 2006, p. 9).
Many people confuse the three parenting styles. The three parenting styles are authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. If parents physically punish their children, they are authoritarian, even if they do some of the things that authoritative parents do such as listening to their children at times or offer some choices to the children. This is because authoritarian parenting stresses obedience without question, first-time obedience, strictness, and the use of punishment, especially corporal punishment, with their children. Authoritarian parents also have very high (usually beyond what the children are developmentally capable of) expectations for their children. While authoritarian parents, in general, love their children very much and simply want the best for them, these parents tend to focus more on keeping control of their children than on using effective discipline strategies that respect the actual needs of the individual child. Janet Heimlich (2011) explains authoritarianism this way, “What is authoritarianism? Usually this term refers to an oppressive form of government where leaders have great control over their subjects. Dictionary.com describes authoritarianism as ‘favoring complete obedience or subjection to authorities as opposed to individual freedom’” (p. 46). Fear is the primary way authoritarian parents gain and maintain control over their children. Most of these parents are Fundamental Christians in which their church leaders also use authoritarianism tactics to maintain control over their congregations. “Fear and authoritarianism often go hand in hand, as religious leaders can use terror tactics to maintain order and control” (Heimlich, 2011, p. 48).
Is authoritarianism biblical? One could say it was during Old Testament times as God was not easily accessible, and people had to obey all God’s commandments in order to be accepted by God. But, as I continue to point out throughout all of my series, God saw that His people were not able to live up to His extremely high expectations and choose to send His Son, Who was God, to die for all of humanity’s sins. God humbled Himself to the lowliest of lows and choose to come to Earth as an infant, be born naturally as every other baby was born, drink milk from His mother’s breasts, and then suffer and die like a common criminal for us. Our great and mighty God did all of this for us. As soon as Christ died, the veil that was across the temple tore in two symbolizing that we now have full and complete access to God (Matthew 27:51). The God of all creation did that for us. We now live in grace. “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” Colossians 1:22. What’s more is that God is singing over us (Zephaniah 3:14-17)! Therefore, authoritarianism is not biblical.
Sadly, if all one has ever experienced is authoritarianism and being physically punished throughout childhood, it can make it very difficult for the person to break out of that cycle because he or she does not know any other way to be a parent towards his or her child. Thus, the same patterns take place within the parent-child bond. Here is an example of the patterns that generally occur in authoritarian and abusive homes.
“The Cycle of Abuse follows a certain predictable pattern that begins when the child is young and gets progressively worse as the child becomes a teenager. Here are the steps you will see:
1. The child misbehaves. 2. The parent notices the child’s misbehavior and gives him instructions to correct it. 3. The child does not comply. He may ignore the instructions, argue, or even refuse to do what the parent says. 4. The parent feels angry. The parent feels that his authority is being threatened. The parent yells at the child, shakes him, insults him, or hits him. 5. The child feels angry, resentful, and worthless. 6. The child’s misbehavior becomes more ingrained and is now based on feelings of revenge and/or worthlessness. 7. The parent becomes more and more frustrated with the continued misbehavior and the entire cycle escalates until someone intervenes or someone gets hurt badly.
You can see the potential for this cycle to occur in any family” (Keith, 2011, http://childparenting.about.com/cs/familyissues/a/childabusecycle.htm).
This is particularly true in homes where obedience to authority is of the utmost importance. As obedience becomes ingrained in the child’s mind, as with Dave who we met in Part 5, he or she may become afraid to question anyone, and may begin to crave the healthy amount of control that he or she lacked throughout childhood that when he or she finally has a child, he or she may begin to enforce the control onto the child. These people feel so angry, resentful, and guilty that they misuse their authority over their child because they are finally in a position of power over someone reliant on them. Miller (1994) states, “When someone suddenly gives vent to his or her rage, it is usually an expression of deep despair, but the ideology of child beating and the belief that beating is not harmful serve the function of covering up the consequences of the act and making them unrecognizable. The result of a child becoming dulled to pain is that access to the truth about himself will be denied him all his life. Only consciously experienced feelings would be powerful enough to subdue the guard at the gates, but these are exactly what he is not allowed to have” (p. 78).
