In the film “Parental Guidance,” Billy Crystal plays a grandfather trying to reconnect with his grandchildren. But his parenting methods don’t mesh well with his helicopter-parent daughter. When one of his grandkids misbehaves, he threatens to spank the boy in public and sees onlookers gasping in horror.
In his frustration, trying to be a parent the way his daughter does, he exclaims, “I’m sorry! I can’t take this anymore… this whole ‘teachable moments’ of protecting their self-esteem and nobody gets punished and every game ends in a tie! All I hear is ‘Use your words. Use your words,’ but the word they never use with the kids is ‘No!’”
My sister gave my three-year-old Jack a book called “Hands Are Not for Hitting.” As the title suggests, it talks about all the things hands are for instead (hugging, helping, etc). I read it a few times to him but stopped for now. After all, I’ve given him the occasional swat, or threatened it.
I’ve never had a firm opinion about spanking until my son hit the throat-slitting threes. I thought I’d never be a parent who spanked her child, but I did.
Many articles ballyhoo spanking as passé and advise to use alternatives instead (redirection, ignoring, timeouts), while others espouse correct spanking (sparingly, privately) and even defend it as biblical, equipped with literal passages.
Most kids I grew up with were spanked. While some continue the tradition literally handed down from generation to generation, others purposefully chose a more pacifist path.
A spanking should be “hard enough to be unpleasant but not hard enough to hurt.”
Proponents of spanking say it should be done within a certain age range only (1.5-5 years old or 3-7 years), never done out of anger, only in private so as not to humiliate, and to correct “mistakes of the heart” such as defiance and never “mistakes of the mind” (teachwithjoy.com).
I haven’t come across any long-term study that focuses on the unspanked and how they are much better off, perhaps because “gentle parenting” or “positive parenting” techniques are fairly new.
Someone’s ex-husband was reportedly undisciplined or di napalo as a child, and it was said to be why he grew up to become a serial cheat. Another friend wasn’t spanked and yet she turned out quite well.
Those who were spanked as children and “grew up okay” usually don’t hold grudges against their parents, and think that they might have turned out worse if they hadn’t been spanked, so they see nothing wrong with it; others employ it but struggle with the guilt and use it as a last resort.
Mel Gray, 38, has three boys ages 14, 11 and 9. Gray was spanked as a child for major offenses.
“Hurting my siblings, touching others’ stuff and breaking them, not listening to what I was told, lying, not waking up for school, not doing homework and getting caught, etc… for those, palo kaagad, using slippers or a belt on the butt. Tapos my parents would explain why they did it,” he said.
He said it was effective in keeping him in line, which is why he spanked his children, too. “Ayaw kasi makinig, and it worked. We tried other alternatives before, such as talking to them first. But that didn’t work too well,” said Gray.
He added that an acceptable age range for kids to get spanked is 5-7 years old. “After 7, medyo matanda na yung bata, and they would probably have remembered all the spankings and why… Before 5 is too young, I guess. Since my kids are old na, talking to them na lang and grounding them from stuff they like doing (TV, electronic gadgets, allowance, etc.) is how I discipline them.”
Allan Hizon, 38, was spanked for fighting, breaking valuable objects and being unruly.
“We would get warned sometimes, then spanked if we persisted with the behavior,” he said. “Sometimes we would be told that it was for our own good (but no explanation beyond that). We usually got hit on the buttocks with slippers, and with the belt for more severe offenses.”
He believes it was effective in disciplining him. “We were afraid of getting hit. I now have a hard time remembering if it was actually painful. It was more of the thought of being punished that kept us in line.”
His children Allen, 7, and Carlo, 5, are spanked. “But very rarely,” Allan qualified, “if they don’t respond to repeated warnings or verbal instructions to stop misbehaving, and if the offense is sudden and severe (i.e., hurting each other, rude words). But it works only at that moment. Spanking doesn’t work in the long term, and we feel bad when we do it.”
Has he tried other alternatives? “Yes. Timeouts, banning the use of their iPad and letting them slap their own mouths (for rude words),” said Allan.
