To spank or not to spank?
The question has re-entered the national consciousness with two recent high-profile news stories on the topic. First, the indictment last month of Adrian Peterson, a top NFL running back, on charges of child abuse after the 29-year-old Minnesota Viking allegedly left bruises and wounds on his 4-year-old son after whipping him with a switch. And then, ABC network officials’ initial refusal to air an episode of the new comedy “Blackish,” which was filmed before the Peterson controversy, but scheduled to air shortly after the charges were publicized. The episode (which eventually was aired) featured a storyline addressing a debate between parents Dre and Bo on whether to spank young son Jack, who had hidden in the middle of a rack of clothes while on a shopping trip with his mom.
Mental health professionals generally agree that spanking ranks near the bottom of the list as an effective means of discipline. However, a recent online survey of 2,637 adults reported by Reuters news service found that more than two-thirds approved of spanking at home, a figure that cut across racial and socio-economic lines.
Spanking has been a widely accepted practice in generations past. I remember my own father snapping a leather belt, but just as a scare tactic. Fortunately, an increasing number of Americans have opted to abandon this disciplinary technique, recognizing that a growing body of research on child development shows that spanking sends the wrong message.
Effective discipline involves making an impression on the child's developing mind, not on their tush. When a child misbehaves, the first question is "Why?" Once you're clear on the "why" the next question is "What do I need to teach?" Using power, control and physical force only teaches a child to fear or resent authority, which erodes the trust that is critical for influencing our children to make healthy decisions as they grow. Beyond that, spanking -- or worse yet, violence -- can motivate young ones to hone their skill at flying under the radar when choosing a behavior that has led to a spanking in the past. "What my parents don't know can't hurt me." For these reasons, spanking and physical force are simply counterproductive.
The truth is, parents who spank can often be more motivated by their own reactions than by the needs of the misbehaving child. After all, our children are a reflection of us and our parenting. And the child's bad choice can awaken unfinished business from our own early experiences. The key is to cool off and compartmentalize. That means recognizing that we have been triggered, and privately -- away from the child -- deal with our anger, embarrassment or whatever intense feelings have come up. Once you've parented yourself in this way, you're ready to calmly parent your child regarding the situation at hand. Without using your hand. Tapping into your heart and your head inarguably is much more effective.
In the end, so to speak, "Blackish" sitcom parents Dre and Bo chose not to spank son Jack. Let's hope, for the well-being of our children, that parents in general follow their healthy example.
Valerie Zaffos is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice in Weston, Florida. Special areas of interest include parent-coaching for families with children at every developmental stage, including parent-adult child relationships. Contact her at 954-494-3848 or email@example.com