Another reason why using authoritarian parenting and physical punishment with children tends to keep the cycle of abuse going is that, as I discussed in Part 3 of this series, a great deal of children who are physically punished struggle with a lack of empathy as they deny their own pain and become a proud survivor of physical punishment. This sense of pride makes them deaf toward other’s pain and suffering, especially that of their children. Also, they have become accustomed to obeying authority, especially when they believe that it is “godly,” and will obey even when it causes severe pain to a child. Alice Miller (1994) states:
“The other explanation—that these were people who worshipped authority and were accustomed to obey—is not wrong, but neither is it adequate to explain a phenomenon like the Holocaust, if by obeying we mean the carrying out of commands that we consciously regard as being forced upon us. People with any sensitivity cannot be turned into mass murderers overnight. But the men and women who carried out ‘the final solution’ did not let feelings stand in their way for the simple reason that they had been raised from infancy not to have any feelings of their own but to experience their parents’ wishes as their own. These were people who, as children, had been proud of being tough and not crying, of carrying out all their duties ‘gladly,’ of not being afraid—that is, at bottom, of not having an inner life at all” (p. 81).
This very well might explain why Michael Pearl and other Christian as well as non-Christian pro-spankers seem so proud of what they are advocating and doing to their children. Their hearts have been harden by the pain they experienced as children, thus, continuing this vicious cycle by not only doing it to their children, but teaching other parents to do it to their children in order to “obey God” and raise “godly children.” Studies have been done showing this pride and willingness to obey authority even when it causes another to be in severe pain.
One such study was conducted by Stanley Milgram, which was published in 1974 as Obedience to Authority. In this study, Milgram wanted to see the lengths that people would go in obeying someone they perceived as having authority over them. To conduct his experiment, he set up a situation in which there was a “teacher” and a “learner.” The teacher would ask the learner a question, and if the learner answered the teacher’s question incorrectly, or failed to respond at all, a shock ranging from 0-450 volts would be administered to the learner at increasingly voltage each time the shock was administered by the teacher. In reality, no shocks were actually given to the learner, but this fact was kept from the teacher. “The experiment’s true purpose was to discover the point at which an individual would refuse to obey and then actively disobey the insistent commands of the experimenter. Milgram found that in experimental situations in which the ‘learner’ voiced his response to the increasing shocks, from mild discomfort to agonizing screams and pleas to be released from the straps binding him to his chair, many of the ‘teachers’ nevertheless continued to inflict the shocks” (Greven, 1992, p. 201). What’s more is many of these “teachers’ continued administering the shocks until the “learner” finally grew silent as the higher voltage shocks could cause serious harm and even death. This concerned Milgram and his colleagues. Greven (1992) goes on to state, “What astonished Milgram and his colleagues was the proportion of individuals willing to obey the command to inflict pain right to the limit even when, in at least one instant, the person inflicting the shock believed that the person being shocked had died. After the termination of the experiment, this man commented: ‘Well, I faithfully believed the man was dead until we opened the door. When I saw him, I said, ‘Great, this is great.’ But it didn’t bother me even to find that he was dead. I did a job’” (p. 202).
It is important to note that the study used people from all different backgrounds and different walks of life, and yet, half still continued to give shocks up to the maximum limit. I found this very interesting and disturbing as did Milgram. Why would so many seemingly good people obey authority to the point of inflicting such severe pain and even death on another person? Knowing the research in child development, I suspect it had something to do with how these people were treated as children. Also, these people believed that the shocks that they were administering to the “learner” were for his own good. “In most of the experiments, Milgram found that approximately half the people who volunteered to give the shocks were willing to obey the authority to the limit despite the anguished pleas, and subsequent silence, of the person they were helping to ‘teach’” (Greven, 1992, p. 202).
While Stanley Milgram never considered the childhoods of the people who obeyed unwaveringly, I believe that this study shows what happens when pain, fear, and coercion are used with children; they lose a major part of themselves. Christians think broken wills are a good thing for children, but in reality, a broken will means an inability to think or feel for oneself. A broken will eventually turns into a hardened, calloused, prideful heart that is willing to listen to only the Christian teachers that align with their beliefs rather than taking the time to really study God’s Word and hear His still, small voice. This also allows children to relate and defend their parents’ hurtful and abusive actions, and therefore, keeping the cycle of abuse and authoritarianism going despite hearing their children’s cries of pain.
Most people are familiar with Stockholm Syndrome from the two well-covered cases of it. The first case of Stockholm Syndrome happened in Stockholm, Sweden on August 23, 1973. Bank robbers held three women and a man hostage for 131 hours. The robbers strapped dynamite to all of the hostages. At the end of the hostage situation, the hostages wound up defending their captors.