He added that spanking is acceptable until age 9, though they generally avoid doing so.
Cindy Ngo-Co, 35, has spanked her eldest son Luigi, 6. “I spanked him a few times a couple of years ago but I’ve stopped doing it since, mainly because I can’t stand the guilt I feel after, and he gets the hint when I give him my warnings. I think at some level it worked because now he makes sure we don’t reach that point before he starts to listen.”
Luigi was spanked for playing rough and hurting his two-year-old brother Chance, despite several warnings, and for not being cooperative when reviewing his lessons.
Cindi recalled: “I remember being spanked when my siblings and I would get in fights that turned physical, and when we failed a test in school. For sibling fights, we would be asked to stop and were given warnings first, but if we continued the spat and hurt each other, we got spanked, but never in public.
“For failing tests, the number of lashes depended on how far our actual scores were from the passing score. My mom used a thin bamboo stick. I think it was the ‘weapon of choice’ then, as I remember my aunts and, sometimes, teachers having the same. Yes, our teachers in grade school spanked as a means of discipline, but always limited to palms only. For other offenses, my mom would usually hit our lower body parts (legs), but for failing tests, it’s usually our palms.”
Facing the wall
She added: “I believe that spanking was effective because it made me think about the consequences before I did something my parents would not be happy about.”
Alternatives that Cindy also has in her discipline arsenal are facing the wall and taking away privileges such as watching TV, playing with gadgets and toys.
Lynn, 37, was spanked on her bottom with a slipper for being stubborn and not following her parents. “My parents explained why, and would leave us to think about it first, then they would come to collect us to prompt us to say ‘Sorry,’ then they say ‘Sorry’, too,” she said. “I can’t compare it with a positive approach, but it was effective because as a child it was easy for me to remember what I didn’t want to happen, so I avoided doing wrong.”
Lynn has two daughters, Marga, 5, and Cece, 20 months. She admits to spanking Marga. “Just lightly, to get her attention,” she clarified. “It has helped. I’ve also tried other alternatives like the positive approach, reward system, talking, explaining and involvement.”
She thinks that ages 3-6 would be an acceptable age range for spanking. Lynn added, “I think spanking is totally dependent on the child’s personality. For Cece’s personality now, spanking won’t work, it will just make matters worse for her—she will fight back—so for her it’s best to talk with gentleness and more affection.”
What is right for your family?
Many medical experts and studies have come out to discourage corporal punishment, citing how it has led to lower vocabulary scores, emotional and behavioral problems, and filling our jails with the aggressive. Unicef even came out with “Children are Unbeatable,” outlining reasons not to hit children.
They say spanking appears to work in the short term but leads to worse outcomes in the long run. Some question why hitting a “small defenseless child but not a full grown adult” is okay, arguing that if one is illegal, the other should be, too.
“Spanking is the opposite of discipline. Spanking, even with love, is meant to ‘shock’ into correct behavior. Discipline means to teach through example. Parents are overworked these days and don’t have time to teach, or discipline. Instead, they spank. These spankings turn into teachable moments, just not how the parents intended,” posted Lillian to an article on spanking that appeared on Parents.com.
“The kid gets into trouble. The parent punishes the kid by spanking in an attempt to discipline. The kid then is unsupervised again, and does the same exact thing but learns to make sure that he doesn’t get caught this time. Spanking does not teach moral values. These same kids then hit other kids to make them do what they want.”
Jay, 42, has not spanked any of his three girls ages 13, 10 and 6. “Maybe for gross disrespect or merely not following what I tell them to do, I would spank, but there has been no need yet. The threat of spanking still works. Normally, I just yell lang and they obey na, Awa ng Diyos.”
As a child, Jay was hit with a belt or a fly swatter, normally on the butt. “The degree of the spanking would depend on the offense,” he explained. “A minor offense would be talking back. Major was like when I once kicked a ball straight to my sister’s face!” He got spanked first before an explanation was given as to why he needed a spanking. “If we did it again, the spanking got more severe,” said Jay. Timeouts were not in vogue then.
