Let’s talk about spanking.
*****WARNING: UNPOPULAR OPINION AHEAD*****
(Also, trigger warning for child abuse.)
I’ve been wanting to talk to y’all about corporal punishment for a while, but I’ve refrained because I was afraid of the way people would respond. Judging by the comments I’ve seen on other articles addressing this subject, it seems my views are still the minority. Even among more liberal people, support for physically punishing children is quite common. This topic is extremely personal to me and so I must respectfully ask anyone commenting to be sensitive and remember that people’s lived experiences vary greatly; and for some people, myself included, it is a huge step to open up about them in a public forum.
As you can probably guess, the news of Adrian Peterson’s child abuse is what prompted me to finally talk about this. I won’t bother going over the story, because I’m sure you already know about it; and if not, it is readily available all over the internet. Seeing the pictures of the welts on the boy’s thighs almost made me physically ill. Even worse was the seemingly small detail that he had “defensive wounds on his hands.” You know what that means? This four-year-old child put up his hands in an attempt to defend himself from his father, a professional football player.
Peterson has said himself that he was just doing what was done to him as a child. And that’s where we get to the heart of the matter. Study after study shows that people who are abused as children are far more likely to be abusers themselves when they reach adulthood (and often before then). This practice is passed down from generation to generation; it is a vicious cycle. That’s why I believe it is time for our generation to be the one that ends that cycle.
Now, I know that many of you reading this are probably pretty appalled that I’m classifying corporal punishment as child abuse. I recognize that it’s not a popular stance. But let’s think about this for a moment. Why is it morally acceptable to strike a child who is smaller and weaker than you? Why is it morally acceptable to do something to a child that you could be arrested for doing to an adult? If a story came out about a man “disciplining” his wife with a switch, how would you respond? Why should that response be any different when applied to a child (who is even more physically and mentally vulnerable than an adult woman)?
The link I’ve included above is entitled “What Science Says About Using Physical Force to Punish A Child,” and I strongly encourage you to read it, no matter what your opinions on this subject are. It presents the results of research on corporal punishment and its effects on children. The funny thing is, the results are clear, and I’ve never seen anyone present any scientifically-backed evidence to the contrary; and yet people continue to defend the practice. We love to make fun of religious people who “deny science,” so why do we continue to deny this?
Probably the argument I hear most often from people who are pro-spanking is “I was spanked and I turned out fine!” Maybe so, if you think growing up to believe it’s permissible to strike children equates with “fine.” But what about those of us who didn’t turn out fine?
I was spanked as a child. I would like to believe that I turned out kind, intelligent, creative, and hard-working; but I did not turn out “fine.” I struggle with depression, anxiety, and self-harm. I have spent time in a mental hospital. I have attempted suicide. I get nervous when people stand behind me, or touch me without warning. I even feel vulnerable and paranoid when I bend over to pick something up. I am easily frightened by loud sounds and sudden movements. I cower involuntarily when someone even playfully acts like they’re going to hit me or throw something at me. It goes without saying that I can’t even begin to comprehend the fetishization of spanking in a sexual context, or how someone could ever enjoy what for me was a traumatic experience.
I can’t prove that there is a link between all those things and the harsh discipline I was subjected to as a child, but neither can anyone else prove that spanking made them the sparkling examples of morality that they supposedly are today. I can, however, say without a doubt in my mind that I am a good person in spite of the way I was disciplined, not because of it. Corporal punishment has been shown to increase violent tendencies in children, and I can personally attest to that. The anger, fear, and resentment that I felt during those years are not emotions that should ever exist in a child’s soul. But instead of turning this rage and frustration on others, I turned it on myself, and that habit is one that I am still fighting today.
Many people fail to recognize the reality of how some children are spanked. They make dismissive comments about how a few swats from your mom’s hand on your clothed buttocks can’t be that bad. Maybe that’s how they were disciplined, but my brothers and I were not so fortunate. We were spanked with belts, switches, kitchen utensils, flexible pipes; often with both our pants and underwear down. Not only was it painful; it was humiliating and terrifying. People also like to say “Don’t spank your children while you’re angry,” but in my experience, the ritual spankings were far more disturbing. My parents would strike us calmly, sometimes even with a smile on their faces. I love my parents and forgive them, but I will never understand how they or anyone else could hit a child in cold blood.
They told me they did it out of love, and I believe them. Everywhere I look, I am bombarded with the assertion that every parent who spanks their children does it out of love. But no amount of love can erase the image of bloody welts on the back of my brother’s thighs from my mind. No amount of love, or good intentions, or “parental rights,” or “family values,” or tired rehashings of “Spare the rod, spoil the child” can erase the pain, fear, anger, and confusion that still lingers from a childhood spent in complete and total silence and subjugation.
I cannot tell you how to raise your children, but I can tell you what I believe with all my heart is right. As for myself, I pray that God will guide me when I myself am a mother, and that He will never allow me to sink so low as to commit violence against the smallest and most helpless among us.