The second well-known case of Stockholm Syndrome is what happened with Patty Hearst. Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army on February 4, 1974. When two months later the group robbed a bank in San Francisco, it was observed on the bank’s surveillance camera that Patty was with the group and holding a gun during the robbery. She had become attached to her captors and voluntarily aided them in their criminal activity. Here are a few more details of the situation that Patty Hearst was in so that we can understand the psychological aspects of how people can develop Stockholm Syndrome:
“The apparent leader, Donald DeFreeze, called himself Field Marshall Cinque Mtume. Like Charles Manson only five years before, he wanted to start a revolution of the underprivileged, and he intended to do that by declaring war on those with status and money. From his followers he commanded total obedience and worship.
By her account, Patty was kept blindfolded for two months in a closet at the group’s headquarters, unable even to use the bathroom in privacy. DeFreeze realized that her visibility as a social figure that had gained the nation’s sympathy would showcase his cause, so he worked to turn her into an angry revolutionary.
From her report, DeFreeze relied on harsh psychological techniques:
She was isolated and made to feel that no one was going to rescue her.
She was physically and sexually abused by various members of the gang.
She was told that she might die.
She was fed lies about how the gang was oppressed by the establishment.
She was forced to record messages that blasted those she loved.
By early April, she had a new identity and was deemed ready to accompany the gang on their next daring foray” (Ramsland, 2011, http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/terrorists_spies/terrorists/hearst/1.html).
Many people don’t realize that Stockholm Syndrome occurs in domestic situations as well, such as spousal abuse and child abuse. With the main dynamic occurring in cases of Stockholm Syndrome being that the person is reliant on the captor/abuser for survival, many times the victim will end up becoming attached to the captor/abuser, and begins to truly believe the captor/abuser has his or her best interests at heart as he or she believes the lies that the captor/abuser feeds him or her. Also, the abuser holds absolute power over the victim. “Because survival depends upon the good will of the oppressor, the abused become infatuated with and bonded to them” (Levy, 2009, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tribal-intelligence/200909/mackenzie-phillips-and-the-stockholm-syndrome). This is how it is with children and their parents. Children have no choice but to be totally reliant on their parents for survival. Most parents that physically and emotionally harm their children truly love their children, and will do just enough things correctly, such as comfort their children, be responsive to some of their children’s needs, and play with their children, that the children form an attachment to their parents—even if it isn’t a secure attachment. (See “Why NOT to Train a Baby” for more info on attachment). As children grow up being fed lies by their parents about physical punishment being “for their own good,” being done “out of love,” children begin to deny and repress their pain allowing them to truly believe these lies. They begin to identify with their parents, thus, believing their parents have done nothing wrong to them.
Michael Pearl seems to be a perfect example of Stockholm Syndrome occurring because of child abuse. As I mentioned in the previous section of this piece, he talks proudly of the whippings that he received as a child. And now he proudly teaches parents to do the same to their children beginning in early infancy. He truly sees nothing wrong with his teachings despite three children dying because their parents followed his teachings. Interestingly, it appears that the more severely the parents abuse a child, the more likely it is for the child to develop this form of Stockholm Syndrome. “In the book, Traumatic Experience and the Brain, author David Ziegler, the director of a treatment program for abused children, writes that ‘I have often noticed that the degree of loyalty from a child to an abusive parent seems to be in direct proportion to the seriousness of the abuse the child received. In this counterintuitive way, the stronger or more life-threatening the treatment, the stronger the loyalty from the child’” (Levy, 2009, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tribal-intelligence/200909/mackenzie-phillips-and-the-stockholm-syndrome).
Since children can never escape from their parents on their own, they cannot completely withdraw from their parents. Therefore, children will develop unique ways of coping with harsh treatment. “If the betrayed person is a child and the betrayer is a parent, it is especially essential the child does not stop behaving in such a way that will inspire attachment. For the child to withdraw from a caregiver he is dependent on would further threaten his life, both physically and mentally. Thus the trauma of child abuse by the very nature of it requires that information about the abuse be blocked from mental mechanisms that control attachment and attachment behavior” (Freyd, 2009, http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/~jjf/defineBT.html). Blocking the pain from physical punishment and abuse is known as dissociation. Dissociation is where the child mentally removes him/herself from the situation so that he or she can no longer feel the pain. It is like an out of body experience. During a spanking, a child might pretend to be hovering over the scene where his or her parent is hitting him or her. This allows children to cope with the pain without risking their ability to survive by maintaining a bond with their parents. I believe Stockholm Syndrome is a very real negative effect of corporal punishment. It may explain why so many pro-spankers are proud that they survived being physically punishment and see nothing wrong with continuing the cycle with their children. Sadly, as we’ve seen throughout this series, messing with little minds and bodies leads to big consequences that are permanent. In the next section we will see that physical punishment leads to young brains being harmed.
