*Five years after writing this (it’s currently April 2013), my husband, our co-parent, and myself no longer spank any of our children. This was, however, genuinely what we thought in 2008 so I leave it as it is.*
A friend pointed this USA Today article out to me and in light of my most recent blog, I’d like to share my thoughts on it.
Israel and I talked at length last night and this morning about spanking and it’s place in our methods of discipline. We read the wikipedia articles on corporal punishment and spanking. We decided that the subject is complicated and worthy of deep thought. Here’s what I’ve got so far.
We do spank our daughter. We spank her for disobedience and lying. We do not spank because we are angry. How we feel about a behavior does not (or should not) affect the punishment she may or may not receive. We punish, not because we are mad at her, but because she has disobeyed and her disobedience is deserving of punishment. Our goal in doing so is to teach her through a non-damaging process that there are consequences for behavior. We reward her when she does good and punish, sometime with a spanking, sometime with loss of privilege (toys or playing), when she does wrong, thus teaching that actions have consequences, for good and bad.
But when reading articles such as this, I question our decision to spank and we rethink it a couple of times a year to make certain it still has a place in our disciplinary methods. I’m going to take you through this article the way I read it. My thoughts and comments are in blue.
Children whose parents spank them or otherwise inflict (You’ve gotta love the use of the word “inflict.” Nice work presenting spanking as bad in the first sentence.) physical punishment may (the word “may” here is what’s called a ‘weasel’ word; a word used to avoid making a straightforward statement. Notice the article’s author is not actually saying anything. They may also grow up to be lima beans. He’s not saying anything.) be more likely to have sexual problems later, according to research to be presented Thursday to the American Psychological Association.
The analysis of four studies by Murray Straus, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire-Durham, suggests (but doesn’t actually prove) that children whose parents spanked, slapped, hit or threw objects at them may have a greater chance of physically or verbally coercing a sexual partner, engaging in risky sexual behavior or engaging in masochistic sex, including sexual arousal by spanking. (Notice how ‘spanked’ is listed with ‘slapped, hit, or threw objects at’? Not every parent who spanks automatically does these other things, which I think most people would agree are abusive and Strauss lumps them all together. Also notice how it is just assumed that erotic spanking is a bad thing. If it’s consensual and enjoyable to both parties, what’s the problem, especially if a safe word is used and respected )
“It increases the chances of sexual problems,” though “it’s not a one-to-one causation,” Straus says. (To what degree does it increase the chance of sexual problems? Are they four times more likely to have sexual problems? Half a percent more likely? Which sexual problems?)
Elizabeth Gershoff, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, who reviewed 80 years of spanking research in 2002 in the APA’s Psychological Bulletin, says Straus’ work appears to be the first to link spanking with sexual problems.
Gershoff says that though many children have been spanked (85% in one 2007 survey), problems may depend on how they process the spanking. (Again with the weasel words…which suggests there is not sufficient research to say for sure what, if any, connection there is.)
“They may internalize that to mean that in loving relationships sometimes there’s pain or physical aggression,” she says. Another possible lesson is that “whoever is stronger and has more power can overpower the other person and use physical aggression to control the other person’s behavior.” (If you are spanking your child simply because you are bigger and therefore have the “right” to control your child, you are probably abusing them. Spanking should not be used to control behavior but as a punishment after the fact. Of course, the hope is that the spanking was painful enough to deter future disobedience but that is a side effect of the punishment.)
But linking sexual problems with spanking is a “big leap,” says human-sexuality researcher John DeLamater of the University of Wisconsin. “It’s probably one of many elements that might contribute to sex problems or risky sex, but it’s a long leap.”
Most children who are spanked escape from long-term harm, says Straus, 81, a sociology professor who says he occasionally spanked his own children but later became a staunch critic of spanking. His work on violence in families is regarded as landmark research. (Notice how, without saying spanking causes violence in families, it is alluded to by mentioning this unrelated work in the context of spanking?)
He is scheduled to present the studies today at the psychological association’s Summit on Violence and Abuse in Relationships in Bethesda, Md. Three are yet unpublished; one has been submitted to a journal. He plans to include two in a book this year. The fourth was included in a 1994 book. (Oooooo…not much peer review. Not a good sign for the legitimacy of his studies)
The two most recent studies examine sexual coercion and risky practices among 14,252 college students between 2001 and 2006. The third study, of 440 (not nearly enough to draw any realistic conclusions) high school students from New Hampshire, examined risky sex, such as premarital sex without a condom. The fourth study, of 207 (again, not nearly enough) students from the Northeast, focused on masochistic sex.
In each case, Straus found that those who had experienced corporal punishment had increased probability of coercing sex, risky sex or masochistic sex. (If he’s referring to abuse, ei. hitting, throwing things at, etc, who’s surprised? But because he’s not studied ‘spanking’ and has only studied all forms of corporal punishment, the abused kids are included in the stats of the un-abused, but spanked, kids. Again, he’s lumped masochistic sex with inherently negative things, coerced sex and risky sex. Enjoying masochistic sex is not necessarily indicative of a sexual problem.)
The literature on effectiveness of spanking to correct behavior is still “very mixed,” says Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University, who has studied parents’ disciplinary methods.
“Like any discipline tactic, it depends on how it’s used,” he says.
So, my conclusion is that if you are spanking your child in a manner that is abusive, your child is more likely to be abusive, just like every study on abusive situations has proven time and time again. What this article does not prove is that healthy, responsible spanking, causes sex problems.
I hope you all enjoyed this little trip into Becky’s brain. And I hope no one’s too scared.