Do you think it was effective in disciplining you? “Oo naman, I could have turned out worse,” said Jay.
Sharon, 38, and her brother were also spanked for disobedience and disrespect to their parents. She said, “It was very seldom. Our parents would always sit with us after, make us realize what it was for and ask if we learned our lesson. We understood for sure that what we didn’t follow or do meant a lot to my folks.”
Even so, Sharon hasn’t spanked her kids Piper, 10, and Peter, 7. “My husband and I don’t spank our children. We do not believe that physically hurting them will make them understand what they did wrong and teach them a lesson. We believe in the power of conversations.
“We have dialogues with them very often, so that they would understand the consequences of their actions, and dialogues may be sometimes calm and very productive, while others may be mixed with a little anger and disappointment and resistance, but talking with each other prevails. Sometimes we confiscate toys and gadgets for a period of time while they serve their timeout.
“I believe the children have learned from our way of discipline. It may not always be easy, but seeing them with a better understanding of such is evidence that we may be doing something right,” said Sharon.
Dr. Mia Almeda-Fernando, 37, was never spanked. “I remember being a ‘good’ kid, as it was my older brother who was always getting into trouble. But for both minor and major offenses, I just remember being shouted at, but never spanked. I did witness my brothers being punished, though: made to eat soap for cussing and hit with a belt for hitting each other,” she recalled.
“I guess I consider myself a disciplined kid. But now that I think about it, I’m not sure if being a witness to my brothers being spanked was equivalent to me being spanked myself.”
She has never spanked her three-year-old, Iñigo. “Yet,” she added. “I feel, at his age, he may still not understand the concept of why I would inflict pain on him. I do shout at him when he misbehaves.”
Does it work? “Well, he would initially shout back. Then, given a few minutes to calm down, he would say sorry. Then, I spend some time explaining to him why mommy was unhappy or angry. I have never seen my son hit another person, so I don’t know if this has something to do with how I reprimand him. But spanking or no spanking, I believe that after the whole fiasco, no matter how exhausting, it’s important to talk to your child to try to explain why things went the way it did.”
What is right for your family?
For every argument for or against spanking is an anecdote or example proving otherwise. Studies in favor of no spanking cite the purported ill effects directly correlated to physical abuse in childhood. Then the debate goes on to define “spanking” or “abuse,” if any act of hitting is abuse or just an overreaction because it should be taken in the proper context. Since a precise formula for how forceful a spank is cannot be ascertained, some choose to just do away with it.
I would probably go all kung-fu if I knew someone else hit my child, but why is it okay for me to do it?
I think there is a lot more to consider (environment, personality, etc.) and not just isolated spanking or lack of it per se that leads to how a child develops. Some people have everything against them and yet turn out fine, while others are given the world and yet still flounder in life.
My early experience with Jack made me realize that spanking was only partially effective—for us, anyway. Now he knows that when I threaten a spanking, I can follow through on it.
Lately, I’ve learned that humor works to diffuse the tension. This isn’t always easy for me as I can get pretty exasperated when tired of caring for a toddler all day, and I just want things done quickly. But when I suddenly act silly or burst into song, it is totally unexpected and Jack gets a laugh out of it and becomes more agreeable. Or at least it buys me time to strategize my next negotiating tactic.
This forces me to be more creative with my “methods.” I don’t always succeed and resort to threats or bribes when desperate, but I am trying to be more consistent. I would hate to hear about him strong-arming a classmate into doing what he wants, and hear that he learned it from me.
As Dr. Richard Rende put it, “Many will say that they see that spanking works. Many will say that spanking was part of their childhood and it taught them right from wrong. Research doesn’t speak to any one individual’s story. What I suggest, from the perspective of a researcher, is that parents revisit their motivations for spanking. If it’s reactive and emotional, we know that there is no lesson learned there for a child—and it could spiral out of control.
“If it’s purposeful and used as a form of discipline, I would at least say that you consider other methods that can be used that don’t involve physical contact, simply because, unlike spanking, they have all been shown in research studies to be effective in producing positive changes in children’s behavior over time.”