How Spanking Hurts Brain Development
The first seven years of a child’s life is when the majority of brain development and growth occurs. The first three are even more vulnerable because the foundations of brain and personality growth happen during these first few years. Yes, infants are born with a certain personality, but what happens to infants after birth often has long-term consequences on whom they will become. The brain is developing very fast during this time, and all experiences will either enhance or harm this critical time of brain development. “In early childhood, the brain develops faster than any other organ in the body. By age 5, the brain reaches about 90 percent of its adult weight, and by 7, it is fully grown. This makes early childhood a very sensitive and critical period in brain development” (Riak, 2011, http://www.nospank.net/pt2009.htm). What’s more is that many Christian advocates of spanking infants claim that the infants are purposely trying to manipulate their parents, but this is not true as the way that the infant’s brain works makes them incapable of manipulating their parents.
“Because children lack abstract reasoning and analytical abilities until they approach the age of twelve, they lack the ability and the mental wiring to be able to plot “diabolically.” This website offers an easily understood description and more detail about how the brain of a child develops over time, noting how brain function starts out as rudimentary and becomes more sophisticated as the child matures. Children learn as they grow and grow as they learn, but that learning process differs greatly from the way an adult learns. The Pearls created the idea of the child as the natural adversary of the parent, an idea that does not arise from Biblical or scientific fact. Their concept of the ‘diabolical will’ of the child attempts to spiritualize and rationalize the Pearls’ own intolerance of the natural immaturity and the limited function of a young and developing child” (Kunsman, 2012, http://undermuchgrace.blogspot.com/2012/02/what-its-like-to-experience-only-right.html).
Sadly, people just don’t know how vulnerable the young brain is, and that spanking, no matter how it is done, has been shown to affect brain development in a highly negative manner. Most children begin getting physically punished before they are 1-year-old. And most Christian pro-spankers claim that it is best to spank children between the ages of two and six years old. This is precisely when the brain is the most vulnerable to stress and trauma. The pain of being physically punished is unlike other types of pain that young children experience because their parents, to punish them, intentionally inflict this pain on them. It is usually accompanied by verbal admonishments from the parent. Therefore, whether the spanking is administered “lovingly” or in anger, the child, even as an infant, knows that the parent’s intention is to inflict pain on him or her even if the child does not understand why the parent is hitting him or her. This is why we will often see pain and confusion in a young child’s eyes the first time a parent hits because the child does not know exactly why the parent is doing this. All the young child knows is mommy or daddy hurt me when I do certain things. The trauma of being intentionally hurt by the very people children love and are reliant on is what causes negative effects on young children’s brains.
Recent research has studied the brains of people who were abused as children using fMRIs. One such study was conducted by Psychologist Eamon McCroy. It was published in Current Biology on December 5, 2011, and it showed that the brains of abused children looked similar to those of soldiers who had been in combat. “His team compared fMRIs from abused children to those of 23 non-abused but demographically similar children from a control group. In the abused children, angry faces provoked distinct activation patterns in their anterior insula and right amygdala, parts of the brain involved in processing threat and pain. Similar patterns have been measured in soldiers who’ve seen combat” (Keim, 2011, http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/12/neurology-of-abuse/).
As I pointed out in Part 4 of this series, children begin to become stressed and fearful before a spanking takes place. They release stress hormones into their bodies as their heart rates and blood pressures rise. The pain of being hit only causes their bodies to further secrete stress hormones. This huge release of stress negatively affects the child’s entire body. Given that young children are incapable of controlling their emotions and impulses, spankings are likely to occur quite frequently and, sadly, more than once a day. Having chronic stress is not good for brain development. “Stress caused by pain and fear of spanking can negatively affect the development and function of a child’s brain. It is precisely during this period of great plasticity and vulnerability that many children are subjected to physical punishment. The effect can be a derailing of natural, healthy brain growth, resulting in life-long and irreversible abnormalities” (Riak, 2011, http://www.nospank.net/pt2009.htm).
