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Crime and Punishment

Whenever an article arguing against vaccination makes it’s way across my timeline, I read it, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. But when an article about corporal punishment, spanking or discipline children makes it’s way across my timeline, I head straight to the comments without bothering to read the content (as I suspect many of those leaving comments do, too). Reasonable arguments (for and against) aside, the amount of pure rage one often finds from people favouring corporal punishment rarely makes one feel comfortable that it’s a good idea. Consider these two gems, from this article:

Not in my home Pat….. My son gets one here and there and when he does, it always turns out to be funny, trying to get him to stand still, he dances around like a sissy girl …………… until the cane whacks him on the butt, then he starts crying worse than a sissy boy. But after the crying, its all about learning from your mistake. People who don’t get reprimanded for their bad behaviour/decisions are usually the “Problem” as apposed to people who grew up learning to respect the hard way. I don’t “BEAT” my kids, I give them hidings, and it has to be really bad for the hiding. Usually, I just take their cells / tablets away and ruin their weekends for a week or two depending on what they did? I have good kids Pat, and no, they are not scared of me either.

BS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Since the day corporal punishment was taken away, kids have become unruly, they have no respect, don’t give two SH^TS about school work, because of quota.

Admittedly, one finds equal amounts of rage in the comments section of Youtube videos featuring kittens, so my anecdote proves nothing, but I find the irony delicious in this context.

And if you’ve been a reader of my blog, you’ll also know I am rarely a black and white kind of guy. Okay, I’m a white guy, but my opinions are not. And so I don’t subscribe to either the argument that corporal punishment should be banned, or that it should be practised more enthusiastically / reinstated.

Spare the rod, spoil the child

Pet peeve – people who quote the Biblical phrase “spoil the rod…” (Proverbs 13:24) in defence of corporal punishment show no appreciation for metaphorical language (I know some friends who consider that the least problematic counter, but they can write about that in their own blogs). If you intend to interpret that phrase as a literal instruction to hit children, best you get yourself a rod that meets the required biblical specifications. Hands or belts are clearly not allowed.

But my real argument against corporal punishment is this: “Punishment” as a concept is a vastly inferior principle to “Taking Responsibility”, or better yet, “Learning to Think about the Consequences of Actions.” A ‘punishment’ approach to discipline tends to discourage getting caught instead of encouraging having respect for people around you or understanding the consequences of your actions. By creating a false equivalence between the action and reaction (if a vase breaks my bum will burn, rather than that a broken vase equates to wasted resource), we learn that the real crime is that you didn’t get away with it..

Consider a child who’s been told not to throw the ball in the house, who subsequently breaks a vase. The simple, cheap approach is to administer a good beating for not listening to what mommy and daddy said. The right approach is to make clear the cause and effect of playing with a ball indoors versus broken furniture, followed by taking the price of the vase out of the child’s pocket money (kind of like how insurance works in the grown up world). Gross generalisation – I think people who don’t take out third party insurance failed to learn as children that it isn’t cool to break other people’s stuff – likewise adults who borrow things and return them in poor condition without shame.

Our role as parents is to teach our children how to live in the world and not to introduce feral children into society. Mistakes are the primary opportunity to provide lessons, and in my anecdotal (and personal) experience, the temptation to save as much time as possible with punishment in place of lessons is great. By ‘punishment’, of course, I refer not just to corporal punishment but any form of ‘cheap’ (in terms of parental effort) punishment that avoids detailed explanations.

Another pet peeve – “because I said so” is maybe necessary on the front lines of battle where there isn’t time to question the instructions of a superior, but a terrible (terrible, terrible) explanation in real life. I think parents might learn a few things about their own assumptions if they took the time to explain their decisions, rather than reverting back to this time-honoured <expletive>.

Use the rod, spoil the child

On the other hand, I am not entirely convinced by studies which show that spanking is a bad thing. Or rather, I am not convinced that they prove that spanking is always a bad thing, or that it is a bad thing often enough to justify banning it in the home, or that a significant majority of parents (and thus children) will benefit from having spanking taken out of their toolbelt.

First of all, legislating things away rarely solve the problems they are professed to cause. Think alcohol bootlegging in the 1920’s. Note how the legalisation of marijuana usage and gay marriage is sweeping the world. Not that gay marriage should be compared to spanking except in the sense that making them illegal doesn’t make them go away, and that the legalisation of marriage may lead to a reduction in consensual spanking, marriage being the passion killer it is claimed to be.

Parents hitting their children abusively are unlikely to stop abusing their children, and may resort to more pernicious forms of abuse assuming they don’t simply flout the ban. On the other hand, taking spanking away from parents for whom spanking is a last resort, or the only way they know to discipline their children, could have some serious side effects. I think here of a significant number of broken homes, and societies with extreme social issues. Expecting a single, overworked mother not to spank her children is…unfair.

I have given my son a smack on a very few occasions. Once as a two year old, when he attempted to put his fingers in a plug socket, I felt the shock value of a smack was preferable to the shock value of a plug. Certainly he was too young to understand a reasoned argument, and a verbal admonishment of sufficient magnitude would likely have been equally or more “abusive”. Anti-spanking super nannies might disagree, but in the situation having spanking available as an option was a useful place-holder while I went onto the internet to research ways to teach about plugs without smacks.

Be practical

But I won’t pretend to be self righteous, or generalise that since I rarely need to smack MY son, no other parent has any good reason to smack theirs. Even if you prove that smacking is a poor choice in a majority of reasonable situations, taking it away in all situations is dumb. (e.g. using studies in first world economies).

And let’s be practical. Parenting is hard. If you feel that smacking is the GO TO for discipline, or that removing corporal punishment from schools is a significant reason for society’s ills (BS-Ten-Exclamation-Marks), then I feel you may be suffering from resentment. Why should YOUR child have a happier childhood than you did? But even the best of us parents are sometimes overwhelmed by the job. I may not have given my son many smacks, but I have on more than one occasion caught myself saying some pretty cruel things – I don’t see how you would legislate that away, and he is kind of okay despite it.


So maybe the reasonable thought is that smacking is rarely the BEST option, but also not necessarily the worst. Maybe we parents we should strive (but accept the occasional failure) towards  using life and the mistakes we and our children make as an opportunity to teach our children about WHY things work, and not just HOW they work. Maybe then we’ll have less dogmatic people around trying to change society to the way THEY believe it should be, for no defensible reason whatsoever. Just as they learned.



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