Now, before I get blamed for not citing Christian research with regard to how physical punishment negatively affects brain development of young children, Dr. Kay Kuzma, Christian author of The First Seven Years, has a background and doctorate degree in Early Childhood Education, states the following:
“If, however, early spankings are given frequently, emotional pain is laid down in the limbic system of the brain that can affect the child’s later behavior. There is startling new evidence against inflicting pain on children reported in a special issue of Newsweek, titled ‘Your Child,’ (Spring/Summer 1997). It has to do with the vulnerability of the brain to trauma during the first few years. If the brain’s organization reflects its experience, and the experience of the traumatized child is fear and stress, then the neurochemical responses to fear and stress become the most powerful architects of the brain. ‘If you have experiences that are overwhelming, and have them again and again, it changes the structure of the brain,’ says Dr. Linda Mayers of the Yale Child Study Center. Here’s how:
Trauma elevates stress hormones, such as cortisol, that wash over tender brains like acid. As a result, regions in the cortex and in the limbic system (responsible for emotions, including attachment) are 20 to 30 percent smaller in abused children than in normal kids, finds Dr. Bruce Perry of Baylor College of Medicine. These regions also have fewer synapses.
In adults who were abused as children, the memory-making hippocampus is smaller than in nonabused adults. This effect, too, is believed to be the result of the toxic effects of cortisol.
High cortisol levels during the vulnerable years of zero to three increase activity in the brain structure involved in vigilance and arousal. (It’s called the locus cerulean.) As a result the brain is wired to be on hair-trigger alert, explains Perry. Regions that were activated by the original trauma are immediately reactivated whenever the child dreams of, thinks about, or is reminded of the trauma (as by the mere presence of the abusive person). The slightest stress, the most inchoate (early stage) fear, unleashes a new surge of stress hormones. This causes hyperactivity, anxiety, and impulsive behavior. ‘Kids with higher cortisol levels score lowest on inhibitory control,’ says neurologist Megan Gunnar of the University of Minnesota. ‘Kids from high-stress environments (have) problems in attention regulation and self-control’ (p. 32)” (Kuzma, 2006, p. 412-413).
We can see a cycle here. The more trauma that happens to the young, developing brain from being physically punished, the more likely the child will misbehave due to this harm. The more young children misbehave, the more frequently they will get hit. At least until the child is old enough to start using psychological coping skills and their minds, spirits, wills, and brains are totally broken.
It is clear that using corporal punishment with children has detrimental effects on their brains and minds, and therefore, should never be used with them. As I continue to point out throughout all of my series, it is God Who created us. He knows exactly how our bodies work from conception. Since He knows how harmful spanking is to His youngest children, surely He never intended the rod verses to be taken literally. If He had then none of these detrimental effects would occur no matter how the physical punishment is administered. After all, the way in which rod verses are worded are harsh. To take them literally would require beating children with a walking stick. I would like to share Dr. Kay Kuzma suggestion of how we are to interpret these rod verses. Kuzma (2006) states, “Some suggest that the biblical ‘rod of correction’ was a common measuring instrument to determine certain standards. The analogy could be made that if children didn’t meet standards, the ‘rod’ would be used to make the necessary corrections—not by beating, but by pointing out error” (p. 416). Given the biblical explanations to the rod verses that I have provided throughout my series, and the fact that the Bible does in fact speak of using a rod to measure things (Ezekiel 40:5-6; 42:16-19; Revelation 11:1; 21:15-16), I believe this is another accurate way to interpret these rod verses. After all, God continues to lovingly discipline His people as He freely offers and grants us forgiveness. “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” Psalm 130:4.
How Do We Know the Research Against Corporal Punishment is Reliable and Valid?
Many pro-spankers, especially Christians, often claim that the research proving that all corporal punishment is harmful is biased and inaccurate. They also claim that corporal punishment and physical abuse get lumped together in many of these anti-spanking studies. As I described in Part 2 of this series, due to pro-spankers being very divided over where the line is separating a “spanking” from abuse, it is impossible to separate different intensities of hitting. Hitting a child, no matter how mildly is intended to punish the child and inflict pain upon the child, and therefore, is harmful to the child. Since the definition of abuse is clear that anything that is harmful to children is abuse, it is virtually impossible to separate corporal punishment from abuse. But even in studies where “loving” spankings are researched, the results are the same in most cases; it is harmful.
So, how can we be sure that these studies showing corporal punishment to be harmful are accurate? All valid and reliable studies are done using the scientific method. The experimenter, who is an experienced professional in the field, comes up with a hypothesis to be tested. A hypothesis is a hunch or idea that the experimenter wants to see if it’s true. Using the scientific method, the experimenter conducts the study in order to maintain objectivity. This means keeping all biases out of the research being conducted. There are three main things that the scientific method requires of all research. The first is reliability. Reliability means conducting the study in a manner that guarantees accurate results each time it is conducted with the same subjects but using different methods. The second is validity. Validity means that the test or instrument used in the study measures precisely for which it is intended. For example, many studies done on corporal punishment use surveys or other high tech instruments to measure the amount of harm done to children and/or adults participating in the studies, and special care was taken to ensure these instruments measured the results accurately. Finally, replicability guarantees that other researchers can perform the exact experiment, and have similar results. “Assessing objectivity, reliability, validity, and replicability of studies prevents the dissemination of inaccurate or untrue information that can result from such research pitfalls as poor research design, researcher bias, inappropriate or inaccurate use of statistical methods, insufficient size of population studied, or inadequate or unclear instructions and procedures for research subjects” (Puckett, Black, Wittmer, & Petersen, 2009, p. 25).
I believe all of the research studies that I have presented throughout this series meet the criteria of the scientific method. And all of the research presented in this study is from credible, well-known scholars in this field. Yes, there have been a few studies released that claim corporal punishment isn’t harmful to children, but the overwhelmingly majority of studies done say that it is. Plus, all of the true stories that we have read throughout this series further prove that the research is correct. Many of these anti-spanking studies are done by Christians as well as by non-Christians. As Joan Durant, a professor at the University of Minnesota states after completing a recent 20-year study in Canada, “Here, we have more than 80 studies, I would say more than 100, that show the same thing (about corporal punishment), and yet we keep calling it controversial” (French & Wilson, 2012, http://health.yahoo.net/news/s/nm/spanking-kids-can-cause-long-term-harm-canada-study). It’s due time we begin to take all this research seriously!
In this series we have seen the many negative effects of using physical punishment such as denial and repression, lack of empathy, anger, aggression, fear and anxiety, fear of God, sadomasochism, guilt and shame, low self-esteem, depression, higher risk for domestic violence, Stockholm Syndrome, inhibited brain development, and the continuing cycle of abuse. I pray that series has further proven that God does not want children to be physically punished. To end this series, I would like to share two more stories. One is straight from the Bible.
Rehoboam was the son of King Solomon. King Solomon may have been blessed by God with wisdom, but he also sinned against God by having many wives and building alters for his wives’ gods. Children were even sacrificed on these alters. King Solomon treated Rehoboam very harshly as a child and physically punished him. How did Rehoboam turn out when he became king after his father died? Not too well according to 1 Kings 12:1-24. I am only going to cite 1 Kings 12:10-14 for our purposes. I highly recommend reading this entire passage because it seems clear that Solomon treated children rather poorly from the way the young men who grew up with Rehoboam advised him. 1 Kings 12:10-14 states, “The young men who had grown up with him replied, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’”
12 Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, “Come back to me in three days.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. Rejecting the advice given him by the elders, 14 he followed the advice of the young men and said, “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” Obviously, Rehoboam turned out even worse than his father. Yes, this was all part of God’s ultimate plan for us (v. 15), but this does not mean that God was pleased about this. And we must ask why God put Rehoboam’s story in the Bible if He was pro-spanking? I believe God was trying to show His people what happens when parents treat their children harshly.
The second story I want to share with you also sums up everything that I have presented to you in this series. Though Chloe was only spanked once as a child, it affected her quite negatively. Her brothers were spanked much more than she was, but sadly, she also fell victim to the very negative effects the spankings had on them. Here is what Chloe relayed to me in an electronic message dated February 10, 2012:
“I come from a white, upper middle class family. Though neither of my parents graduated from college, both of them were lucky enough to find incredible jobs and raised their family in comfort, if not leisure. They had four children, two boys followed by myself, a girl, and another girl. At least two of their children(the oldest and youngest) were mistakes due to lack of family planning. My parents spoke of divorce quietly, mulling the idea over, unbeknownst to their children, for over ten years while the middle two children(myself and my brother) primarily grew up.
They were not happy with each other. My father worked long hours, six or seven days out of the week and drank excessive amounts of alcohol when he arrived home. My mother was suffering from mild depression coupled with a thyroid disease that was later improved by surgery. This hormonal complication led to impatience and exhaustion and she had no energy to deal with the four of us. She left it up to our father to “deal” with us when he got home.
My father loved us when we were young. As a young child, I adored him, and went to such lengths as to wait for him outside of the bathroom when he showered in the morning just so I could be the first one there when he opened the door.
Maybe my father loved my older brothers as much when they were young, but all I remember of the interactions between the three of them was rage. My brothers constantly fought and needlessly were mean to me and my father only dealt with this one way–he would drag the boys into his office and spank them with his belt. Our father was never one to talk to us before or after we had disobeyed him or made him angry. We always knew what we had done to upset him and apparently that was enough communication.
Although my brothers were seemingly always in some form of trouble, I never was. I was an obedient child by nature, aiming to please, and my parents disapproval of my actions through one glance was more than enough for me to repent any misdeed or stop any tantrum. Later into my adolescence, it was confirmed to me that both of my parents knew how sensitive I was–and my older brother, similarly–and this knowledge enrages me further.
When I was seven, in the 2nd grade, either at the very beginning or the very end of the school year, I made a new friend in class. She was a new student and she made me promise that I would visit her that night at her house, a block away from my own home, or else she wouldn’t consider me her friend any longer. Swayed by peer pressure, I asked to go ride my bike that evening after school and though I knew it was against the rules to go off our street, I turned off of our road and peddled down four houses to her new residence to play with her. We jumped on her trampoline with her older sister, distracted by our game until I noticed it was growing dark. At the same moment I spotted my father’s truck rushing past the front of the house. He did not notice my bike lying in their driveway, but I knew with an ache and a jolt that it was time for me to go home. I raced down the street and hopped off my bike in the front yard of my house, tracing through the unkempt grass of our front yard diagonally as we always did when coming up to the front door.
My father barreled out onto the front porch and demanded where I had been, not waiting for an answer. He told me he had been out to the major, traffic heavy road looking for me. I was not to go anywhere the next day. I leaned my bike against the brick siding, and, unable as always to meet his eyes, I snuck past him into the house. I caught my mother’s eye in the hallway just as my father struck me for the first and only time in my life.
I was in the second grade, barely 50lbs, and my father was 6″2 and 220lbs. I was wearing jeans and he only hit me once, on my bottom, open handed and yet my bladder lost control as I ran up the stairs into my bedroom. I remember crying, and initially I’m sure it was from pain but I was still crying after I changed and went to bed.
This is a normal, all American 1990′s scene. I was a willfully disobedient child and my father, in a non-abusive manner, disciplined me as he saw fit to teach me never to scare him and Mom like that ever again. I am positive that he hit me because he had been so afraid of never seeing me again, and he had my best interests at heart, just as with every other time he hit my brothers and younger sister. I understand in so many ways that I have nothing to complain about when compared to other children in abusive homes.
But I will say a number of things: My parents knew that all of us were sensitive children and we could have learned better if they had had a little more patience with us, even if that patience just staved off hitting us. All three of my siblings and I are still angry about the way our father physically disciplined us, and we’ve talked this over as adults. Further, my father admits to being sorry about spanking us. Not just ‘the way’ he punished us, but the fact that he hit us at all.
Also, my brother, three years my elder, was the most angry about it, far angrier than I could ever be. He expressed his anger over our father’s spankings by taking it out on me. My brother beat the ever loving (expletive deleted) out of me when we were children and well into our teenage years, and it escalated to my brother raping me when I was 15. I am not saying that this is a math equation; that our father hitting my brother directly caused this event that tore my family apart in 2003, but it certainly was a root of the problem. And while my brother lashed out with his anger, I kept mine hidden.
Ever since I was a very small child, I found spankings sexual. As an adult woman with sexual relationships in my past and present(although they are continually a work in process, given my history) spanking in the bedroom has always been a desire of mine that has thankfully been fulfilled by generous young men. In no way am I saying that my father meant anything sexual by spanking me, nor do I perceive that event in any way sexual. However, being spanked as a child and wanting that specific sensation as a sexually active adult does tend to complicate and convolute my sex life in a very unpleasant way. I would also like to address the stereotype that childhood spanking leads to adulthood fetishes: I am not saying that. I’m not saying there is much of a connection between the two. I am, however, saying that if your child is predestined by nature and temperament (as I was and am) to enjoy that type of sexual conduct, I assure anyone that spanking that child when they are young will not help them in any way, shape or form. It will only confuse them.
Overall, my parents raised us right. I love them both. But I know I could love my dad so much more than I do. But my trust was broken as a seven year old. He was supposed to love me unconditionally. He had all the tools necessary at hand; all he needed to do was not give in to the temptation to hit a child in front of him that scared him and pissed him off. In his heart, he did have my best interests. But he caved into his own interests–he caved into the relief that he would feel after dishing out his anger on me. And, believe me, I have looked at this from all angles. Some might say that if my father had sat me down, explained why I was being punished, and then calmly spanked me after having me wait in my room, I would feel different. Less violated. Less angry. I assure you, no; I would feel more violated, more angry. I am glad my father lost control with us. If he had the nerve to come to the conclusion that I would somehow benefit from being hit in a logical manner, he would be entirely mistaken.
The way I would have learned my lesson would have been this: I had raced home after seeing my father driving in his truck, and saw him approach me on the front porch. From there, if he had bent down to my level at four feet from the ground and told me that he had been so worried that I had been hurt, or taken from him, or lost or scared. If he had told me that he had been so frightened, that he was about to call the police and have them search for me. . . I would have cried and clung to him and told him I was sorry and that I hadn’t meant to disappoint him or worry him or scare him because I thought the world of him. I loved him and it was scaring me to see him so scared. I would have understood that.
And I wouldn’t have spent the next ten years of my life wondering why I was so afraid of my father. He is a good man, like most men who spank their children. But I beg of anyone to remember how strong and important and loved you are in the eyes of your children, and understand what power you hold in your hands, and at what expense.
I am a 24 year old woman, and when I look at my father, I see a man who would scratch my back while lying together in front of the TV watching Star Trek and I see a man who sacrificed his dream to study history in college to work his entire life and who spent that money on my college education and I love this man. I wish I could shake this distrust of him, and this sadness that follows my siblings and I from our childhoods. My brothers both have children, and neither of them have laid a hand on the very well behaved 9, 4, 3, and 2 year olds. And every time my father talks to any one of us about our childhoods, the regret always shines through. This is how spanking has effected my entire family.”
Maybe you have read all of this series and have already spanked your children. Is it too late to change? No, it is not! If your children are still young, I urge you to take them in your arms and apologize for spanking them. Trust me, they will forgive you! Then tell them that you will no longer spank them, but that they will have consequences for their actions. Doing this will undo some of the damage that has been done to them. Be prepared for them to act out more at first as they finally feel safe with you to show you their big emotions. Be patient with them and yourself as you make this transition with them. Pray often. If your children are grown, I still strongly urge you to apologize to them and tell them you were wrong. This will help them to hopefully stop the cycle with their children. Whatever happens, never give up on your children! Grace is for parents too!
God does not want children to be hit. I pray that people will open their hearts to His Truth! In my next series entitled, “Discipline without Harm,” we will discuss how to discipline children in gentle but firm ways in order that they may be led towards our loving God instead of away from Him. For now, I leave us with this touching imagery by Dr. Kay Kuzma as we turn our focus away from punishment and towards discipline as God intended:
“If I focus on Jesus as a disciplinarian, I see Him calling to a disobedient child, ‘Come unto Me.’ Then I see Him gently lifting that child into His arms, establishing eye contact, and talking to him seriously. I hear Jesus pointing out the folly of disobedience and the consequences that will result. I see Jesus taking time to listen to the child’s feelings. Then I see Jesus pointing out the love that God has for His erring children and how God established limits so they wouldn’t hurt themselves, others, or things. Then with tears in His eyes, I see Jesus praying with the child that he will turn from his disobedience and be willing to obey his parents’ reasonable rules and God’s rules. I can even see Jesus imposing a meaningful consequence if the lesson needs reinforcing. And then as the little one runs off to play, I see Jesus noticing the good things he does and giving the child a smile of approval. For your children’s sake, I invite you to discipline as you think Jesus would” (Kuzma, 2006, p. 416-417).
I say amen to that!
This series continues with Discipline Without Harm Part 1
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